Did you know the word ‘humility’ has its roots in the word humus, which means ‘earth?’ (As in ‘down to earth’). This curiously, is also one of the root origins for the word ‘human.’ (Pointed out by Madeleine L’Engle, in Walking on Water).
One could argue that best versions of ourselves are seen when we acknowledge that we came from the elements of the earth and will, at some point, return to the soil. Perhaps internalizing this could keep ourselves properly grounded (pun intended)? The tree revels in its height and beauty, the slug enjoys its slippery-ness; all of creation is comfortable in its skin – except us (with the exception of the ‘blessed few’).
Why can’t we be accepting of who we are?
I believe it primarily comes down to our view of ourselves and then how that plays out in our actions. It seems there are two popular extremes – either a poverty or over-valuation of our sense of selves.
On the one end of the spectrum people are focused on their short-comings, refusing to see themselves as having any merit or anything of value. This insecurity is usually manifests in reactivity, posturing, and generally being an energy drain to those around them.
Haven’t you seen the man who acts tough and blustery, macho and testosterone-overloaded? There are the husbands and dads who rule with anger and intimidation. As long as they have control then they don’t have to feel their own inadequacies. The extreme opposite: the man with the limp handshake, the one who won’t make eye contact, who won’t try for fear of failure.
What about the woman who has to control every detail of her husband’s and children’s lives? She too, is afraid – fearful that she is nothing without the clean house and the perfect family, that she is somehow ‘less-than.’
Religious people compare how much service they are doing (or how little sin they are participating in). Non-religious folks look at their philanthropy. In the university setting, you see professors brag about their numbers of publications and their CVs (feeling inadequate to those who have more). Businesses posturing about how much money is made or who they are connected to. Those in lesser jobs use their possessions and vacations as the litmus test for their worth. Comparison is death to healthy acceptance.
The extreme other side of this self-loathing is the Narcissist, who is arrogant and full-of-himself – he really does believe that he is better than all of the rest of you. He is not posing, but is convinced that he is God’s-gift-to-humanity / women. This is a dangerous person, because he does not have the ability to actually see you, your needs or desires. He is only concerned with his agenda.
It’s not just the men who display this loathsome behavior – there are women as well. Snooty, self-absorbed princesses, willing to make the world bow to their whims. It is a sickness.
There is a whole up-and-coming generation of entitled young people who have experienced the world revolving around them. They will “mature” (and I use this word with sarcasm) into people who think it should continue this way. Over-valuation of yourself makes it difficult for others to accept you. It separates you from humanity in a way that is isolating and ultimately, unhealthy.
Few of us demonstrate the extremes of either of these positions, but we all err on one side or the other, failing to find the sweet spot of self-acceptance.
Have you ever asked yourself what it would look like to be truly humble? By this I mean able to hold your giftings, your beauty, your strength – able to live them WELL. Not to get wrapped up in how great you are, but to honestly embody your strengths?
Are you able to grasp that you were created in love, for love, by LOVE, for a purpose, and when you do this, you live like a Masterpiece?
Furthermore, who gets the accolades?
When you think of the Sistine Chapel, yes, you see its greatness, but to whom does the spectacular mural point to?
Michaelangelo, of course.
I’ve never heard anyone speak of how talented the Mona Lisa is – the credit goes to her creator, Leonardo Da Vinci.
Likewise, can you deliberately, volitionally hold your greatness, but live close to the earth, remembering that the credit is not yours? Can I? And in doing so, become more Human?
Recently, I flew to another city. Right before I landed, I looked out the window and was spell-bound by the thousand-foot vantage of the neighborhoods below. This is something I do on every flight – but this time, I had a different experience.
Usually, when I see all the houses and cars and streets, I become overwhelmed with the population. I think, “Every car down there has someone in it and they each have a story.” Each house has a family, complete with their own drama. I am up here enclosed in this flying tube of metal and they are down there, laughing, fighting, living, dying. Then my brain explodes as I extrapolate this to city after city across the country, the continent and then the world. I think, “How can this possibly work? How do all of us continue to exist? What kind of infrastructure does this require?” About this time I shut down emotionally (which is ok, because by then we have landed and my inner rhetoric is usurped by deplaning).
This time, however, my brain had a new thought:
If I could get a message to each and every person down there, what would that message be? What would I want each of them to know?
(Now each of us has a spiritual background, even if that background is to believe nothing – complete with its own set of messages. But this is not actually what this post is about. What I am really talking about is what is YOUR message? in addition to the ideological one?)
I have been pondering this for quite some time – a couple of years, actually – and the last 8 weeks intensely.
Ever trying to narrow my focus and hear my Voice, I believe my message (at least at this writing) is this: You have a choice. You can engage in ways that matter – or not.
With each encounter, you can choose to treat people like objects or like a means to an end (think: check-out person at the grocery store) or like a goal-blocking hindrance (sometimes bosses, children, aging parents) or a paycheck (any client, patient, customer), OR you can see them as HUMAN BEINGS – with feelings, needs, issues, talents, etc.
We each get to choose, multiple times a day how we will interact with this God-breathed creature in front of us.
I regularly fail and succeed at this throughout the day. When I am self-absorbed, stressed, trying to keep my ducks in a row, I treat those around me with less Grace than I wish. I am basically a nice person, so I’m rarely overtly rude, but on those days when I am into my own agenda, I am not always warm. In those moments, I don’t extend a molecule of energy beyond me that I don’t have to. This is part of the introvert curse. But really, the issue is that I don’t SEE the other person – not really. I only see their shell – what they present to me in their particular role.
On the other hand, if I access the part of me that wants to value people, a different ‘me’ shows up. I smile more. I actually make small talk with the person cutting my hair or the teller at the bank. If I acknowledge that every interaction is a chance to bring something to the other person – even if that is summed up by actually looking in their eyes and valuing them for those few seconds, then I have somehow become more human myself.
On my first flight, I did something I’ve never done before – I gave up the coveted isle seat and moved to the dreaded middle one on the other side of the plane, offering my place to a mom who was separated from her 5-year-old son. She assured me that he would be good on the flight, assuming that I didn’t want to sit by the boy; but that isn’t why I offered to switch.
I remember my own little people. They would have been so uncomfortable and sad to be separated from me – even if they could see me across the row. They would have wanted to be with me.
The mother grudgingly accepted my offer, feeling bad for putting me out. But really, it was fine. As the plane was landing, the boy had issues with the change in air pressure and I saw him snuggled up against his mommy, his head in her lap, and she was stroking his hair and telling him to yawn and chew his gum. I was SO glad I had switched; not for me – for them. In that moment of offering my seat, I feel I had an interaction that mattered. (Which felt great.)
We get these opportunities to value those around us dozens of times each day, sadly, missing most of them. Unfortunately, it is so easy to not see people at all. Unless you get deliberate about it. One choice, one engagement at a time.
I was listening to a podcast the other day with my son. He was somewhat interested, but mostly tired, so his focus was less than intense. In the context of the show, the narrator read a line from a C.S.Lewis’s The Horse and His Boy. My son sat up and said, “YES!” even before the sentence had been completed. He recognized the quote from the first few words. “I love that book!, he said, now animated and engaged.
The podcaster’s whole point was that we (or rather he) could relate to this character – someone who was lost, confused, and living out of a lesser self. He was destined to be a king, but had been living as a servant. His point was that we relate to stories, because our LIVES are stories.
The other day, I was re-watching The Horse Whisperer I had seen years ago, where the main character is wrestling with overwhelming grief. Her friend was telling her a story about a boy who broke his neck while diving; he became so depressed that he just went away. She said, “I know where he goes.” At the time I initially saw the film, the line haunted me, because I felt like that was me. I felt that deep sadness that tempted me to ‘go away.’ Though the reasons for my sadness were completely different from either of these characters, I fully identified with them. Even now, when I struggle with feeling depressed, I hear that line in my thoughts. The story was about fighting to not surrender, to push through those dark feelings, fighting them, and coming out on the other side.
There are other famous lines that spur me on toward greater character or courage:
“When I run, I feel God’s pleasure.” (Eric Liddell, Chariots of Fire). I, personally am not a runner, but when I write or paint, I feel this. When I have a good conversation with someone, where they feel seen and supported, I identify with Liddell’s experience.
“Carpe Diem. (Whispered) Caarrppe Diiiiem.” Who can forget Robin William’s fantastic, inspiring plea to his students in Dead Poet’s Society? There are many times where I am tempted to take the easy route or the less daring; I hear his words in my head, and I change my course of action. In this way, he has become a part of me. Because I would like to be that person who ‘lives life to the fullest’ – ‘who sucks out all the marrow of life.’ When I see myself in Dr. Keating, I live out the better version of me.
Elrond to Strider in Return of the King: “Put aside the ranger. Become who you were born to be.”
What a wonderful way to say, “It is time to grow into who you were destined to become.” – I hear it like this, “Miriam, step INTO your giftedness. Don’t hide. Don’t play the lesser role. Fulfill your destiny.” (Can you hear the music swelling?) On a good day, believe me, it doesn’t sound cheesy. It draws me up into something Larger. And yes, there are plenty of bad days, where I push the thought aside and stick a mundane “to do” list in front of me.
This business about being both intentional and more sensitive to the callings of your soul … it’s what I am about and wanting to challenge you to as well. Here are three ideas to nurture this space in you:
First, pay attention to lines in movies and songs that grab you. There is a reason that they pull on you. What is the latest phrase that has snagged your attention? My guess is that this will give you some pretty good insight into where you are struggling. Sometimes your heart knows before your brain does.
Second, busyness ASSAULTS insight into how you actually are doing. It reduces our emotional states to very primitive words like angry and sad. You are so much more nuanced than this. Try to carve out some little space where you can check in with yourself and ask, “How am I actually doing right now?”
Third, make a conscious effort to pay attention to the hearts of the people around you. We are so quick to judge, quick to anger, quick to dismiss someone because we are stressed or in a hurry. When you deliberately try to hear your child’s perspective, your spouse’s feelings, your friend’s view point … this will hone your skills and you will get better not only at hearing their hearts, but hearing your own.
Why bother, you ask? Because out of the heart flows the well-springs of our life. That’s why.
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We would like to believe the best of ourselves; that we are straightforward and 100% honest. Yet, the reality is we have variations of opacity. Parts of us we hold back or magnify; perhaps we fear that the what-you-see-is-what-you-get version will somehow be found wanting.
If you have ever worked with a drawing program, one of the choices you get to make is the the level of transparency for the item being worked with. How solid? How much do I want to let show through? And of which layers? It is an apt metaphor for people.
In my coaching and counseling practice (and in my friends), I see people err on either side of this question. There are individuals who spill 100% of their information, regardless of the other individual’s trustworthiness. As a result, these poor souls often become bruised. They feel betrayed by their friends, family members, co-workers and even bosses. This is especially seen with people they are dating.
The other side of the spectrum are those who reveal little, holding their cards tightly. When you have relationship with someone like this, you can know them for years, sometimes decades and not actually know anything about them. When these people die, their co-workers struggle to say anything personal about them – ‘“They were always on time.” “They worked hard.” Neighbors say things like, “Their yard was always well kept.”
Each of us leans one direction or the other – I, myself, am a tight-card-holder; but sometimes I wish I didn’t hold them quite so closely to the vest. I believe, as humans, we all desire to be known. Sometimes that yearning is cloaked by shame, afraid to be seen, for fear that others won’t like or accept what they see. Yet if you dig below the fear, there still is the deep inner pull to be seen and valued. It is a reaction to this desire that creates the extremes of what is shared or not revealed.
When I am contemplating how much of myself to give to others and with whom, I utilize a couple of questions to help me determine my transparency:
How emotionally safe is this person? We all know people who take what you tell them and use it against you later in a fight or in a business situation. Generally, if an astute person is burned once, they don’t continue to share themselves with untrustworthy people. However, I am repeatedly surprised at how often people continue to share with unsafe people even after they have realized that it usually doesn’t turn out well for them. My guideline: if I don’t know how safe someone is, I choose to see how they do with a little bit of information before I give them more. I let them earn the right to hear my story, rather than assume that they will treat it with the respect that it deserves.
I recommend people experiment with this and actually practice giving someone 15% of their information for a while. For some, it is a struggle to stop once they have started giving of themselves. For others, it is difficult to actually start the sharing. Give people something that is unique to you, but not a problem if the other person mishandles it. That top 15% of me is like the information I wouldn’t mind sharing on Facebook. Before I give someone my deep heart, I’m going to see how they do with some general things.
How close do I want the relationship with this person and myself? Information connects you. If you tell a date your whole life story during the first outing together (assuming that they are wanting to hear the saga) this can be quite bonding. I see this with young people all the time – the first time they go out, they stay up until 4 in the morning sharing back and forth – the problem with this is that you now feel very integrated with the other individual, though in reality, you’ve known them less that 24 hours. It is the emotional equivalent of having sex on your first date. The converse of this is true as well – if you share nothing of any depth, you have no connection and they have no real reason to come back to you. I often ask myself, “How attached to I want to become to this person?” And this helps me decide how much of myself I give at any given time.
What is appropriate for the context of the relationship? There are many situations where equal disclosure is unwarranted and obvious – the doctor / patient relationships, the therapist / client relationship – really, most professional relationships are generally unequal in terms of the transparency. I see these boundaries struggle in places where it is not clearly defined how we are to engage, such as work relationships and sometimes in faith-based situations, like church or small groups or book clubs. In these contexts, people push toward disclosure of 5% or 95% when what is healthier a 30-50% sharing, until you know how trustworthy and genuine the other party is. Often men struggle with this. They tend toward the 5% too much of the time. Generally, we want to be known at work and in our extracurricular groups. But if you aren’t intentional about how you go about this, you will err either too much or too little.
In an age where people are so worried about the use of their personal information (account numbers, social security numbers, etc.), it is intriguing to me how sloppy they are with their true heart information. Under- and over-sharing leaves you feeling either too known and therefore vulnerable, or completely unknown – consequently isolated and lonely. Neither leaves you feeling satisfied and happy. And really, who doesn’t want to be happy?
Do you have a story of where you either over- or under- shared? What was your indicator that it was the wrong amount? How did this impact your current level of sharing?
Fear paralysis – it’s a real thing. It stops us from going to the dentist or the doctor. It prevents men from initiating with a woman; or vice versa. Fear shuts down good ideas. It whispers that you are sub-standard and that no one would want to hear what you have to say.
I have always thought of fear as a hungry dragon; a bully. Someone who will take whatever ground you give it and unashamedly ask for more.
Many of you know that each year, I try something new. 2015 it is the year of writing – in public. I have long desired to publish a book – this blog is the beginning of that process. Putting something out there for people to engage with.
But it’s scary.
More so that I would have anticipated.
It is fear producing, because I can’t sit down with you and read your expressions. I can’t tell if you are misunderstanding what I am trying to say. I can’ t add extra words or fill you in on the back story. I can’t know where you are coming from as you read my words. Perhaps I will say something and you will disagree. It’s allowed. We all have our own opinions. Yet, in a virtual format, I see people being more direct (and rude) than they are in person. Anonymity seems to give license for aggression. For a die-hard introvert who is fairly private, an online presence feels somewhat naked.
Yet, I love to write. And I feel I have something to offer to the world, to you.
My writing is about exploring this – pushing both of us to examine our lives and stretch for better versions of ourselves. Some of the content will be quite practical – really, about making decisions to streamline life. Other posts will dive into the emotional, philosophical, WHY spaces of our lives. Because all action comes from a deeper ‘why.’
So. I dance with my fear.
I invite you to join me to dance with yours. To comment, to share your stories, to “Like” and “Tweet” and “Share” – I am looking for People willing to give feedback. Fellow Travelers. Allies. Explorers.
I was talking to a friend the other day about how I was systematically trying to change my internal ideology and how difficult it is to do. Partly, this arises from the fact that you are basically blind to yourself – you live inside you, so it’s hard for you to step outside of your thinking errors or even underdeveloped thoughts.
I recently read The Four-Hour Work Week and was delighted to see that over the last two years, as I have expended monumental effort to change my internal ideologies, I have discovered and implemented the very ideas that Tim Ferriss is promoting in his famous book on time / life management.
Two helps he proposed that I have adopted:
1) Reduce / Eliminate meetings of all kinds. If you can’t get rid of the meeting altogether, see if you can deal with it on the phone or via e-mail. Never have a meeting without an understood goal and end point. This has saved me TONS of frustration and many hours.
2) The Customer is Not Always Right. From a business standpoint, this means get rid of your most high-maintenance customers. They suck up 80 % of your time and energy and give very little back. For someone not in business, this means look at who creates drama in your life and do something to reduce your exposure to these types of people.