"Be generous with your time and your resources and with giving credit and, especially, with your words. It’s so much easier to be a critic than a celebrator. Always remember there is a human being on the other end of every exchange………….. To understand and be understood, those are among life’s greatest gifts, and every interaction is an opportunity to exchange them".
Maria Popova, Brainpickings
I was working in Bulgaria in May with a team who were doing the courageous work of clearing the air with one another.
I am in my 32nd year of doing such work with couples, teams and organisations.
It never fails to impress upon me as something solemn and weighty, how much courage it takes to be more committed to understanding others, and to being understood by them, rather than the easy default of blame and justification.
Why did some concentration camp inmates give away their last crust of bread to a more skeletal bunk-mate, as opposed to choosing to sell their souls to collaborate with the Nazi guards in exchange for a few miserly crumbs of "privilege"? Don’t get me wrong…… I may sound like I am judging, but I do not do so. Not now, not when writing about this. I am moved, over and over, by the flickering flame of the human spirit faced with this choice: to risk being vulnerable for the possibility of creating a new future in a relationship blocked by past experiences, or to retreat into the narrative that keeps me safe behind my carefully constructed fortress of a story in which I am the choice-less victim, created by the effect of that person’s (perceived by me) behaviour. As E.E Cummings said:
We seem to be up against some curiously constraining “design faults” in the fighting of this battle.
We love to be right! The history of the human race is littered with stories of the most horrendous wars in which neighbours, who have lived in harmony for years, will kill each other in order to be right about some unexamined assumption, instead of leaning in with an open heart to exchange their experiences, and to listen to the experiences of another, and in this exchange to be willing to discover that we have misunderstood.
We are seduced by the superstition of certainty, by the idea that risk can be avoided. Even the smallest, most carefully guarded life, that has been constructed to avoid risk, cannot achieve this guarantee. And yet, we are frightened out of our wits to risk our hearts on the chance that we might find out that the other does not, in fact, think or feel what we suspect of them, and that there is a whole world of possibility we could literally create, beyond our wildest dreams.
The possibility beyond my wildest dreams……….or the superstition of security, hmmmmm, now, let me see………what to choose, what to choose?
In May I also turned 58. This is the year of my second Saturn return. These revolutions of Saturn that take 29 years are said to be the chance to face what we have not yet faced, and to elevate the conditions of responsibility in, and ownership of, how we are living life.
My greatest nemesis: my relationship with my body, is at the top of the list.
The very battle to be willing to be wrong in order to open up new possibilities of which I have spoken in this newsletter, is being waged, not inter-personally, but intra-personally. Am I willing to give up the story I have told myself all my life, and to discover new territory for well-being and wholeness? Or will I cling to the safety of keeping myself small? Time will tell.
So far I am being brave and returning myself again and again to doing what is better for me rather than what is worse. Facing my own demons here keeps me humble when I am working with others and when I am witnessing the fear they have to overcome to begin that conversation with a colleague. "When you did or said that thing, I felt hurt, dismissed and invalidated, and ever since then I have labeled you as unsafe and to be avoided. This is not what I wish to choose for the future of our relationship. Can we try again?"
For every moment of the courage to be yourself that you have faced, are facing and will face, I salute you!