I See Myself In You

“I can’t imagine…”

“I can’t understand…”

“I can’t relate…”

“I would never…”

When you think or say these phrases, what is the context?  What message are you harboring, or trying to convey—connection or distance, or something else? 

Can you truly not imagine, understand, or relate?  What if you tried harder (or at all)?  How would it affect you if you could imagine, understand, and relate, or if you would ever, under certain circumstances?  How would this altered relationship to the situation (and person) feel?

I have written before about what happened when I said, “I can’t imagine” to a black classmate.  It was humbling.  I submit that we could all humble ourselves a little more these days.

Sylvan Dale Guest Ranch, Loveland, Colorado

My last pre-pandemic solo trip was to Loveland, Colorado, for the last retreat of Leading Organizations to Health, Cohort 11.  It feels cosmically fitting for my first solo trip since COVID to be a return for the first in person LOH alumni gathering in this time, last weekend.  OMG, friends, it was the next best thing to going home.  Other than our leaders, I had only met my fellow alums over Zoom these last two years.  And now I have 8 amazing new friends.  Though separated by occupation, specialty, generation, and geography, we all speak fluently the as yet rare and reverent language of relationship-centered leadership.  This is my tribe.

We start our sessions with poems.  Please Call Me By My True Names by Thich Nhat Hanh spoke deeply to me, especially these lines:

I am the twelve year-old girl, refugee in a small boat,

who throws herself into the ocean after being raped by a sea pirate,

and I am the pirate, my heart not yet capable of seeing and loving.

Whoa.

I have written on this blog many times about seeking, honoring, and really exercising our shared humanity —35 posts appear when I search the site for the phrase.  Even since I started blogging 7 years ago, though, it feels ever more urgent that we practice this every day.

This card hangs on my kitchen cabinet.

This week my good friend Donna asked me to re-articulate my Why.  Again, I’m sure it was cosmic inspiration that moved her.  Have I ever written my Why statement here?  It was ‘to optimize relationships with and between all people I meet.’  And by optimize I meant to make more understanding, more connecting, and more meaningful.  Today, I think I have to be much more specific:  

My Why is to help us all see at least a part of ourselves in every person we meet. 

I intend to practice and model this first myself—to really internalize the truth that I am myself and also every other soul—that we are all born with the same needs, the same aspirations, the same set of possibilities.  Each of our unique, complex constellations of birth circumstance lottery, serial life experiences, and intrinsic wiring shapes us in ways we can only partially understand in our thinking brains.  What we have not the capacity to think or speak, often can only be felt.  And when we contact another soul who has also felt what we feel, or who can imagine, understand, or relate in some way, WOW, how healing is that?  I bet we can all recall at least a few instances when those deep, meaningful connections occurred across apparently wide gaps of background, class, or other social construct.  And why do we remember?  Because we were moved, alerted, and maybe a little alarmed?  Or maybe we have forgotten, because to come too close to someone’s experience that makes us uncomfortable can trigger a distancing reflex—self-image-protecting, perhaps.

In recent years I have internalized the admonishment to never say, or really even think, “What is wrong with you?”  Rather, I remind myself to ask, “What happened to you?”  In every context, this one switch opens the door to curiosity, imagination, understanding, relationship, and connection.  It allows space for our deeply shared humanity to surface and teach me what I need to know, or at least to prompt humility ahead of blind judgment and dismissal.  Substitute “them” for “you” in these sentences, and see how easily and willingly we throw away whole groups of people with our in- and out-group identities and ideologies.

May we all see a part of ourselves in every person we meet, especially the ones who make us say, “I can’t imagine, I can’t understand, I can’t relate, and I would never…”  Let that seeing move us to put down our judgments and take up empathy, compassion, and connection instead.  We will all be better for it.

Strengths and Struggles

 

“Creative, resourceful, and whole.”

This is how life coaches are trained to see their clients, first and foremost–or at least I know it’s how Christine sees me. She tells me all the time.

In a coach-client relationship, this fundamental framework sets the stage for the client’s strengths to shine, even as they struggle mightily with themselves, their circumstances, and those around them. By making this commitment of attitude, the coach positions herself to call forth the client’s highest and best self, and for the client to answer with authenticity, confidence, and agency. The client’s  fundamental need for psychological safety in this intimate relationship is satisfied up front and
without question, immediately creating space for honest, vulnerable work.

What if we all saw one another this way? What if we at least practiced more awareness of our default opinions, narratives, assumptions, and expectations of ourselves and other people?

As physicians counseling for habit change, as parents guiding behavior and skills development, as leaders coordinating team collaboration and working for collective goals–how often do we look down at those around us, seeing first their flaws, deficiencies, and pathologies? How often with spouses, bosses, coworkers, siblings, neighbors, and people of other races, classes, genders, sexualities, and professions?

Who do we see first as admirable, worthy of respect and reverence? How do we show up differently to these people, compared to others? And how does this impact–no, incite, inspire, or create—how they show up to us?  Don’t you find that a person’s vibe precedes them when they approach you?  You feel it
in your body, no?  Our species could not survive, evolve, and dominate without this instinctive, innate sense.  How much more could we accomplish, how much more potential could we realize, if we all approached one another with the sincere intention to bring out one another’s best?  Or if we each just did it a little more often?

It’s humbling to notice what negative assumptions and narratives I tell about people, and how blind it makes me to their gifts, talents, and contributions.  But the moment I can let go these mental chains,  I’m free, and I free them, from these unspoken yet deeply held limitations on possibility.  If I can choose more often to hold people first and foremost as Creative, Resourceful, and Whole, I know at least my own life will be much better, because I will show up to people joyful and curious.  And I bet I can make a much bigger, lighter, and more loving impact in everything I do.

ODOMOBaaT.

 

Be Respectful

NaBloPoMo 2021:  Do Good, Kid

I can just see every writing teacher cringing to see ‘Be’ as my verb in this action mantra.

I just cannot think of a better way to express this fundamental admonition.  It’s like the cheer we all know from high school—instead of ‘aggressive’, it’s, “R.  E-S.  P-E-C-T-F-U-L.  Be. Respectful.  B-E Respectful!”  Ha, the two words even have the same number of letters so the rhythm transposes perfectly.  Hmmm, maybe we can start a movement from the sidelines here.

In the grocery check-out line.  At the Target returns desk.  On the phone with customer service.  Driving.  With your in-laws, your coworkers, your spouse, your children, your direct reports, the building custodian. With your kids’ teachers.  With elected officials.  With people who disagree with you on issues that matter deeply to you.  With the person aggressively disrespecting you to your face.  With the authoritarian police officer using excessive force, the boss acting out of sheer prejudice, even malice.  With the militant supremacist throwing rocks and spitting at you.

Why be respectful? Because it’s the best way to show that you see the other person as also human, equal in worth to yourself, even if they don’t feel or think the same about you. They may say they do—don’t we all say it? It’s not socially acceptable to say out loud that we think someone is beneath us—at least not in public, or ‘polite society.’ Is there actually even such a thing anymore, polite society? Every year it seems easier for people to demean one another out loud, viciously, violently, in public, with no politeness whatsoever, and no consequences. I think every one of us needs to query ourselves truthfully about how much we really value and believe in equality, and get honest about where we don’t: Own it. Stand up and accountable for it.

But if we are sincerely convinced that we see all humans as equally valuable, that we harbor no occult supremacist ideals, then the least we can do is be respectful toward one another in all of our interactions. It may even serve as a prophylactic, keeping us from speaking or acting on our latent negative biases, if we simply commit to practicing respectfulness.

Disrespect is the first arrogant step down the slippery slope of dehumanization, and that descent leads straight to relationship hell.