Learning to be "wrong"

I was fourteen and attending my first (and only) summer camp ever when I realized that fine people might disagree on the positions held by my family of origin.  The camp was held up in the mountains of VA and the crowd of kids attending were warm and welcoming.  I cannot remember how the leader of the organization I attended convinced my parents to let me attend but I vaguely recall it involved her paying my way and providing transportation.


Because my family moved around a lot, I was pretty untethered from the world.  New to Richmond, the only adult “voices” in my life on a daily basis were my parents and the occasional influential teacher.  Except for this club I was in.  Others took for granted that an adult would show up for us on a weekly basis, sponsor our participation in the organization and actually listen to us!  I did not.


I vividly recall the speaker presentations during that week - not for the content but for the challenge.  These were adults talking about matters that I did not know adults thought about, sharing opinions that were diametrically opposed to my dad’s perspective.  I felt like I had found a new home.  I thought maybe the world was not as scary as I believed.  And maybe, just maybe, there were people in the world who cared about others.  This was all news to me.


During this week I had an insight, soon lost only to be rediscovered many years later, that I might be missing key information about a subject; my family could be wrong or if not wrong, at least have an opinion that not everyone shared.  This was a developmental milestone of sorts; my first foray into making up my own mind about an issue.  It was liberating in the moment and dangerous once I returned home.  I learned how to shut up.


But I also learned that I could be wrong about something.  One of my favorite slogans in the whole wide world reflects the values I began to grasp during this amazing week of discovery:  when we know better, we do better.


Being wrong is not a capital offense; there is not extra credit for being right.  In fact, growing up necessarily involves unlearning, relearning, and realizing that we are always in need of more education.


Today, consider how you might accidentally be closing yourself off to new and life-altering information simply because you are so confident in your “rightness”.  What if...you are missing key information that would change your perspective?

Fight Fair

Back in the day I thought Christians should never fight or argue; today I believe we MUST disagree BUT not fight dirty.  If we follow the teachings of Jesus, then we can disagree on many points about how to apply his teaching but there is no argument that I can find for misunderstanding how to interpret this:  Jesus cared about the sorry people - the marginalized, disenfranchised, the homeless, helpless, hurting, imprisoned.  This is indisputable.


These are the matters that we must be willing to fight over.  My friend Myra posted a FB post about language around suicide.  It was thoughtful, respectful and helpful.  She hit her mark.  But one of her old high school buddies disagreed, kind of rudely, but not terribly inappropriately.  My friend Debi enriched the conversation by supporting Myra’s position and she got blasted by the guy - way out of bounds.  In response, several folks spoke back into this guy’s life by explaining that this is not how we roll; we can disagree but we will not support name calling.  Later I learned that Myra blocked him and deleted his comment.


My point is this:  all of it was done respectfully AND people spoke up and out about the abusive language used.  This is necessary for a civil society to remain civil; we have to fight for this or else the abusive voices will be granted tacit permission to continue their abusive ways.


Fighting fair is a core value for those who believe in the value of life - even the lives of those who annoy us.


Fight fair.  Don’t be a dirty fighter or Myra might block you.

Compassion

As many of you know, I am a big fan of the Enneagram as a tool for self-discovery.  One of my favorite parts has become an increased awareness of how I respond to stress.  Before the enneagram I had a sense about how stress affected me without much vocabulary, context or understanding.


With greater insights comes the capacity, at times, to actually interrupt my stress reaction and choose to respond by using my tools for recovery.  This is a deeply spiritual journey for me and others who are traveling this same path.


Initially I was attracted to, and mesmerized by, all the descriptions of personality.  I enjoyed taking a profile and matching it to someone I knew.  It could have easily become a party game for me without the mentorship of a good Enneagram master teacher.


Today I am less enamored with the personality profile particulars and more invested in how much compassion I feel for all of us.  Whether or not we share the same vulnerabilities, I am coming to understand that we are all vulnerable to the waywardness of our personality and its tendency to steal our capacity for presence.


Decades ago I was focused on my religious education and was more interested in what I needed to learn and know.  Education is a great, even vital, component of spirituality.  I am often saddened to see the ways we have been so easily dissuaded from valuing seminary training.  


But the training is the start of the journey not the destination.  It is as we grow in our understanding of God that we develop a greater compassion for his people.  The Enneagram helps me do that.  Whether or not this is a tool you value, I would dare to suggest that if we are not growing in our capacity to hold compassion then we probably need to take a look at our program.

Become a safe person

Safety in relationships sounds like something that occurs between two people.  Logically, it would make sense that the way we find safe relationships is to make sure we vet who we hang out with - and certainly that is an element of the process.


But safety is created as much by what we do on our own time than what happens in the real time of conflict.  I have a deep-seated fear of conflict because I experienced conflict in my family system as such a risky proposition.  I could go into endless details about this, but suffice it to say:  we as a family did not manage our conflict well.


When I got married, I had neither the skills nor the courage to fight with my husband - whether it was a fair fight or otherwise.  This is not good.  Conflict is inevitable and it is healthy if done skillfully.  When we were younger we often ended up making decisions that neither of us was happy with because we were so busy trying to guess and give the other person what they wanted!  


Today we have more conflict than ever - I think we are playing a game of catch up.  But this is also a gift.  It means that we have both realized the value of honesty with each other.  We capitulate less and actually resolve issues more.  This is all good.


I cannot speak to what this required of Pete but for me, I had to grow out of my old ways of being and into new ways of seeing.  It helps that we have been married 40 years and he’s never once left me.  It helps that we have never had an argument in which either of us threatened divorce or dismemberment.  But what has really, really helped is me taking responsibility for me.


I have learned that I owe it to my grown up self to have preferences and state them in real time rather than asking Pete to read my mind.  I have learned that conflict well managed in the present increases the chance that both of us “win” at getting what we want.  


I am trying, and it is really hard, to take responsibility for myself.  My thoughts, feelings and actions are my own.  I have no one else to blame nor do I have to defer credit to others when I do something worthwhile.  I am trying to figure out how to stand on my own two feet with my arms wrapped around all those I love.  This is a dance of balance and it is not easy.  But the old way was much harder. 


Are there any ways that you need to learn how to take more responsibility for yourself?

Self-protection and self-respect

Some folks are in inherently unsafe relationships.  In particular, those in a close relationship with someone who demonstrates narcissistic traits.  This is a great trial because, to one degree or another, a person who is narcissistic is not able to care, nor particularly interested in, your position on anything.


In relationships like this, we have to consider all our options, including detachment and creating distance in the relationship if it becomes destructive for us.  If you are in a relationship like that and are working hard to maintain it for various reasons, then here is a piece of advice for you (and all of us really).


Our day-to-day work, a spiritual discipline really, includes identifying and valuing our own core values so that we can both own them and apply them under the pressure of conflict.  I know how hard this is to do particularly if you discover that you are in relationship with someone who is skilled at gaslighting and is doing so to you.  Again, evaluate and re-evaluate your options for moving to a safer relational distance.


But while we figure all that out, seek to practice your own core values so that you do not add your own personal disappointments in yourself into the mix.  It is sad but true that many of us are in relationships with people who are so insecure that they try to elevate themselves by stepping on our necks to keep us down.  If this is happening to you - get counseling to help you sort this out!!


But also be mindful that if a core value of yours is respecting humans, then you owe it to yourself to make sure you do not allow another person to treat you with disrespect AND do your best to act respectfully to others.  


In an abusive relationship (get evaluated you might be in one and not recognize it), the most respectful thing you can do is make sure you keep yourself safe!

Safe Conflict

How can we use conflict to build intimacy and resolve issues?  Skillfully!  For the next few posts, I’m going to mention a few for your consideration.


Safety is a “thing” and it is always at risk.


In other words, there are all sorts of ways conversations, particularly conflictual ones can go sideways.  The most likely first step in a conversation going wrong is when a feeling of safety in the midst of the discussion is lost by any of the participating parties.  This benefits no one - unless of course, someone is interested in keeping the conflict pot stirred.


Safety is an issue for all parties but individuals experience safety violations differently.  My husband isn’t a big fan of conflict but he sees nothing wrong with yelling at referees on television.  Raised voices of any kind, even the kind that is deluded enough to think that the referees can hear him and care about his opinion, make me nervous.  Over the years he has learned to tone down his sports passion as a way to respect and demonstrate his love for me.


Have you noticed that people in your life seem to have issues around feeling safe in conversations that are hard for you to understand?  Try anyway.  What about you?  Are there any safety issues for you that you might need to explain to people you love so that they can be more supportive?  Try to be transparent and see what happens.