There was a thread in the comments this week that caused my friend, Phoebe, to ponder a thing or two and then share with me and a couple of friends whether some of our eccentricities and character traits aren't hard wired into us before birth. Further, she wondered whether our spirits don't continue to seek knowledge, then evolve and even change, in spite of what others might say or think about us, or what we allow ourselves to believe from others regarding ourselves. (Is anyone's head spinning yet, 'cause mine is? And did I capture that correctly, Phoebe? If not, let me know so I can dispense with the paraphrasing and just quote directly from you.)
Prior to that and a couple of weeks ago, I continued a conversation with another friend about behavior in corporate culture and why it seems the vultures continue to win while those of us who are just decent, hardworking, faithful employees (in the sense of believing in what it is we're doing and what our employers claim to espouse) continue to get shafted and treated like shit.
Our conversation turned to the influence we allow others to have on us and how their often-false and insecure assessments of our personhood impacts our own self-perception. Often, the result is far less than positive and our sense of self-worth and our ability to contribute effectively and positively is severely compromised.
I followed all of that up with last week's blog entry--pondered by the aforementioned friend, Phoebe--in which I contemplate my belly button and wonder about things like freedom from fear and risk-taking and futility. You know? All the fun existential questions.
I can't say I've concluded much just yet out of those three instances of illumination and conversation (I'm still noodling), but if you have the patience, read on.
Growing up, my mother has always made a point of reinforcing two facts in our lives: first, that she loves us and, second, that we are good people. It's a rare occasion when she talks to us on the phone or sends us an email or sees us in person that she doesn't tell us she thinks my brother, sister, and I are good people.
My mom hasn't always felt the same way about herself, though. As adults, my siblings and I make a point of often telling Mom we love her and we know she's a good person. It's nigh unto impossible for her to believe that because for as many years as she's been alive, she's believed what others have told her about herself. And it hasn't all been positive. She tends to hang on to the negative and often believes she is whatever others have told her.
This led to a conversation we had the other day in which she told me she'd realized after all these years how wrong it was to live her life that way--always a victim, always stuck, playing the martyr. She said to me, "I realized last night that what I've been told I am all these years is not who I am. And then I had to ask myself, 'Who told me that?'" She went on to say that deep in heart she knows the negative things aren't true and, in looking at herself as she believes God sees her, she realized God wasn't telling her she was all those negative things. Her conclusion was, she's no longer going to buy into the negativity (at least, to the best of her ability she's going to try) and when someone tells her she's fill-in-the-blank, she's going to question who the person is in her life who's telling her that, why they would say that, and whether it's even remotely true. She's no longer going to buy their criticism lock, stock, and barrel.
More importantly, she wanted to point out, when people--strangers, friends, family members, and employers--tell one of us we're something we know we're not, we must stop and ask ourselves, "Who told me that?"
I'll switch from we to I now, because I've been thinking about this. I don't always agree with my mom, but her insight (which I'm failing to articulate justly) gave me pause.
I have a former employer who hired me for my professionalism and attention to detail only to then belittle me by telling me it was incomprehensible how I could be so intelligent and not have the capacity to get 100% in my first three or four attempts on compiling and filing an expense report--none of which were ever exactly the same. Or how I could work in publishing for so many years and yet not be able to manage a staff person's calendar. (Of course, she only had to manage one calendar. I had six.) I could continue listing the negative feedback ad nauseum, but I'll stop because I'm sure you get the picture and because that particular job was one in which I intuitively knew I should not work for this particular person, but practicality won out over realism.
My point here is, I could have taken that feedback and interpreted it to mean I'm stupid. There were certainly days when I felt that way and when I believed that. And yet, deep down, I knew I was, and am, intelligent. I knew I was capable. I knew I was intellectually-detailed. And I knew that my value and sense of self-worth did not rest in unforgivable and ill-advised impressions of one person. Especially when that one person wouldn't survive a day doing the kind of work I've done in the past. That said, the same person is a brilliant administrator. Not everyone is cut out to be that, just as not everyone is cut out to be a policy wonk or an editor.
My bottom line point here is, each of us has within us a good person, and maybe even a better person, than what others see or want to believe. Sometimes, the greater hurdle is making sure we see and believe we are that good person.
Photo copyright: D.C. Confidential, 12/07