There’s A Hug At The End Of This Post*

2010 July 20

Imagine 25 people (strangers, even) all staring at you while they throw out words and terms to describe their perceptions of you and then more words and terms for areas you need to work on. And you just have to sit there and absorb it. That was my Sunday. It was challenging. Not because I was surprised by what words came up, (I could have predicted most of them), but the not being able to argue or defend myself or explain why when you say you see A, it’s really B. I took it less personally than others, just crawled into the mental storm cellar, closed the hatch and waited until it was safe to pop my head back out.¬† I did appreciate that the feedback was framed in terms of what qualities the group recognized that you possess and wanted to see more of from you and not simply telling you to be less timid/pushy/loud/insert adjective here.

Photo by confidence, comely.

The end result of the exercise (only a few of us got the full group treatment, the rest had their profiling in clusters of four or five) was that everyone ended up with a name tag that had a word or descriptor to dictate how you should conduct yourself for the rest of the day. Mine was one of the few name tags that called on the bearer to emphasize softness, vulnerability and touchy feely stuff (the older man who ended up with Casanova also comes to mind). The majority focused on encouraging participants to be bolder, more assertive, more selfish, more confident (Tiger! Xena! Wonder Woman! Boxer!). I couldn’t help but be a little jealous. It seemed a much easier task to simply front as if you have natural swagger than shift into nurturing earth mother mode if that doesn’t come naturally.

The point of the exercise was about achieving a balance. We’re all adept at tapping into and projecting certain aspects of our character. Call it our comfort zone, wheelhouse, whatever. But we’re more than that narrow range, the name tags were meant to assert. Venturing farther afield to bring out child-like wonder or no-nonsense straight-talking might feel foreign or artificial, but it’s possible. Those capacities are underdeveloped and maybe even undiscovered, but we can go there and doing so in a space where we won’t be called out or socially penalized for getting it wrong or screwing up is absolutely the right context for taking the first few halting steps in this direction. That safety for fail-proof experimentation is a luxury I wish more people had access to.

And that’s where I come in. Our whole lives are spent attempting to be in the world and to figure out what that looks like for us when it comes to relationships, jobs, self-esteem, etc. Is it making ourselves as small as possible, trying to fly under the radar and praying that we won’t be tramped all over or singled out? Is it puffing our chests out, peeing all over every telephone pole, fire hydrant and shrub in our path to mark our territory and rush to define ourselves before anyone can do that for us? The colonized or the colonizer? I know now that what I want to do, what I feel absolutely compelled to do is to work with people to support them in striking a balance (i.e., you don’t have to be the imperialist or the conquered. Maybe a nice Canada or Switzerland instead?) and defining/designing that space for themselves¬† in a concrete, positive, practical way and without jargon, new age BS or patronizing affirmations. What does okay look like and what will it take to get you there? What do you need to feel at ease in the world and how can we work together to get you those resources? How can I help YOU? Working with people to answer these questions is what’s most important to me right now. It’s what I want to do, what I feel (oh God, do I have a heart after all?) I need to do.

And that realization was so worth wearing a silly name tag for a few hours.

*Okay, I lied. No hugs here. Yet.

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