Monday, 27 August 2012

When being one of the "best people" is dangerous.

"The best people possess a feeling for beauty, the courage to take risks, the discipline to tell the truth, the capacity for sacrifice."  

As I read this sentence from Ernest Hemingway I identified with his ideas.  These ideas align with my own aspirations.  

Then I read the next sentence:  "Ironically their virtues make them vulnerable, they are often wounded, sometimes destroyed."

I felt vulnerable just reading that and then I wrestled with my feelings.  Initially I wanted to argue with Hemingway, the writer I think of when I think of "masculine".  Then I started to think and remember.

Before I was a freelancer, I worked for a trade union in a variety of capacities.  I was an elected official for many years.  I was a campaign leader, a director, a negotiator, an industrial officer.  While I was doing it, I loved it.  It was challenging and dynamic.  Some of the battles were impossible, but it felt like they really mattered.  I took my role as an advocate and representative very seriously.  I had some wonderful colleagues and delegates to work with - some of these people remain important in my life.  There were others who I didn't enjoy being around, but recognised that we all shared the same values.  

What I didn't appreciate at the time was that "battle mode" was my default setting.  Sometimes the foe was recognisable because they were in the traditional role of employer or the conservative government.  Sometimes the enemy was less recognisable - they were the person sharing a table in the lunch room or reporting to me.  Being in battle mode meant putting armour on every day and being battle ready.  In terms of Hemingway's quote, I took risks regularly and it took courage; truth often looked different depending on who the audience was; I made enormous personal sacrifices in order to put the interest of members and working people before my own.  I still had a "feeling for beauty" but didn't have a lot of time to devote to it.  

I now know that this changed me.  I became quite hard.  Tough.  "Intimidating" was a word that was often used to describe me.  I hated that.  I didn't want to be known as that, even if it did mean I succeeded in meeting my responsibilities.  

At a music retreat about nine years ago, I had a life changing experience.  Before the celebration party, there was a ritual.  We were asked to think about what we wanted to let go of.  Then we were asked to find a natural object to represent that thing and bring it to the ritual.  I decided I wanted to give up my "hardness" and I found a stone to represent that.  

As we arrived at the door we were greeted.  The greeters held eye contact and physically "blessed" us (it wasn't a religious ceremony, more a spiritual one).   As I was being greeted, I felt a lump just under my sternum.  It moved up through my torso as I moved to the next stage of the ritual where I had my feet washed and dried.   As I was sitting there the lump was replaced by tears.  I started to weep, uncontrollably.  I held the stone and felt that I was indeed letting go of my hardness.  I placed the stone in a basket and all those objects were released into the ocean.

I was inconsolable for the next hour.  Raw emotion that had been bottled up for many years of being tough was now released.  Nobody thought I was weird, they seemed to know what was happening and I remember having my hand held by people I'd known for a mere four days, but who seemed to understand.

I felt different, refreshed.  The world looked different.  As the time to leave the retreat came, I became aware of my new found vulnerability.  I wondered how long I'd be able to stay "soft".  Would I be able to be like this and continue my work?   I was conscientious about this, but also aware of the need to protect myself.  That was not sustainable.  Spending time appreciating beauty and creating beauty helped but sometimes it was a struggle to fit it in.  Accidental opportunities did not often arise.

I'm pleased to say that I now spend a lot of time appreciating and creating beauty.  It has required a complete change in my life.  At the time, the change was traumatic and frightening, but now I know that it was the best thing.  It facilitated a way for me to live more truthfully.  

As I consider this now, I know that I am very fortunate.  I'm still drawn to work in conflict, but my mindset is completely different and my investment is different.  In a way, conflict resolution and facilitation is a way of creating beauty.  When human beings find a way to see past their differences there is beauty to be seen.

So despite the dangers, I do strive to be one of the "best people" as described by Hemingway.  Friends have told me that I'm nicer to be around too.

How about you?  Do you have balance in your life? Are you living truthfully?

No comments:

Post a Comment