It liked being able to slot people and activities and music and styles of dress and relationships and beliefs neatly into categories that they then used to judge those very beliefs and relationships and styles of dress and music and activities and people.
The world I grew up in claimed it’s boxes from a religious perspective but other worlds I know claim them from cultural, socio-economic or simply ‘tribal’ bases.
I was sixteen when I first got my driver’s license, and as a driver, one of the earliest things I learned how to do is to park. That’s because knowing where and how to park your car is essential to coming back to your car where you left it, in one piece, and in a drivable condition – ready to go on to your next destination.
I was taught rules about which way to angle my tires when I parked on a hill – one way for when I had a curb to butt up against and a different way for when there was a soft shoulder.
I was taught rules about how much space I should leave between myself and other vehicles.
I was taught how to tell if a place was a fire route or otherwise designated as a no parking space.
And someone even attempted to teach me how to parallel park, although that lesson clearly didn’t stick very well!
But the more life I live, the more I realize that we should probably also be teaching our teens about how and when and for how long it is safe to ‘park’ ourselves in life.
One of the things I didn’t learn well growing up – maybe because of my autism, or maybe because of my experiences of gaslighting – was which things were emotionally my responsibility, and which things were not my responsibility.
We like to think that we can separate off a portion of ourselves – acknowledge on some level that it’s broken and damaged so segregate it from the rest of ourselves – and then hope that we can carry on. Our desire is to prevent those around us from getting hurt, but the situation is a bit like someone trying to walk through a china shop wearing their hiking backpack with lots of things tied on to the outside of the bag – at some point, they’re going to turn too quickly or fail to check their margins and they’ll end up hitting something and it’ll smash to the ground.
Change – movement – growth – these things don’t happen by sitting still, and they don’t happen overnight, either. Like any athlete will tell you, it’s the small things, done intentionally over long periods of time that create the biggest gains and improvements.
So if transformation is our goal, we will need to set aside a season of life to focus on it. This might involve carving out time for a daily journalling session, a weekly coaching session or some other regular discipline.
We will almost invariably have to develop some new skills to take you to a new place – and becoming a learner can be a difficult and uncomfortable posture for many people.
We will likely have to cultivate new voices in our lives to coach us to these new places – and it might even mean setting aside some of the old voices from before, or at the very least, downgrading their input into our lives for a little while.
These investments can seem like a lot when we first get started, but if you’re on the right path you will invariably see some early gains to help bolster your confidence and expand your hope and motivation.
The time and investment required for change to occur means that it’s not going to happen accidentally or incidentally – at least, not in any very significant ways.
In our world of media hype and multi-level marketing – of promises and pitches and promotions – I’m pretty cautious about the idea of touting anything.
What would be the point of doing all of this work of honesty if it didn’t change anything?
What would be the point of doing all of this work of connection if we still felt just as lonely and isolated and afraid as when we first started?
Personally, I can’t see myself signing up for that kind of system.
You see, I like the idea of making a difference.
I like the idea that it will matter whether or not I show up.
I like the idea that at the end of the day my presence or my participation or my engagement or my choices or my vulnerability will have the capacity to leave the people around me less afraid and more powered by love.
I wrote on Monday about the importance of connection, and how much of a difference it has made in our lives. Then I wrote on Wednesday about the barriers we face to connection. (If you haven’t had a chance to read these yet, I would really encourage you to go back and do so.) Today I want to finish this series by talking about how we can form connections wherever we are.
Many of us carry around inside of us the idea that fundamentally we’re not worth very much. Through family, classmates, teachers, religious institutions or society at large we have come to view ourselves as inadequate – accepting at face value the idea that we have little to offer and much to be ashamed of. We worry that if we were ever to connect deeply with another person than the best we could expect would be judgement.
These feelings of inadequacy make us reticent to connect with others because we (incorrectly) believe that we have nothing to contribute to the relationship and that others are better off without us.
I grew up a lonely and often-bullied or ostracized little girl. I wore hand-me-downs that were ten years old (and possibly out-dated when their original owners got them). I wore leg braces and running shoes – often with a dress, just to up the awkwardness of the look. I couldn’t run and play easily on the playground. I was good at school and socially inept at the same time, which is a terrible combination. And I was constantly in pain.
None of this made for an easy time building deep connections or relationships with those around me.