Often when I look back at a particular difficult time in my life, I realize there was something deep going on. There was a major life lesson involved. Something I was struggling to understand.
I could read about it. I could see it. I could hear what other people said about it.
But I hadn’t quite gotten to the point where I knew it in my own heart. I didn’t have that “aha!” moment, that little insight, the recognition of, “So that’s what this is about!”
And of course, the recognition of what’s going on isn’t enough. You can’t stop there. Nope, you have to practice it, over and over, until you finally, really, really get it.
Here is one example: Years ago, I had a boyfriend who worked at a “campy” store in town. His coworkers were tight, and socialized often. I would tag along. They were a good group to hang with.
There was one woman, a little older than the rest of us “20-somethings”, who was respected and liked by all of us. There was only one little problem… She was often brusque with me, and rarely talked to me.
I asked my then-boyfriend about it, and he was mystified. I noticed she didn’t treat anyone else this way. I resolved to be even friendlier and nicer to her.
One evening after work, she showed her medical illustration portfolio to us. Her drawings were astonishing, and I told her so. “Yeah, thanks,” she replied shortly. “No, really, they’re very good!” I said. She turned away. I sat there, baffled at being rebuffed yet again.
And then it hit me, out of the blue, like a ton of bricks.
She didn’t like me.
I know you’re probably also thinking, “Well, doh, Luann! What was your first clue, darlin’?!”
But I had been clueless. Because I’d always been pleasant and obliging. Because I couldn’t think of a single reason why she should dislike me.
But though I didn’t know the why, I certainly recognized the what. Everything that had puzzled me became crystal clear and obvious. Like tapping that last little puzzle piece into place.
After that, I left her alone. I quit trying to “win her over”, because I realized that was salt in the wound to her. I still liked and respected her, but I accepted the fact that she didn’t like or respect me. Years later, I found out some of the “why”, and it had very little to do with me. That’s another story, and another life lesson.
But back to this life lesson.
Here is what happens when you listen (to someone who does know what they’re talking about: A few years ago, I found myself in a rattled state about my artwork and my art biz. I had a session with life coach Quinn McConald, of QuinnCreative.
I listed all the things I was stuck on. Then I said, “Oh, and for some reason I feel compelled to sign up for hospice volunteer training, and I have no idea what that’s about!” Quinn bookmarked that and returned to it later.
She asked if I were a perfectionist, and I said yes. Who doesn’t want to always do their best??
“The trouble with being a perfectionist,” she said, “is that you are full of ‘knowing’. And when you are full of knowing, nothing new can come in.”
Let me repeat that amazing, seemingly-simple little sentence….
When you are full of ‘knowing’, nothing new can come in.
That simple thought allowed me to be wide open to the hospice training. I understood I was entering this realm with complete ignorance. No expectations, no assumptions. Just humility, and a willing heart. A heart willing to be open, to be WRONG, to be taught, to be filled.
That little moment of understanding, of recognition, of clarity, is a blessing. There is a clarity. The story you’ve made up about “all that” is wrong. And now you have an opportunity to get better, to do better, to learn something new.
This transformation does not happen when you’re busy trying to be the smartest person in the room.
This is my current life theme.
I am accepting that I don’t always know. That there are things I think I know, that I really don’t know.
And I’m willing to learn.
I’m learning that some people who have been very dear to me, are themselves full of knowing. More painfully, I am seeing that they are not letting anything new come in. Especially not from me.
Because when you try to talk with people who are “full of knowing”, their argument is something this:
Who do you think you are?!
That stops the discussion, doesn’t it? If people don’t believe you have anything to say that would contribute to their understanding, it all ends there. If they believe they know more than you do, without bothering to ask, or listen, to what you do know, it all stops.
What do we say to that?
We say, “Who do I have to be?”
There are people with no experience with sociopathic behavior, no knowledge of how they work. People with little experience with or knowledge of sexual abuse and sexual predators. They’ve never been trained to work with people with illness, with dementia, with alcoholism, and they don’t understand it. They don’t see the signs when it sits across the table from them.
I was one of those people. I still am, about so many, many things.
Now I know better. I know the areas where I still need guidance. I know I still have a lot to learn.
But I also now know what “blaming the victim” looks like. I now know what “killing the messenger” looks like. I now know what happens when you leave a group. I now know how to genuinely apologize. And I now know what a real apology is, and what isn’t.
And unfortunately, this means I also know what happens when you try to enlighten people who inherently don’t believe you have anything useful to say.
It hurts when I engage with people who are so convinced they know better, they will actually stop believing I am who I show myself to be. For example, I do not knowingly cause physical or emotional pain, even with people I find difficult. I may feel like being mean, but I rarely do or say mean things, not deliberately. (Okay, stuff slips out now and then, okay?!)
I do not argue with people lightly. In fact, I tend to back down, so I don’t lose my temper and say something that cannot be unsaid. When I do speak up, it’s when I realize there is a chance I can change the dynamic. Otherwise, I may seethe, but I rarely act. So when I’m accused of “being mean”, I am aghast.
I am not a lazy dog owner, I am not a cruel dog owner, and I’m not a “clueless” dog owner. But two Facebook “friends” called me that today. (Really, people?!) They totally dismissed my own experience with the discussion topic, and similar evidence given by others. Would they say those things to me, to my face? I doubt it. It’s easy to be dismissive on Facebook. It’s like giving someone the finger while driving. But if you wouldn’t sat it to me directly, don’t say it to me Facebook.
I’ve been called “over-sensitive”. I’ve been told that, as a redhead, I have a short temper. (What’s the excuse now that my hair is red by the miracle of modern chemistry? Oh…right. Genetically I have a redhead’s temper.) I’ve been told I don’t know what I’m talking about.
Who do I have to be? And if you don’t respect what I do know, what I do have expertise in, what I have learned, then I can’t talk to you. Because you can’t–or won’t–hear me anyway.
This is what it’s about, my current life lesson. This is where I am right now. And this is why I’m here.
Yes, we all have blind spots. We may never completely “know” ourselves.
But I’m guessing that you, like me, have often seen a shadow, a reflection, the secondary evidence that there is something you’ve made assumptions about, the suspicion that maybe, just maybe, you are w*r*o*n*g. You get a moment of doubt, a sliver of insight that maybe there’s another side, another angle, to what you “know” to be true. And that maybe somebody else has more information, more experience, more insight than you do right now. One of the smartest thing I ever did was to admit how little I really knew about alcoholism. I thought I knew, then realized I knew nothing. So I asked a few trusted friends who did know, for advice. I listened, deeply, and well. Thank you forever, Karen. Thank you forever, Mary Ellen.
Here’s another tip-off: When you realize you don’t know quite as much as you think you do, do you bluster? Do you get defensive? Do you attack the other person before they can have their say? Do you call them “over-sensitive” and blame them for the difficulty between you? Do you dismiss them as “not as experienced as you”, when in reality, you do not know of what you speak? Do you find yourself always blaming others for your woes?
Does your conscience squeak just a little?
Do you ever wonder if maybe a little more knowledge, a little more insight, a little more understanding, might get you to where your heart really wants to go?
I want to learn from people that really do know more than me. I’m willing to ask the dumb question. Humility is hard, hard, hard. Especially when you are bright, knowledgeable, skilled. You have to allow yourself to be vulnerable in order to grow. It takes practice. And the practice never stops.
And the people who are willing to do the same with me? I respect them 100%. This is part of “doing the work”. Being willing to ask. Being willing to listen. Being willing to learn.
Being open to what you don’t know.
Not trying to always be the smartest person in the room.
Those who don’t know what they’re talking about? And don’t know what I’m talking about here? They have their work to do. If it hurts me to be around them right now, well, that’s where I am. I have my own work to do. I can’t pick up theirs.
And all I can do is to write, to share, to give, to those people who are in the same place I am. People who are open to what I have to say. People who are also willing to look into the dark place in themselves that are filled with excuses.
People who think that maybe, just maybe, once in awhile….
I may know what I’m talking about.