How do you see yourself?

Certainly our opinion of our physical appearance matters. Messages from family and friends mix together with subtle and hugely overt valuations based upon body type and various standards of beauty. We then internalize and process these messages and draw conclusions about ourselves which impact how we move through the world. Watch this video, and then let’s continue the conversation…

Clearly these women were impacted by the stark difference between how they described themselves and how complete strangers, after only a brief meeting, described them. Seemingly without exception the descriptions of others were softer, radiating greater openness to others and peace with self. What a gift this became for participants.

I wonder how else this principle might be applied. I wonder if we similarly judge more harshly our personality quirks and foibles. What if we had a way to receive warm affirmations from others of what they see and appreciate in us, holding that alongside our own views, and allowing them to inform one another? the exercise in the video included an interpreter, someone who listened to both descriptions and then sketched what was heard.

This exercise can be used in coaching, spiritual direction and counseling, where an individual (it also works with groups) is invited to self-describe. Then outside observers are asked to give a separate description without any collaboration or comparison. The coach then is in the position of reflecting back what was heard in both descriptions, literally sketching out the images that have been offered, and then exploring the similarities and differences and walking with the client toward new insight into themselves, greater appreciation and love for self, and thus more compassion toward self and freedom and peace in life.

Organizations (businesses, non-profits, churches) can benefit from a similar exercise.

Less formally, friends could do this for one another. In the simplest terms, at church camp we frequently have kids give one another “warm fuzzies” – brief notes of affirmation – “What I see and appreciate about you is…” These are incredibly powerful for many, to the degree that friends of mine have held on to theirs for 35 years and longer.

  • How might you benefit from a neutral set of eyes on your life, highlighting beauty you are unable or unwilling to see?
  • When will you be ready to invite someone to facilitate this new growth for you?

Neighbors, Enemies, Love, Hate, Politics & Faith

As a follower of Christ, I hear Jesus invite, plead, command me to love my enemies, not just my family, friends, neighbors or those who are part of “my group” – i.e. my race, religion, nationality, gender, (insert subgroup name here). The genius of this divine exchange is that we can not both love and hate. There is not room in the human heart and imagination for both at once. When people say they have a “love – hate relationship” with something or someone, they usually mean that they vacillate back and forth between loving and hating – it is a schizophrenic sort of experience. We may go back and forth, but the more we move toward one, the further we are from the other.

I also think that we typically use the idea of enemy to refer to groups, not just individuals. Simplification relieves stress, so we simplify the arguments and the adversaries into manageable categories.

We also would rather accuse others than accept responsibility. In a conflict, it is easier to see how the other has wronged us, failed to understand and appreciate our position. Yet we have trouble recognizing how we may have unintentionally offended, incited the other, aggravated the situation. And when someone tries to give us that feedback, how difficult is it for us to hear? How often do they need to use just the right approach for us to receive what they offer, which is for our benefit anyway?

Most people have a reason for their beliefs, words and actions. These may make no sense to us, and may even be unknown to us. But they are there just the same. A great resource for learning to hear and communicate is the book Crucial Conversations. One useful phrase they offer in trying to hear, understand and appreciate the other (particularly our adversary/enemy) is “Why would a reasonable, rational, decent person say/do such a thing?” You may argue, “But they aren’t reasonable, rational, or decent!” That may be true, but the refusal to ask the question prevents us from learning, from honoring the other as a fellow human with the same basic needs.

Whether we are struggling with a family member or coworker, engaged in a religious or political debate, assessing the statements and actions of our leaders, or analyzing the global news, we do well to remember the humble and gracious Servant of All who invites us to learn from him how to love the unlovable. This must surely be an act of Spirit and an essential expression of our transformation and maturing.

Gilkes’ need to find a place for the four loves

In perusing FB today I came across a post by an acquaintance who has one Anglo parent and one Indian parent. She speaks and writes about the experience of being bi-racial. Her post comments on a blog post by A Breeze Harper  On Buddhist Sanghas, Divesting in Post-racial Whiteness, and Nina Simone. Harper describes…  “what Katherine McKittrick refers to as a black female socio-spatial epistemology. See her book Demonic Grounds and she will break down how we develop our knowledge-base (epistemology) through our embodied experiences in racialized-sexualized spaces in the USA.” Later she asks: After spending the whole day there, I realized how ridiculous it is that I have spent so much time in largely white dominated spaces in which I physically and emotionally exhaust myself trying to explain what “racism is”, how “whiteness operates”, and that, “No, I’m not making this sh*t up in the head.” I have been depriving myself from these types of healing space my nearly entire life. At the end of the day of that retreat, I really asked myself, “What would happen if I stopped participating in certain spaces in which I can never just be ‘me’? What would happened if I shifted and just focused on spaces like the ones today?”

I was struck by how this connected with my experience reading Cheryl Townsend Gilkes’ “The ‘Loves’ and ‘Troubles’ of African-American Women’s Bodies (p81). Gilkes makes liberal use of Alice Walkers advocacy of the “four loves” as “ethical positions associated with a good womanist.” (89) These loves have to do with affirmations of self, embodied experience, and overcoming racial/sexual violence and the external valuing according to white essentialist norms. What Jha and Harper describe is the exhaustion they feel when trying to explain white privilege and the experience of being “colored” (to borrow the term Mary Church Terrell advocates) and the freedom found in a place where one does not need to explain or advocate for self. Yet Gilkes suggests that African-American women in particular often have to justify their existence and work even in their own community partly because of this very diversity in skin color, hair and body type. Given these tensions, how do we work together to create safe space, and what if any role does a middle class straight white male play in that formation? How can I use, sublimate, or relinquish my privileges for the sake of this formation? Can we all embrace the four loves or are they the explicit gift of the Womanists?

Making Hate a Laughing Matter

Thanks to Steve Knight, who blogs @ The Huffington Post  and Missional Shift @ Patheos for sharing this review of David LaMotte’s “White Flour”  an illustrated poem telling the story of one community’s humble, creative and humorous response to hatred. Steve embeds his review in his own vision of passionate resistance. Hats off to the folks in Knoxville, to David, and to Steve and “The Castle.”