Archive for the ‘truth’ Tag

No More Apologies

Earlier this week I saw a post on Facebook that kicked me right in the feels and the thinks.  I don’t have permission to re-post the full post here, but I will give this description and small excerpt to set the context of my ravings below.  The original poster is a college professor and someone whose writing in various media and platforms has revealed to me her acute intelligence, passion, compassion and genuine concern for all humans, and LGBTQIA+ and other marginalized humans in particular. Speaking of some of her women students, she posted about the heartbreak she feels at the volume of these students who have been conditioned to constantly apologize for their thoughts…even their existence.  This bit of her post particularly resonated with me:

“…brilliant young women who have been so often told that they cannot trust their own minds, that they are poor thinkers, that they are not bright enough, that they had better keep their mouths shut and their heads down, who end up in my office apologizing profusely and repeatedly for having a thought, for having too many thoughts to organize them intuitively, for having a thought too advanced for their vocabulary but not for their conceptual capacities…”

There was at least one commentator on this post that denied having been conditioned in this way.  I’m happy for that person. But the vast majority of responses were from female-identified people for whom, like me, this impulse is so ingrained that it took conscious, intentional effort to post a comment that didn’t include an apology – whether for piling on, or having their own take on the phenomenon, or for simply having the gall to post at all. Several who responded wrote of their conditioned guilt response to their “taking up space”.

My thoughts on this whole topic exploded to such a degree inside my head that it was impossible to do them justice in a comment-sized installment. But they’ve been present all week, sometimes very quietly way back in the back of my head, sometimes very loudly in the very front of my brain, pushing aside the thoughts and words I’m supposed to be thinking and speaking about entirely different topics.

So it was, with these untamed thoughts swirling, ever present in my head and in my mood, I reached the late afternoon on Friday of an extremely trying week full of work frustration.  After an afternoon of battling dragons for budget resources to save my team from burn-out after being constantly asked to do more and more with less and less, I was already on-tilt and in a less-than-optimal frame of mind to deal with any more idiocy for this company this week.  Then I checked my email.

What I found sent me on a a down-hill slide straight into a rage that felt very much like foaming-at-the mouth lunacy.  The trigger was a snide, unprofessional, strident whinge and petulant demand from a person who holds a senior leadership position (but who has demonstrated exactly zero actual leadership in the more than five years I’ve been burdened to work with him), condemning an administrative person on my staff for erroneously messaging that this person’s deal had been de-prioritized in favor of other deals at the direction of senior leadership.

Had the email been sent to me alone, I still would have been pissed off at the language of the message and the fact that it was an email at all, instead of a phone call, but I most likely would have simply acknowledged and corrected the error and moved on.  But since this tool felt the need to direct his insulting commentary and demand to a host of individuals whose rank and influence I cannot, for the sake of my team, ignore, I was forced to respond.

Although I am intelligent and have an above-average vocabulary and a decent degree of self-possession, I was not able to control my impulses enough cool down before responding to the same broad audience and additional recipients whom I felt needed to ‘get some on ’em, too’.  Although my response was, admittedly, terse and clearly conveyed my extreme irritation, I was successful in keeping it both short and professional.

Then, as so often happens, I belatedly considered the fall-out.  By electronically snapping off the pencil-necked idiot’s bloated head, I risked the incident being flagged up the chain to our executive leaders, including my boss.  Not wishing to have him be blind-sided by questions or complaints from his fellow execs, I quickly forwarded my missive to him as a heads-up.  I then went next door to his office and inquired if he was proficient at criminal defense, in case I ended up murdering that jackass.

My boss is a smart, compassionate man who has demonstrated great respect for me and a knack for talking me down off the ledge when I go off like this.  He laughed and said he’d have a hard time keeping from strangling that jerk if he were in my shoes.  We then talked it through and, after I received his reassurance that he had my back, I started to leave, making a parting comment that included an apology  for my emotional reaction and for making my problem his issue.

Since that kind of comment is not uncommon from me, he was not surprised by it, but he refused to accept it.  He looked me directly in the eye, called me by name, and said something so true that it stunned me.  He said: “I think your feelings when you do that [apologize for my reaction] are actually regret at having always to be the adult in the room.”

That really is it.  While I get angry at the mistreatment of my team and that anger does fuel my responses a lot of the time, the rage that gives birth to the types of outbursts that cause me to warn my boss about potential blow-back comes from always being held to a higher standard while others seemingly  breeze-by on the barest minimum of effort.  I and my team are content to be held to fiduciary standards applicable to legal professionals in matters of of our legal practice – when giving legal advice and opinions or representing our clients.  But when we’re expected to be perfect, provide instantaneous and error-free business services, to do the thinking for everyone else, and do it all with a smile while being met with everything from disinterest to sneering contempt from those making these demands, even the best-tempered among us grow weary and can snap.

My boss went on to say: “You are [the adult in the room] and you do a great job at it, and are always professional. Don’t apologize for being right or for being frustrated.  You’re right and your feelings are valid.”

And that’s where my thoughts from earlier in the week collide with my work-induced frustration.  His words of kindness and validation had their desired effect, calming me and making me feel better about a crappy situation.  But they also triggered a dissonance that still niggles in my head, prompting this post.

Here’s my struggle:  I feel damned if I do and damned if I don’t in terms of my reactions.

On the one hand, I felt compelled to apologize for having a reaction and for taking up time and space in my boss’ head because of my emotional response.  It didn’t matter that my response was proportionate, professionally worded, and appropriate to the stimulus.  It was emotion-based (anger, frustration, disappointment) and that automatically translated, in my culturally-conditioned brain, to “woman’s reaction” and “not worth his time”.

But on the other hand, when he validated my reaction and praised me for my handling of the matter, I immediately felt guilty for feeling reassured by it, and frustrated for needing his validation. Again, my impulse, instinct is to reject my reaction as unworthy.  This time the reaction comes from a forward-thinking, feminist mind-set that tells me I should be, and feel that I am, enough without the validation of a man or any other person in a position of authority.  I do believe that.  But there’s still the guilt and discontent.  That, too, is a culturally-conditioned response based on “female” emotion which I am conditioned to believe is worth less than “male” emotion and “male” logic.

Can’t win for losing.

As so often happens with my deeper thinking lately, I don’t have answers, only more questions.  I can’t end this post with it all tied up in a neat bow (or dapper bow tie). I’ll struggle with this for a long time, I’m sure.

But I know this:  No More Apologies.

From now on when I flame some unthinking, slug-brained Neanderthal of a supposed leader, I’m not going to apologize for it or for warning my boss that I’ve done it.  I’m just going to flame on and move on.

That’s my new mantra:

FLAME ON AND MOVE ON

Maturity?

I just had a mini epiphany looking in the bathroom mirror as I washed my hands. See, I’ve let my hair grow too long without a cut and it’s been really humid with all the rain, so my hair has more volume than normal. So, between the extra curly, swirly, voluminosity and the weird side-part, flat-over style necessary due to its length, my hair looks like an ’80’s televangelist’s do, a-la Pat Robertson. Catching sight of this, and noticing how grey it’s getting, made me think of the IRL evangelist (not tele-) that led my church growing up. He had hair like this, too. And I’m sort of the same shape now as he was the last time I saw him. And, like him, I’m not likely to be welcomed back to that church…unless I hide or renounce who I am. 

All these thoughts flashed quickly through my brain and I had a realization that shouldn’t surprise me, but does: youth and immaturity aren’t the same thing, just as age and maturity aren’t the same thing; the one doesn’t guarantee the other in either instance. But it’s only maturity that reveals how greatly lacking in compassion, empathy and insight the judgements of our youth sometimes were. 
In this case, thinking of my old minister, I now realize I made some very harsh, inflexible and compassionless judgements in my mind when he fell from grace. In my 20-year-old mind, convinced that I understood adult responsibility and even what love requires, his choice to divorce his wife, leave his sons, and move away with his younger, more svelt secretary, was inexcusable. In my moral certainty, nothing could justify his radical departure from everything I had learned, chiefly from him in his church, was the way Christians behaved. I was certain that there could be no circumstances that would adequately explain what appeared to be a betrayal of trust on every level. 
The truth of their marriage and his departure will never be fully known to anyone but them, and it really is irrelevant to the point I’m trying to get to. 
The lesson that slapped me in the face after I saw his face in my reflection is that (1) we don’t and can’t know the burden that any other person carries at any given moment; and (2) sometimes even that person doesn’t understand everything about themselves; so (3) don’t presume to know what someone ‘deserves’ for a decision or action taken in private. 
The classic lesson: judge not, lest ye be judged. 
But the reason it was an epiphany, despite that exact proverb being ingrained into my upbringing, is simple…and a bit sad. I’m now the one whose circumstances set me apart from what I previously believed was the only right way. I’m the one, now, who is seemingly rejecting all the wisdom of my faith and family for a personal truth none of them can fully understand. And I feel the gulf that so-called choice (living my truth) puts between us very sharply. 
Look, I get that there’s a meaningful distinction between acknowledging one’s true nature and choosing to live authentically in the world, and the choices a couple make when a relationship ends. Living the truth of your nature, and thereby confusing and offending some, is as far removed from the acknowledgment of the end of a relationship and its attendant hurts and sadness, as the night is from day. Adjacent, yet irrevocably separate. Similar, yet worlds apart. 
Nevertheless, the lesson holds. 
Even though that preacher, whom I was raised to revere and obey, acted in every way against what he himself taught me and our congregation is right and good, I didn’t then, nor do I now know all of the burden he and his family bore together. Yet, wrongdoing is such, irrespective of the subjective conditions of a given situation or the judgement of outsiders. 
In the same way, the justice and righteousness of living your truth, regardless of opposition from those you respect and admire, is just as much a moral absolute. The confusion, dismay, disbelief and derision of those who cannot understand the burden of living a falsehood does not change the truth of who you are. 
So what I learned in that flash of insight is that judgement is not something to take lightly, nor an office one should presume to hold over others. The moral judgement of so-called sin is for the creator or the universe in their or its time. The judgement of crime is for those who govern and those appointed to adjudicate. But the judgement of life and it’s authentic truth is for those who live it. And those that see and practice this discretion are happier and make the world better for those who live in it. 
A little personal growth spree while washing my hands. Who knew that could happen!?

Finding…me

Day Thirteen: Serially Found

On day four, you wrote a post about losing something. Today’s Prompt: write about finding something.

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I’m not making this post the second in a series, as suggested in today’s Twist. When I wrote about loss, it was a very personal tribute to a beloved uncle. I won’t cheapen that by linking it to a story about finding some trivial possession or discovering some dry fact or some personal betrayal. So today’s post stands on its own.
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I’ve lost and found a whole lot of things in my 46 years, both physical and intangible. Most of the lost objects are only misplaced and turn up on their own sooner or later. But some things–friends, family, love, commitment, interest, passion, all the essential and intangible things–take a lot of work to discover, recover, or find in the first instance.

That’s true of my discovery of my true identity. I think, really, that I knew myself very well when I was a little kid. But somewhere along the way, I lost sight of that essential truth amid a sea of external pressure and expectations. Through years, decades, of trying to be something and everything that everyone else wanted me to be, I accumulated a thick layer of social and emotional camouflage that hid me even from myself.

Finding my way back to myself was the work of years full of honest, even brutal, self examination and dedicated self improvement. Overcoming fear was the biggest hurdle. I was afraid of everything, to some degree. Fear of disappointing my family and friends, fear of rejection, fear of violence, fear of homelessness and poverty as a result of all the above, were my biggest concerns.

Ironically, it was an even more pressing and weighty fear that helped me get past the first level of inertia. I feared that I would live out the entirety of my existence without ever actually knowing myself. Ignorance of my own nature, of my own potential, and of my own capacity to love and be loved, seemed to me a fate much worse than my fear of losing home and career as a consequence of owning my true identity.

So, quite a few years ago now, I began a slow, sometimes painful, often secret journey of self discovery. I started with the simple, private admission that I was not living as my true self, that there was more of me than I acknowledged to the world at large. I was not certain the exact nature and dimension of my discontent. But I knew there was something not right and that only I had the power to make it right.

Many experiments in appearance, mannerisms, philosophies and lifestyle choices (no, not homosexuality; gay is not a choice, lifestyle or otherwise) ensued. Self improvement initiatives of every stripe were tried in fits and starts, most of which failed. But the deeply personal exercise of these activities was satisfying, even when some of them fell flat.

I committed to being better than I was before. On a micro scale, day by day, I worked on one aspect of my personality or spirit or (on the rare occasion) my body. I didn’t schedule the work. Rather, I took up each task as it occurred to me. One day I’d notice a weakness in my confidence and I’d concentrate for days on limiting hesitation and unnecessary apologies. Another time I found myself equivocating and hiding things in my answers to people who mattered to me, so I redoubled my dedication to truthfulness and transparency.

These betterment efforts all related to the overall objective of discovering my truth. These self improvement projects helped me strip away the layers of camouflage hiding my true self. With personal growth and emotional maturity came the courage to confront a lot of insecurities. Taking back my power from the fog of other people’s expectations and disappointments, I freed myself to name my own identity and live with authenticity in that identity.

Gender and sexuality are a big part of that truth, yes. But they aren’t everything. I found new dimensions of freedom, confidence, and comfort in my own skin that I hadn’t dreamed existed. When I stopped chasing the pat on the head and empty platitudes of everyone else and started valuing my own notions of right and good and real as they relate to my self and my life, whole new vistas of possibilities were revealed.

I think the most valuable thing I’ve found in my search for myself is a means to accept myself so that I can let others accept me too.

Of course, the journey and the search never end. That’s a very good thing. But at least I have discovered myself, chosen the path of authenticity, and am now living rather than merely existing.

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