Very few people are pleased to have their own unacceptable behavior brought to their attention. Being asked to confront a little piece of your own dark shadow self is uncomfortable. It’s much easier to claim “drama” or “bitch” than to have the humility and courage to apologize and deal with it. That takes both maturity and genuine self-esteem.
I had a great talk with my dad a few nights ago. One of many topics we touched on was failure and self-esteem. I’ve been known to say I don’t fail enough, that too many things are too easy for me. This is, in some respects, true. Academics come easy and I’ve never tried and failed. But the bigger truth of my life is that I am a professional at failing. And I don’t feel like a failure when I do. When I was small (like toddler small) dad taught me to play checkers. We played every single night for over a year. He’s a good teacher, patient and willing to talk through thinking step-by-step. Once in a while he’d help me win so I wouldn’t get too discouraged. But I lost. A lot. Over and over and over. And then I never lost another game. I can win or tie every single game. Because I failed, because I lost. I learned resiliency and strategy-evaluation and that my sense of worth doesn’t ride on if I lose. I can lose and still call it a good game and play again. And this way of interacting with life is still the dominant me. I don’t like to fail, it doesn’t feel good to let people down, but I can take a lot of failure before ever getting discouraged. I can admit I messed up and evaluate where I went wrong and try again. So I am often really puzzled by people who can’t.
My dad certainly wasn’t perfect but the older I get the more I appreciate the childhood he tried to give me. Being a girl never meant I had to give up half myself. “Boy” thinking was perfectly fine. So was “girl” feeling. Science and math and computers and leadership were never closed to me. And we were fed a steady diet of social justice literature and real-world activism. Speak up! and if no one will listen, Act up! And if those efforts fail, try again! Keep taking baby-steps, keep adding drops to the bucket, keep perspective and keep going.
So I don’t tend to shut up just because I’ve been put in my place with words like “drama” and “bitch.” No, I look at it as all the more reason to keep talking, keep writing, keep praying, keep practicing, keep posting. It also means I have the confidence to admit when I’m wrong, when I have failed, to face my own shadow-self. (But I have to say it is a self I try not to face alone – I take God along for this one. It’s his job to love me no matter what.) The truth is that I have screamed at people, I have hit people, I have said truly mean and hurtful words. I don’t like it; I want to think of myself as gentle and kind and non-violent. I’m not proud of it. And it is deeply humbling to openly confess to that truth. I am not one scratch better than anyone else. And no one is one hair better than I am.
Our shadows have a way of making themselves known whether we want them or not. We can pretend all we like, we can try to avoid the drama of acknowledging them, we can try to people-please all we want but they won’t disappear just because we look the other way. I can pretend to be miss-perfect never hurt a fly. That will work just fine until my shadow picks up the fly-swatter. And I am still responsible for any injuries caused.
Secretly, what I want more than anything, is an equal partner in life. Someone who maybe has different strengths and talents and skills and perspectives but who has the same set of core values and enough genuine self-esteem and faith in God to understand. Someone who doesn’t want me to please him but is pleased with me. Someone with the confidence and faith to face his own shadow and to hear my story for what it really is.
I don’t mean self esteem as self-centeredness or narcissism (although I do think every single human being has at least a touch of narcissism) but as a sense of worth and resilience and love. What does it mean to “do unto others” if you aren’t worth much? Nothing. It means nothing. And I do, very firmly, believe in radical equality among all people. I could write another thousand words in support of that claim.
That radical equality is exactly why I refuse to be silent. Yes, it is uncomfortable and exhausting to address inequality. It doesn’t please people. It isn’t dramatic. I’m not a bitch. I’m just a human being with a big heart and a brave tongue and the foolish stubbornness of knowing that all people are created equal.
It is sexist and demeaning to use words like “drama.” It is a convenient excuse and form of victim-blaming. It is an easy way to avoid the internal confrontation of facing one’s own privilege and shadow-self. No one (ok, very few) wants to think of himself as sexist and violent. It’s much easier to use accusations that encourage people pleasing and silence.
So what’s my message, the one God kept having to remind me off? Don’t worry about the accusations and names. Don’t worry about pleasing people. The end of the reading was about living in accordance with spiritual principles and God’s will. I can say very little about either one. But I am fairly certain that any God big enough to be worth the name doesn’t play favorites. Equality is the heart of love and love is the heart of equality. Therefore, I keep working for equality.