Thanks 2011: Breakups, Breaches, Backlash, and Plain Bad Luck
In no specific order, I note the lessons I've learned this past year, if not through direct experience, by being very aware and reflective in my new little corner of the world.
Lesson One: Each of our houses is tenuously built.
As a young girl in Catholic school, I learned about the solid rock of faith and sort of understood what it meant. Equally solid, I thought, were the structures I saw around me: family, friends, relationships in general. I saw banks, schools, churches, doctors, lawyers, etc. and thought to myself that there were many safety nets in the world, and smart people able to help in crisis.
This is partly true, but not always. My God, do we learn that through time. The “houses” we build – literally, our households, and also organizations, systems, and binding relationships, including family, are subject to disruption at any time. So is the temple of our own selves, our bodies, subject to corruption in more ways that anyone can list. Failure to love ourselves or others as promised wreaks havoc in all kinds of ways. It raises our blood pressure and makes us too fat or too thin, or makes us fall ill. Such is life and the nature of an elusive love we profess to know, but have a hard time living.
Alternatively, everything can be close to perfect, we may yet be learning, with no money problems or major concerns, driving along, singing to the music… wham, a semi truck driven by a good driver with bad luck pins us to the immovable rock of a well-built wall, and it is all finished.
Lesson learned: In the human experience, faith is the only rock-constant if a person can find it. S/he who has not, has nothing. I am not saying the situation of the faithless is hopeless…ask the faithless about what it feels like. Nor do I mean to imply that finding faith is easy. It is difficult to even find people who really have it so we can learn by “observing-in-the-presence-of.” (Beware the person who continually asserts how much faith they have, and asks you the following in response to your worries: “Don’t you have faith? Don’t you believe? I do! I do!” because they will probably set you back for awhile).
Faith is the walk, which I guess forms the stone that starts off about the size of the mustard seed but gets bigger if you can sometimes be still, are willing to reflect, and able to eventually hand over – to your notion of a Greater Power - the stuff that is beyond you to deal with.
Prudential is not the Rock. Providence is.
Lesson Two: There is a difference between suffering and adversity, and it is good to understand it.
Suffering was when my emotions got tangled up in adverse conditions. Enough said for now. I am still thinking.
Lesson Three: We choose the values we uphold, and they can, do, and probably should change through time.
For a long time I confused values with ethics because I hadn’t thought things through. I’m afraid most politicians are in the same boat. Ethics are behavioral requirements to be upheld by the one who claims them. Hence, I won’t steal your money, kill you, etc. Ethics comprise the rock upon which a society is built.
Value is the importance we give people, things, ideas, etc. There’s an emotional component. Disagreements on the basis of values are not always a big deal, and our judgments of others should therefore be cautious. Ethical conflicts are something altogether different, and we need to understand the difference.
I think in either case, judgments are overused mightily in the world; in politics especially, which I dealt with a lot personally and professionally in 2011. It appears that masses of people in the US with various opinions agree in the realm of what’s ethical. At least I hope so. We know what makes us good boys and girls personally, and generally, what makes us decent citizens. That is a more rock-solid basis for discussion than spinning through the values-cycle. I don't mean to be too simplistic. If I wanted to complicate things I would bring in Newt Gingrich and his multiple marriages and the values/ethics conflict represented therein - or I would discuss my own life. Anyway, ethics requires real commitment I don’t see many politicians making. If I were a candidate for anything, I would ask all my constituents to read this short fascinating little tale:
Lesson 4: Yes, Virginia, you really CAN trust the process sometimes.
Although I have written papers and books, I shied away from doing any kind of public writing like this. Every day I wished I could share this or that thought with a particular friend or loved one, to be developed or even polished into a Really Useful Idea between us. Even a mere Inspirational Thought developed as if for the first time makes for a better day. The problem is, we all have these great thoughts and then get busy. A snippet or two might find its way to Facebook. But most of the best of what we entertain within ourselves stays inside.
Not only is that a problem in terms of others getting to know us better--and I agree with Socrates that knowing self and others is a grand way to build a just and true society--but in failing to acknowledge the value of our thoughts, we lose them into the ether of the everyday blur of things happening around us. Some poor but lovely orphan thoughts need us to pick them up, to claim them, to become the form of something we can live and grow by.
Come to me, poor orphan thought.
This is another lesson I knew but finally learned when a couple months back I heard Garrison Keillor say to a young writer something along the lines of, “Don’t expect to know in advance what you have to say. The purpose of writing is to find out.” And I forget if he said it, or I just thought it as a consequence of his shared his wisdom… if you are writing for yourself, then that is the value of the thing we call a book, article, or blog.
Looking at my little piece of the genre, I find Chicago gal and Chico woman merging into a unified whole. She who once was so corporate, who wholly identifies with the image of the University of Chicago’s phoenix rising, can wear Cruel Gal western style no stretch jeans—at her job if she wants to--and still be herself.
Thoughts as we think them = nebulous value.
Staking a more formal claim on the ground of your own thoughts and being for the purpose of self- knowledge and growth in a difficult world? = Priceless.
Have yourself a merry little new year, and in 2012 may we all be bigger than our breaches.