Saturday, September 11, 2010

Tell the Good Truths Now

This is a true story, I know because I read it in a book. A man was leading a group encounter kinda thingy in the 1970's. The man asked the participants to challenge themselves by sharing a secret with the group. Folks made their confessions, things that included guilt for putting one's parents in an old-folks home, kicking one's dog, being promiscuous and liking it. The exercise brought the participants the predictable realization that they judged themselves more harshly than anyone else in the room. The group leader noted that many folks shared big secrets while others played it more safe, sharing the less risky. And just when everyone thought the exercise was over the man offered them more. He noted that everyone's secrets were negative, fraught with some degree of embarrassment, shame, or guilt for doing something "wrong." Then he said that our biggest secrets are actually our unexpressed love, our shame, our embarrassment for feeling love or appreciation or affection.

I remember this story, read so long ago, because it resonated. I remember thinking, "Damn, he's right." I think it was especially poignant for me, having been a closeted homo for 25 years, feeling a certain guilt and perennial perversion for some of my affections. But his point was not limited to a guilty romantic love. His point was that we hold back, don't express so much of the love and appreciation we feel. In that moment I challenged myself to start telling the good truths early and often. I have made it one of my lifetime projects, and over the past couple of decades, I have gotten better and better at doing just that.

I am a chatty sort by nature and have been most of my life. I will engage waitresses and bus drivers and people waiting in line at the bank. Not always, but more often than many, and usually with some vigor and candor. My sister Juls has often refrained, with a smile, "Mer, stop it, people think you are crazy." I ignore her, smiling, continuing to engage whomever it is that Juls thinks I should leave be. And the thing is, some folks do think I am crazy, or odd, or inappropriate. But I think more than not, by a margin, folks do not. They often respond quite positively, smiling or laughing, or sharing something, often something personal, something unexpected.

If I meet you and I like you, well, I will probably tell you right quickly. I will literally say, "You're cool, I really like you." If you amuse me, make me laugh, I will tell you, "you're really funny, I like hanging out with you." If you provoke me, make me think, challenge me intellectually, I will tell you. If I think you look pretty in a dress, or have an infectious smile, or I like the way you giggle or make pancakes, I will tell you. I will tell you even if it is a little strange for you to hear something nice said about you, even if someone being direct seems foreign or inappropriate. I will tell you because I have come to believe that to not, is wrong, is a kind of selfishness, and it's chickenshit. I don't want to be selfish or a pussy. And if my sharing the goodness I see, feel, hear makes you uncomfortable for a moment, I am happy to be, hopefully, a small contributor to your getting over that shite.

Besides, Speaking Up Could Change Someone's Life
This isn't a perfect fit with what I am preaching above, but I am inclined to share this story here nonetheless. Long ago when I was a teenager and acutely aware of my not fitting the dominant cultural standards for female attractiveness, I had an experience, a mundane encounter that changed in a moment the way I saw myself.

I was at the Laguna Beach Sawdust Festival where artisans from all over SoCal come to sell their wares. It was night and I was with friends at a jewelry counter trying on silver rings...I held my hand out considering a particular ring, noting my chewed up fingernails, the more masculine shape and lines, and I said, "I hate my hands." A woman, the jewelry maker behind the display counter suddenly stopped what she was doing, looked at me intently, eyes narrowed in seriousness and said, "do they serve you well?" Startled, I said, "what?" "Your hands, do they serve you well?" she insisted while staring at me, waiting for my answer.

I thought about it, how with these hands I could draw well, play sports, write, hug my friends, build and fix stuff, a million things I could do well because of the skill and coordination contained in my hands. I looked at my hands again and then at her and answered, "yes." "Then don't hate your hands," she instructed and then she turned away and continued whatever it was that she was doing. In that moment, and through the years when I have reflected on this encounter, I realized the perfunctory dismissal contained in my teenage critique of my hands, the narrowness of my assertion. Never again would I so recklessly and thoughtlessly disparage my parts.

So there you have it. Some thoughts on telling the good truths early and often. We are all so good at criticizing ourselves and others but we really need to work on the complimenting and expressions of appreciation and love. Now go forth and do it. I'll start, I think you're cool for taking the time to read my silly blog. Your git!


Rand said...

I have no idea how many people read this, or if you feel like you're only writing it for yourself, but I really enjoy reading it. You make me think, smile, and want to be more honest with myself.

How's that?

You rock.


stacey said...

This was so insightful made me think...I love reading your blogs.
Even though I havent seen you in 30 + years I still can remember your infectious laugh and smile


cindy said...

I love you Mer, you crack me up, and well yah of course the musings are beyond entertaining, dont change....ever!

Juls said...

We have a great deal more kindness than is ever spoken. The whole human family is bathed with an element of love like a fine ether. How many persons we meet in houses, whom we scarcely speak to, whom yet we honor and who honor us! How many we see in the street, or sit with in church, whom though silently, we warmly rejoice to be with! Read the language of these wandering eye-beams. The heart knoweth. - Ralph Waldo Emerson