Last week I attended a conventional event, with a speaker and an audience. It worked because I got what I was looking for: one-way information from an expert about how to do something.
I also got something I wasn’t looking for: the understanding that it is a big deal, and rare, for people to be in the same room together.
I also got something I wasn’t looking for: the understanding that it is a big deal, and rare, for people to be in the same room together.
The MC, when thanking the speaker, was effusive about how fantastic it was for us to be together, in this room together, authentically. My brain yelled at me: HOLD THE PHONE! DOES HE THINK BEING IN THE SAME ROOM MEANS AUTHENTIC HUMAN INTERACTION?
It got me thinking… do people think that being in the same room, face-to-face, somehow pulls out our authenticity in a way that we do not do via our devices? And what does it mean to be authentic, and does it automatically happen when we are in the same room?
A definition for authentic (adj):
Being what it is claimed to be; genuine
Made or done in the traditional or original way
Based on the facts; accurate or reliable
Relating to or denoting an emotionally appropriate, significant, purposive, and responsible mode of human life
If something is authentic, it is real, true, or what people say it is (Cambridge Dictionary). When it comes to people, Christopher Collins, in his article about the 5 qualities of an authentic person, defines an authentic person as, “representing one’s true nature or beliefs; true to oneself or to [another] person.” The person is not false or copied, not phony or fake.
I would go on to say this: present.
A person must be present to be authentic.
So yes, the audience and I showed up to get the information we were looking for. There was a little bit of Q & A with the speaker, but otherwise there was no interaction between attendees, the speaker, the MC and the evening’s host. Here’s my proposition: if there is little or no interaction between people, can there be any degree of authenticity? It seems to me that we have to get to know each other in order to know if we are representing our true nature or beliefs, if we are true to oneself or another. If we don’t get to know each other then we don’t get to know our beliefs, let alone if we are each living in accordance with our beliefs. If we don’t interact with each other, we don’t get to know each other. Therefore, if we don’t interact, it is not possible to know if we are authentic. (Perhaps we are, but we don’t know this.)
If there is little or no interaction between people, can there be any degree of authenticity?
So if there are no interactions, there can’t be any degree of authenticity — at least that we know of. Which means that if we are in a room together but do not interact with each other it is at most a shallow degree of authenticity.
I imagine an assumption in the MC’s mind: that since we are in the same room together that we are relationship with each other.
We have to interact to get to know self and other.
Perhaps it is ironic that we get to know more about each other, our thoughts and feelings and perspectives on things in social media than we do in person. On the face of it, social media may be more authentic than a conventional presentation in a room full of people. (Not saying it is; it could be.)
The event and the speaker was authentic in that it was what it said it would be: expert advice. Was it authentic human interaction that allowed everyone an opportunity to represent their true beliefs with integrity, and explore each others’ beliefs? No. We were in the room together but with exception to the speaker, we barely exchanged a couple of sentences with each other. We did not offer to self and others our presence to explore the world and how we make our way through it. Authenticity does not automatically happen.
If we are hungry to simply be in the same room together, are we also hungry for more human interaction that explores ideas and feelings and how we think and feel about those ideas and feelings? I am. It is in this realm that humanity expands itself and grows into new potentials.
If we are hungry to simply be in the same room together, are we also hungry for more human interaction that explores ideas and feelings and how we think and feel about those ideas and feeling? I am.
The last thing to leave the home in which I lived the longest in my life was my bicycle. After several days of packing, a day of moving belongings out and a day of cleaning, I locked up this home and got on my bike.
Spring wheels in the fresh air feel fantastic. This year it came with a little extra meaning — it was the means by which I closed off a chapter of my life to begin another. I rolled across the street to say goodbye to neighbours, then crossed again to say goodbye to other neighbours and shed a few tears. I rolled a few blocks north to leave a gift for a new baby, then a few more blocks north to my old neighbourhood hardware store for some things needed to set up the new home. Fighting back tears, I got what I needed, then got back on my bike and let tears come down as I headed down into the river valley.
About three years ago, I stopped spending much time on social media. My blogging activity dropped, from four posts a week to one every month or so. I showed up sporadically on Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter because I didn’t have the energy for it as I cocooned, to figure out what was happening with my life and what I needed to do about it. I wrote about it in oblique ways, but was otherwise quiet to the outside world in social media, keeping my hopes and fears close, sharing and exploring them with the people closest to me and able to hold space for me: partner Peter and dear friends.
What was happening behind the scenes: challenging events related to my work and professional identity, the end of my marriage and the end of relationships with people unable to cope with the end of my marriage. Also happening behind the scenes: a stronger sense of personal sovereignty, new and renewed relationships with people able to hold space for Beth-in-transition (and vice versa), and an unabated thirst to grow and evolve into the emerging me, for my own growth and evolution.
I write to make sense of myself and life conditions. I’ve shared little bits of that here on my blog, but I write about specific people only if I have their permission. I do not write publicly about the people I am struggling with because I do not want them to experience shame or guilt from me, and I do not want to create the conditions for others to pile on. My intention is also to make sure that the writing I share is not from a defended place; I am not defending myself, nor am I on the attack. When I share publicly what I write, it means I have learned something about myself and how I relate with the world around me.
As my marriage was ending two and a half years ago, these were the questions I was asking myself (the Hamilton series):
After having sorted out all the details of our uncoupling, my partner Peter and I sent a message out to the world in February 2017: (INSERT link to Beware listening through stories)
Several blog posts over the last two years reflect what I was learning along the way and I reached deeper into myself, my longings and learnings in my interwoven personal and professional life. Some highlights:
Beware listening through stories. It is not possible to know what is going on for someone else by looking at them, or having simple and shallow conversations with (May 2, 2017).
Self-empowerment threatens. We all have the same choice, whether the change comes from within or without: resist our transformation or allow it (June 30, 2017)
Harm happens, intended or not. Harm is not decided by the person causing harm, but by the person harmed. Admitting that I have caused harm means I have to change. This is a good civic practice. (Nov 13, 2017)
Colonial blind spot. For relationships to repair, I need to be ready to hear about harm, receptive to having my sense of identity be shaken, and willing to step into a relationship with reciprocity. (January 20, 2018)
Welcoming outsiders. As we find ourselves increasingly challenged with the pace of change and conflict in our world, being deeply held and having the capacity to hold and examine conflict is essential. We need to do a better job of meeting and finding each other. (April 2, 2018)
Sovereignty is necessarily disruptive. Telling each other what we need to tell is uncomfortable and necessary. Hearing what we don’t want to hear is uncomfortable and necessary. It hurts. We may feel—or be told—we are causing harm by doing this, but we are causing more harm by not speaking and receiving what needs to be said. (May 1, 2018)
A castle’s not made for everyone – is a city? Making a city (or a family or an organization) that’s made for everyone involves trusting others’experience of the city. We find it hard to believe in the existence of barriers named by others if we don’t see that barrier, or experience that barrier ourselves. (May 3, 2018)
Accommodate or exclude.When I know what I need to do to accommodate people, then I am consciously including or excluding them. If I do not ask, do not listen, do not accommodate, I exclude. (Feb 6, 2019)
And since my personal and professional lives are interwoven, my decision to leave the home I’ve lived in the longest in my life is also about my city – and who I want to be in my city.
That series of posts from when my marriage ended – the Hamilton series – shone light on questions I will welcome for the rest of my life:
How do I make room for the Me I am growing into?
Who holds space for me to figure out who I am growing into?
Is there an ending that needs my attention?
What am I saying yes/no to?
What is the story I choose for myself?
On my way into the river valley, I followed a path that bends back and forth through a ravine. The spring melt made it treacherous earlier that week, the warmth of the day melting snow and covering the path with ice overnight, each day the path getting more and more clear. I rolled down until I came to the shady patches of ice, to walk beside my bike. On and off and on and off. Near the bottom, as I gingerly stepped down a narrow channel of concrete, I spotted an abandoned shopping cart. In it: two huge bags of dog food and a gym bag.
I made my way by the cart, a bit puzzled until I stepped back onto the clear concrete and got back on my bike. I realized the cart was aiming uphill. It was abandoned because it was not possible to push it any further. I imagine the human making the choice to stop, to take what was most important to them on her way up the hill and leaving the rest behind. Perhaps they came back for it, or perhaps she left it for others to carry. As I headed down into the valley for my next chunk of life, I realized I left a burdened cart behind. I didn’t need the cart or its contents. I didn’t need any longer to push a laden cart uphill through ice that made it very difficult to make headway. I turned to a new direction, releasing the need to make something happen that doesn’t want to happen.
This embodies many choices I have made over the last several years, personal and professional: I choose not to push my cart uphill.
If something doesn’t want to happen, I’m not afraid to notice this, to say so, to not spend energy making it happen.
This does not mean I don’t work hard—it means I notice when there is resistance and choose to work with it or against it. I am smarter about it. When there is resistance, in me, in others, I take the time to notice what it is and why.
I notice where there is resistance to explore the resistance, and I dig in. I enjoy spending time with others who are willing and able to do the hard work of digging into their resistance, or our resistance. This is the flavour of the next part of my life, with fellow citizen who also enjoy this exploration, in a new part of the city.
After leaving the burdened cart of resistance behind, I made my way along the river valley. A long and flat path, full of ease. I floated along, enjoying the crisp air of the misty morning. I found a river crossing, found my way through a wee neighbourhood to the road that makes its way uphill, to my new neighbourhood. I stopped halfway to enjoy the view, now clear of the mist. A new view of my city and my place in it.
I have acknowledged what has ended and is ending. I am clear about what I say no to and what I say yes to. I have acted on what I need to do to be the Me I am growing into.
I have moved to a new city—without moving to a new city. I am a new me without being a new me. I chose to be here. I chose how to get here.
Post script – After finishing this post, I started to organize my post-move bookshelf. These words fell open to me:
Resistance is an inner contraction, a hardening of the shell of the ego. You are closed. Whatever action you take in a state of inner resistance (which we could also call negativity) will create more outer resistance, and the universe will not be on your side; life will not be helpful. When you yield internally, when you surrender, a new dimension of consciousness opens up.
Eckart Tolle, A New Earth: Awakening to Your Life’s Purpose
On February 3, 2017 my former partner and I shared parallel messages to let friends know what was happening in our personal lives:
This message let a wider circle of friends know what was happening in our internal worlds, but for most of my interactions with people, for months, when asked “how are you?” my answer was “good.” Sometimes I’d be more honest and say, “You know, I’m ok today. I have some stuff going on and I’m not at my best.” But the majority of time, the most people knew was that I was “good”, or “fine”. Just like them, I suspect, I gave the answer we all hope to hear, that all is well.
Here’s what I have learned: there is no way any of us can possibly know what is going on for someone else by looking at them, or even briefly talking to them. It is irresponsible to think that we can.
There is no way any of us can possibly know what is going on for someone else by looking at them.
As I hunkered down to make sure I kept it together during a significant time of transition in my life, and made my way through the world, I realized that no one else knows what is going on for me. A handful of people got close and gave me the gift of love and support, but when I went out to get groceries or went to work, I did not have a sign on me telling others what was happening. Even if I did have that sign — 21 year marriage just ended — they would still have no idea what it meant for me. All they have is their story.
It is not possible for others to know my story and what it means to me. And this tells me that when I see others on the street, or in a workshop or at work, it is not possible for me to know their story and what it means to them. I can not know by looking, and I can not know by hearing a wee piece of story either. All I can know is the meaning I make of the story I tell myself. All I have is my story.
It is not possible for me to know their story and what it means to them… All I can know is the meaning I make of the story I tell myself.
The tricky work of being in relationship with others is in recognizing that my reaction to what others do and say is my reaction. The stories I tell myself about them are my stories. To show up as my best self with them means I have to be aware of the stories I tell myself.
I have learned this because the stories others tell themselves about me are not my experience. Here are a few story pieces a handful of people have shared directly with me:
There must be a reason why! There must be someone to blame. Who made this happen?
You have lost so much! You are alone, without a partner. This is tragic.
You must be lonely.
You must not know what to feel, so I will tell you how you must be feeling.
You must not know what to do, so I will tell you what you need to know. Here’s how to handle money… here’s how to handle the separation agreement… here’s how to handle the kids.
These stories these dear people carry about my and my situation shape how they offer support to me. As they listen through their story, they act in ways that soothe them, not me. Despite good intentions, they are not supporting me at all. To me, what they say and do can feel disempowering; I sense a pre-supposition that I am broken, flawed, that something is now missing in my life that should be there, that I am incomplete. These stories that are not my own and have the power to deflate me — if I let them.
In contrast, a series of other stories have revealed themselves to me, that recognize and support my journey:
It took courage acknowledge the need to separate.
It took courage to enact the separation.
This is a time of transition, confusion and metamorphosis.
This is hard work and you are capable of handling this.
I am available to listen, with out judgement, and simply be with you.
This set of stories embodies an entirely different way of supporting me because they are listening for my story; they are not listening through their story. To support me, they put their story aside and make room for me. They trust that I am fully capable of living through a difficult time. When we spend time together, they give me space and room to figure out my next steps without inserting their agenda. If they are uncomfortable and upset about my new reality, they are able to put that aside and not let it run the show.
I have a new understanding about what it means to be heard and supported as we make our way through our lives. For me specifically it means this:
I pay more attention to my own state and ability to be with others. If I am not able to listen for their story (and only able to listen through my story), I need to remove myself.
I pay more attention to the quality of listening in others toward me. If they are only capable of listening through their story, and I am in need of support, I remove myself. If they are only capable of listening through their story and I am capable of listening for their story, I will stick around and be supportive.
I choose to notice the stories I tell myself, check if they belong to me and if they are disempowering myself and/or others.