Friday, October 2, 2015

How Is The "Year of Living Shamelessly" Going?

Somewhere back in the first quarter of 2015 I decided to declare this my Year of  Living Shamelessly.

I decided this means that I will live by all the best guidance I've been given, to the best of my ability.

I won't surrender my responsibility for my actions and consequences to "but I was following the recipe" but instead, I will try to practice (in a mindful way) those teachings which I find to be most profound.

These teachings come from my protestant upbringing and scriptures, from my early and current mentors, from people I respect and love, from many books on processes and human behavior, from psychological and neuroleadership sources, basically from anyone I've listened to whose teachings have resonated with me in a deep way.

I've been pushing forward on these fronts:

  1. Empathy
    One of my key learnings from last year was that considering how you would feel in the other person's shoes is not empathy; it's self-involvement. It led me to judge others by how well they performed as Tim Ottingers. It was unfair.
    Now that I understand it's not about how I feel, but how they are feeling.
    This has begun a transformation in how I meet people, how I enter groups, how I listen, and who I can assist or support. It's become very important to me to seek the kind of connectedness that only comes from seeing others as whole separate beings from myself.
  2. Replacing Judgment with Curiosity
    This learning is a very old one, going back to at least "Judge not, lest you be judged." But it goes deeper for me than it did. It's not just about criticizing others, but about replacing the urge to declare their actions and opinions as "right" or "wrong" with curiosity about what it is like to be them in the situation. Why does their action seem to be right in their situation? How does it feel to them to be facing these dynamics? What is the system like in their lives? In their heads? What do they fear? What do they want?
    This is going against some very old habits of sarcasm and recreational anger, but I'm finding that it has the power to open me up to people in new ways, and it feels like a soul-cleansing.
  3. Looking for ways to say yes
    I'm afraid of "yes." If I say yes, and then for some reason I can't do or say or be the thing I say "yes" to, then I feel it as failure and shame.
    Often when I'm asked to do something, it takes me to preemptive shame. I feel ashamed as soon as I'm asked so I bring out a convenient "no."
    This is silly. In many ways, it's like not trying new foods or not meeting new people. It comes from anxiety and not from love or adventure. It's weak. It's one of the more shame-inducing dynamics.
    Now I know that if I'm interested, if it is good and right, then I need to negotiate to a "yes" that I do feel good about instead of rejecting an experience. I can also say "no" without feeling shame, if I've tried in good conscience to make a win-win negotiated "yes."
    This is big stuff.
  4. Developing Confrontational Skill
    I used to be confrontational in a bad way. Then I learned to avoid confrontation. Then I learned that avoiding confrontation is really just stockpiling pain for later and that eventually things boil over in very bad ways.
    So I'm learning to be confrontational in a shameless and empathic and systems-curious kind of way. This is a hard push for me, but on my good days I'm getting traction. I think this may be the biggest challenge for the year.
  5. Rejecting Recreational Anger
    Recreational anger is the term I use for things ranging from "The Springer Show" to Chicago politics to certain episodes of South Park and especially to the style of "comedy" that many performers are turning to these days. Basically, it is being angry and judgmental of others in order to feel good about yourself and your peers.
    Anger has a place. It is an energy to stand against oppression or abuse of others. It's possibly useful. But the adrenaline and excitement of being angry, and the ever-present sense of self-righteousness makes it addictive.  It can draw people to an urgent cause ("you should be furious about X" is a clickbait headline).
    But is it healthy? Does it make those relationships with others more vital and empathic? Does it make us stronger and more kind and more helpful? "All things are allowable, but not things are beneficial."
    I avoid shows that encourage me to dislike others. I avoid "comedy" that rants against one political party or another, or atheists or religions, or women or men. The anger and condescension are certainly exciting and enjoyable. I am simply choosing other ways to entertain myself these days.
    I have decided to go cold-turkey against wallowing in judgment and reveling in shared anger. It is surprisingly easy most of the time, and wholly pleasant. Why seek negativity when the world has much better to offer us?
    However I still indulge in the occasional John Oliver rant on YouTube even though I recognize that his humor is largely recreational anger. He's just so darned witty. I'll keep working on that. Can I give it up? 
Am I perfect? Have I attained mastery in these five areas? No. Not yet. Not by a long shot. But I find that it's helping me become someone I'm accepting and proud of, which I think is pretty important. Better, it's helping me become someone that others are accepting and proud of, and that's deeply important to me.

Abe Lincoln once said:
Every man is said to have his peculiar ambition. Whether it be true or not, I can say for one that I have no other so great as that of being truly esteemed of my fellow men, by rendering myself worthy of their esteem. How far I shall succeed in gratifying this ambition, is yet to be developed.

My Year Of Living Shamelessly is a developmental experiment.

How is yours going?