I’m noticing how often I try to protect myself and others. Perhaps not in the most direct, transparent ways, but I think the root of many habits and tendencies I have is protection.
When I tell a lie, or bend the truth? I’m telling you what I think you want to hear.
When I shut people out and isolate myself? I don’t want to inflict myself on you.
When I replay an embarrassing incident over and over in my head? I want to be sure I don’t do it again.
Today at work we did some team building within the staff. Some of the questions and information we shared were easy: Name, birth date, birth place, hometown, shoe size. Some of the other ones were more difficult. Favorite food? Favorite drink? Favorite musician?
I found myself filtering. I found myself going with safer options. Sushi is a favorite food, and that felt safe to share; other favorite foods for some reason felt “weird” to share, like quiche or gefilte fish or peas. I went with sushi. Favorite drink? Alcoholic options were definitely out; alcohol is anxiety-inducing enough as it is. Water seemed like the straight-forward answer since that’s what I drink most of the time. I felt that was too weird, too boring, too much of something and not enough of something else. I went with seltzer. Close enough, and not a total lie. But it wasn’t my gut response. Favorite musician? Oh this one was the worst. I quickly scanned through the artists I listen to the most and tried to think of the which to share. Indigo Girls? Too gay, too old fashioned. Melissa Ferrick? Way too gay. Ani Difranco? Too angry– and too gay. I went with Josh Ritter, who seemed a fairly neutral choice. Yet not as true.
I wonder– who else on staff filtered their answers? Some people so confidently owned their favorites and I learned such interesting things about my colleagues! What would it have looked like to be honest? What would it have looked like to be honest with myself, and then to share– and let go of the fear of ridicule or judgement?
What would it look like to let go? To open up? To be vulnerable even a tiny bit?
In practicing compassion, in practicing gentleness, I want to remind myself of protection: This is a new job. This is a time of transition for you. You historically get to know people better in informal, rather than formal, settings. You are surrounded by new people. Of course you feel nervous and anxious! Of course you want to protect yourself. You often fear judgment and criticism– of course this was a scary exercise! Of course you did what you did! Maybe next time we can take a baby step forward and practice one more honest answer together. You can do it. I believe in you.
Today was a benign example of the lying, the holding back, the pretending habits– yet the root was the same: Protection. Keep me safe.
It was also interesting because I noticed I was doing this in the middle of the exercise and I both observed the habit and tried to stretch myself. Both/and. Protection/challenge.
Vulnerability is hard.