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Naming It

People generally struggle with honesty and transparency. It’s a natural part of what it means to be human, at least so it seems. There are obvious examples of this in our public sphere. We have a President who willingly bombs a Syrian Air Force base in the name of protecting children while also using weapons to kill many innocent civilians, including children, in Yemen and Iraq. One can’t honestly be about the business of protecting children while killing children at the same time. Clearly there is an honesty and transparency issue when it comes to what the President desires to accomplish in the Middle East.

Our President is not the only one who has an honesty and transparency issue. I’m fairly certain that we all have parts of our lives that we would rather hide from others. I most certainly do. It takes an incredible amount of strength to get vulnerable with even our closest friends. Recently I have noticed that ‘naming it’ is perhaps our only weapon against our fears and secrets.

For the past few months, my six year old son has been in therapy for his anxiety. I really have no idea what goes on in therapy, mostly because I have been reticent to participate in therapy myself, on several occasions (my wife rolls her eyes). It seems simple enough: my son goes into the therapist’s office, plays with toys, and talks about what makes him worry the most. Sometimes he even names those things to us after he is finished. It takes incredible guts to do this, even at the age of six.

One of his many worries, the top on his chart, was playing at the park when other kids are there. Since it is very rare to be at the park alone, this is a significant issue that he was dealing with. The therapist gave him some homework: go to the park. He didn’t have to play with anyone. He didn’t have to talk to anyone. He just had to go to the park.

Once.

And he had two weeks to accomplish this.

The next day he went to the park. Without any prompting from me he just asked if we could go. It was as if his worry had completely vanished in the therapist’s office. Not only did he go to the park, but he played with some kids that he didn’t even know. What is this all about? How did this happen? Is the therapist a magical witch doctor or something?

Last night, my wife texted me: “My eating is out of control. I need you to ask me about it more often.” We have been working together as a couple to lose weight. A couple of months ago I reached my goal weight, which can’t be easy for her. I also had less to lose, so it was much simpler to reach that goal. She has lost as much weight as me, and is on the back stretch of a now five month process of losing some laziness (also known as pounds), despite having some chronic pain issues in her feet that have made exercise next to impossible. She’s super determined.

I had no idea what she was referring to, as I was at work, so when I came home I asked her what ‘out of control’ means. She said, “I can’t stop eating candy.” Easter is not only a celebration of the redemption of all things, as we parents know. It has also become as candy-centric as Halloween. And we are stocked up. I had no advice to offer (being married for almost 14 years has taught me when not to say something). I just said, “Oh.” This morning, I just reminded her that candy is the devil.

Kids getting devil-candy on Easter

This morning, she texted: “Telling you about my eating last night helped already! Just saying it out loud to someone else made me make better choices.” Am I a magical witch doctor? How does this always work, and why do we always avoid being honest about our struggles?

“Many of us…refuse to face our feelings of shame. They make us feel too vulnerable. So we pretend they do not exist and hope they will go away…When we do so, however, these unwanted parts of self do not go away. They simply go into hiding” (David Benner, The Gift of Being Yourself, 53).

Instead of ignoring the worst or most regretful or most embarrassing parts of ourselves, “there is tremendous value in naming and coming to know these excluded parts of self” (Benner, 53). I have seen this ring true so often in my life. Often, just naming the problem, like a fear of kids at the park or a one night candy binge can transform everything. It brings shame or fear out into the open and makes it seem so trivial. Benner goes on to write, “parts of self that are not given a place at the family table become stronger, not weaker. Operating out of sight and beyond awareness, they have increasing influence on our behavior” (Benner, 54). In order to weaken the control our shame has on us, we need to bring it to light.

No one knows what your hidden self is hiding. It could be hatred. It could be fear. It could be regret. It could be racism. It could be a big deal, or it could be nothing at all. The only way we move towards being more honest and transparent with one another is to try, or so it seems.

The goal is not to be what has so gleefully been called ‘politically incorrect’. The goal is to be open. To admit when we have a problem or have made a mistake, and then seek help to fix it. I think this is something we all desire from our leaders. Perhaps it needs to start with us instead.

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