Dr. Brene Brown can lay down some wisdom like no one else I know.
She says a lot of poignant things. The thing that personally hit me like a ton of revelatory bricks is, “you can’t selectively numb. If you numb the bad you numb the good.” Boom. Done. If her research only gave us that one nugget it would have been enough to slap a million people in the face like it did mine.
I was numbing at the time I heard it. I was numbing with perfection and productivity. It’s the kind of numbing that makes you seem spectacular in our society. It’s what the “American Dream” is founded on. Work hard, play by the rules, and your dreams will come true. If your dreams aren’t coming true, you aren’t trying hard enough, which is exactly the kind of numbing and proving and perfecting to keep us chasing something unattainable… which keeps us delusional.
Today I want to talk about the experience of fully feeling and the practice of conflating our joy, belovedness, and worth. There was a moment in my husband’s work life that I had the opportunity to witness. It clearly pointed to the way he shaped a young woman’s life in beautiful and life-giving ways.
I said, “wow! Look at that! You did that!”
He replied, “eh.”
I was bummed. So like a good (relentless/exhausting) wife, I waited till we had the opportunity to talk about it again later and I asked him why he didn’t own the goodness of his work. I was truly curious. He explained that he recognized he impacted her on some level, but likely wasn’t the only the one that created the ripple that set this young woman on the course that we witnessed. I countered with the fairly obvious signs that he was a major player. As a woman who fiercely loves her husband, I wanted him to receive this goodness for himself. Especially because I witness when he doesn’t always see his belovedness.
There is clearly a lovely humility to his response, but I wonder, at what point do we need to receive the goodness of the work we are doing in the world. This curiosity led me to the realization that I routinely conflate the good. Conflate is a verb that means to bring together or to fuse into one entity or to combine two or more separate things, to form a whole.
Dr. Brene Brown also says that if we search for our unbelonging we will find it every time. She is not wrong. I have played this game many times. But, what does it look like to search for our belonging? To me it looks like conflating the good. When an employee I serve seems to be responding to something we have been working on together, I assume I belong in that. I fuse these two separate things to form the belief that I am contributing to the generative narrative of our lives. When a VP uses something he learned in a training I provided, I assume it was because of my training.
Of course, this isn’t always true. The VP…turns out he had heard the same thing somewhere else, had forgotten I taught it, and was pulling from someone else’s content. Oh well. It was still positive that it occurred and for the brief moment I believed it was because of me, I had a much better day. When I found out it was from someone else, I thought, “that’s okay. It was still good that it came to life. It is good that I am in step with things the leadership are hearing other places.”
You could read this and think, “well, she is just delusional and delusional happiness is crazy.” But the reality is, in the situation with my husband, he will never know either way. The conclusion that he shouldn’t conflate the good because he doesn’t have the proof is just as delusional. In both instances, we are coming to conclusions about the way we treat ourselves based on information we do not have.
We will never know all of the cause and effect of the vast majority of the things we participate in. Why not conflate the good? Why not believe in your own belovedness. There are no bonus points for keeping yourself from this goodness. If you play this game and you are wrong then you can say, “oops, got that one wrong” and move on. In other words, there is no harm in believing you played a generative role in your life or anyone else’s. You might say, “but aren’t we running the risk of becoming arrogant and self-centered?” Sure. I would counter that believing in your goodness and holding humility are not mutually exclusive. I think that for a long time we have been told the lie that if we believe we are good we are not humble. I call shenanigans on that.
Now back to this proving and perfecting numbing game that I mentioned in the beginning of this post. When I wasn’t conflating the good, it was painful. To avoid the pain, I decided I had to prove my worth since I wasn’t taking it for myself. All of that proving and perfecting to complete a narrative that I was never going to know was an exhausting game. It kept me busy. Constantly busy and it kept me numb. One day, the prove it/perfect it game no longer served me, and the pain of my unbelonging seemed easier to face than the proving and perfecting. It was in that pain, that fully feeling pain, that I learned to receive (conflate) the good.
The other day, I went for a walk. I was in a crunchy mood for a lot of little insignificant reasons. On my walk, I played my music and tried to let the moment pass because they almost always do. In the dusk of sunset, I encountered two deer. I paused. They froze. I let them know that I was not there to harm them. As one walked away, the other walked toward me. I was bursting with joy. I knew in that instant that these two deer were a gift for me. Their magnificent presence was a gift to me in my crunchy mood. I knew that the entire universe had conspired to send those two deer to me.
The universe wanted to remind me of it’s goodness.
You might say that the universe had nothing to do with it. You might say that science has proven that deer have paths that they create and walk to find food and shelter. To that end, I simply invaded their natural world. I would not disagree with you and even though all of that is true, those two deer were still a gift to me in that moment. We live in a universe that is so incredible that the very scientific nature of the beasts that set them on their path that happened to cross mine that night, in all of their majesty were a gift to me to remind me of my own belovedness.
At the end of the day, we both have the facts. It’s a matter of what we choose to do with it. As for me, I’ll take my delusions and sense of worth because the world will gladly remind me otherwise if I choose that ending.