When I was a little girl and I’d get into trouble, which I assure was more often than I’m happy about, my mother would often say, “I always love you, but I don’t like what you are doing right now.”
That’s an amazing thing to tell a kid, I think, for it keeps a connection going between parent and child, but also let’s the rapscallion in trouble know exactly what it is that isn’t working for the parent. It’s the action being dealt with, not the person in total.* It allows a child to decide on how to proceed, while knowing their parent’s love, and at the very least the lines of communication, are there.
My focus in my work, whether it is my professional career or my artistic avocation, is all about people, their feelings, and their interactions in groups, generally for the betterment of that group or artistic expression. I ponder a great deal about how people’s feelings and dynamics affect the groups and organizations they are in. These things are connected. What’s the old saying about how a chain is only as strong as it’s weakest link? I think that holds true in all groups, from families to theater troupes to the work place.
Oftentimes, the “weakest” link gets dealt with by a group rather harshly. The group itself can experience dysfunction by either placing all their focus on the “problem” in question or by severing a connection completely. Neither option helps further the strength of the individual person or the group. The connection is what matters and the health of the system is only improved when the group is able to stay connected, even while being honest about what is or isn’t working.
The topic of connection has come up for me twice recently. First, as I came across this amazing article on the power of exclusion and it’s impact on individuals, and second as I’ve been working on a Chronicle blog piece highlighting Atticus Circle’s First Annual Awards Luncheon.
I recently spoke to one of their guests of honor, Chely Wright. She is a talented musician who has come out in the past year, no small feat for anyone, for coming out of the closet (whether LGBT or otherwise) is a terribly stressful thing to do. In her case though, she came out as a country music star in an industry that has not always dealt favorably with LGBT issues. As we spoke, the theme came up about connection, about feeling so excluded and afraid as a young person and even as an adult, to know that she, like many closeted youth, had a secret that might cost her everything.
One might ask, why is coming out so hard? There are clearly obvious reasons-your parents might reject you. Your work might fire you. Your social life might suffer. But even in liberal and accepting environments, the stress of coming out, of being honest about one’s self, can be more daunting than just losing a few friends or a job.
Which brings us back to the article I linked previously. What I found mind-blowing about the it was that for primates at least, the stress of exclusion and ostracism is so profound that it causes actual physical pain. Even more interesting, was that even if you are being excluded by those you don’t respect or care for, the pain of that exclusion is just as profound. Imagine that….you are proudly standing up for what you believe in, and the opposition is angry with you, an opposition you don’t give a fig about, or agree with…you’ll still experience the psychic pain of exclusion.
Which places many of the leaders of Social Justice movements in even higher esteem in my mind.
It is such a deep structure in the human animal, that need to be included, that we experience incredible anxiety when we suspect we’ll be rejected for just being who we are. Class. Race. Sexual Orientations and choices. Political stances. Heck, even being that guy that doesn’t want to be on the Company Softball Team runs the risk of losing clout at work if he doesn’t pony up and play.
What does that anxiety do to our relationships, to our work? How disconected are we from each other when we feel we have to hide the essence of who we are? Even those that are doing the excluding might fear they have something of their own to hide.
When I think about creativity, generative work, groups of any kind functioning on the highest level, I think that one dynamic in place is the ability of the individuals to be able to stay connected to each other even if they disagree with the actions of each other. If we deny ourselves to each other, and if we threaten to cut off based on our own fears, doesn’t that leave us in a seriously non-creative, non-productive space?
This of course begs a question in my own mind; Is it ever ok to use the tactic of exclusion? To say, “Because I don’t like what you are doing, I truly don’t love/like YOU.” To exclude and cause another person, one you might eat lunch with, or bowl with, or create projects with, that kind of anxiety just because you don’t understand why they are the way they are. There are clear instances where taking care of the self and safety is paramount, certainly.
It’s an important question to wrestle with, and my answer tonight is that (generally) severing the connection, while it happens, may well cost me just as much as the person I’m rejecting.
What about you? How do you keep connection with others even when you are at odds with how they behave and believe? Do you bring your fullest self to the game? If not, what would need to be in place in order to do so?
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