Books and Covers…

Believe me, every heart has its secret sorrows, which the world knows not, and oftentimes we call a man cold, when he is only sad.

Longfellow, Hyperion (1839)

This post has been rattling around in my head for several years. Of late, though, the rattling has turned into a steady vibration. The day before I started writing this, our family did a rare (for us) thing and went to the movies. We went to see “I Heard the Bells,” – a story about Longfellow and the creation of his Poem, “Christmas Bells,” and that quote was on screen at the start of the film – my mind went to this post that was stuck in my head in “emotions,” but not words.

I have a point with this post –> I’ll summarize with some admittedly obvious principles at the bottom. I’ll spoil the ending and start with them too:

  1. You don’t know what other people are going through and what ingredients led up to how they’re expressing themselves right now.
  2. You don’t even fully know what you are going through “inside” and what ingredients lead up to who you are.
  3. Understanding those two points will take you far in life. The hard work of living in their reality will take you further.

A Witty Heading Delivered Pithily(*)

I want to be careful about making this post about me or diving into too much backstory. Because it’s more about principles that I’ve learned, wish I learned earlier, and find useful perhaps to you. I also think we live in an era where it’s easy to search for the dopamine hit by sharing a bit too much.

The short story is very common – I have things to work on. Some are informed by present stupid choices. Some by past bad decisions. Some actually informed through things accumulated in the developing years. (Spoiler Alert: you also do. Everyone does.) And I’ve done some real work on “me” this year. I can reflect back and see many changes inside – some actually pretty big that blow me away because they were long-settled monkeys on the back that I tried and failed to address. Some of those changes may even be visible outside in shadows, but I also see the work left.

Along this journey, I discovered that there is a school of thought in some circles called “Internal Family Systems,” which postulates that we’re all a bunch of “different personalities” or traits. They’re all well-intending and trying to help us. They form at different times in response to different life inputs. Sometimes I’ve “not liked” aspects of myself. Or aspects of me haven’t liked aspects of me. And as I’ve learned more about me and the reasons some of those things exist – I’ve discovered something pretty interesting – grace – now you’d think I’d be well acquainted with that as a believer who leans on Grace freely granted from God. But there’s head knowledge, heart knowledge, and application. And then even self-application. (Life is messy…)

But… Here’s where those points come in – through learning a bit more about “well, why do I do______ ” or “why do I always find __________” or “why do I feel __________ ” – I’ve really gained a lot of compassion and curiosity for these aspects of my personality (“Parts”). That’s allowed me to give myself grace. And sometimes more than grace. Sometimes even a big old thanks and gratitude for how some things that I’ve derided as trying to help – as ill-informed, immature, and young as they were when they formed. This work has given me this perspective outlined in the points above. I don’t always know why I act in such a way. And when I stop and think – it can make a lot more sense. And by seeing that, by caring, by being compassionate – I’ve been more able to be “me”. Sure, I have a lot of work to do. And a lot of room to grow. The parts that maybe grew up a little extra young have been able to take a back seat and allow my core self to do what needs to be done. So much more, though. But I can see the building blocks even from younger years in various things where shame, doubt, fear, poor self-esteem, and early relationships helped form bad pathways. And I’ve been able to learn more. It’s not all self-help at all, not even “self-help”. Just seeing some of this has allowed me to see more about how God sees me. And it’s allowed me to improve my relationship with Him – Bible Study and Prayer life.

(* – I really couldn’t find a heading that works here. . .)

What’s the Point?

An interesting thing has happened. And again, I say this very tentatively (I’m arriving, I’ve not arrived, I believe we’re “works in progress” until we’re perfectly righteous, and I won’t be able to type to you when that happens 😉 )… But I’ve started to try and pause and ask myself, “why could that person be acting that way?”; “Why do they respond like that?”; “What could be in them that causes that?” That questioning has allowed me to see the world of folks we interact with both as image bearers of God and as complex personalities made up of all of their life events leading up to today. Sometimes they are coming at us from their real self. Sometimes from a hurt part. Sometimes from a part that is protective. And whatever place they are coming from – there can be different “tools” they’re employing to work out the situation. I still stink at “not reading the heart” – I am trying not to ascribe one interaction or one statement to “they must be _______.” And instead, trying to realize that everyone else is as complex as I am. And some days they come from their best. Some days not their best. Heck, most days, for many people in the world – it’s not their best. Especially as stressors, anxieties, the rush of life, and daily struggles compound, they react to life as they do.

This is true in personal interactions. This is true in “leadership” interactions. This is true in consulting interactions. I suppose maybe that’s the work point – If we are not seeking to be curious about why we’re thinking a certain way or why someone is acting or speaking a certain way in a compassionate way calmly – seeking to find clarity and connectedness – then there’s a chance that “protective” part or aspect of our personality is acting. We’re becoming offended. We’re becoming annoyed. And we’re liable to get into a battle between a well-meaning but perhaps ill-equipped part of us and the same type of part in them. Words are shared. Feelings are marred. And we work at cross purposes, wasting time and effort and jeopardizing our common goal.

This is true at Community events. This is true when discussing those forbidden topics on the social media platform du jour (It’s me hi, I’m the problem, it’s me…) and it’s true in work projects and interactions. It’s easy (for me!) to let that insulted or hurt part “help me” by turning to the (likely) wrong response. But that proves (time and time again) to not work.

So I think once we begin to realize a few principles, we start to follow that advice from the FCC I blogged about oh so many years ago (and how embarrassing is it that it took me until now to even have a slightly notched up understanding of the point I was trying to make back then?). And once we realize those principles and carry them out, and start with the grace to self and compassionate curiosity to self but then extend it to others – we actually start to make a difference and yield measurable results in goals. I can’t go tell 20-year-old Mike this. But I can certainly remind almost 44-year-old Mike of it, and share my ramblings with you.

In Closing

So… It would do us well to mind that quote from Longfellow: “Believe me, every heart has its secret sorrows, which the world knows not, and oftentimes we call a man cold when he is only sad.”

And it would do us (again, me first. I’m not there yet.) well to remember to lead with grace and these principles:

  1. You don’t know what other people are going through and what ingredients led up to how they’re expressing themselves right now.
  2. You don’t even fully know what you are going through “inside” and what ingredients lead up to who you are.
  3. Understanding those two points will take you far in life. The hard work of living in their reality will take you further.

2 thoughts on “Books and Covers…”

  1. Thanks for this, a very interesting read.

    Reminded me of the opening line of Scott F Fitzgerald’s book ‘The Great Gatsby’:

    ‘In my younger and more vulnerable years my father gave me some advice that I’ve been turning over in my mind ever since. Whenever you feel like criticizing anyone, he told me, just remember that all the people in this world haven’t had the advantages that you’ve had. ‘

    thanks again
    Ian

    Reply
  2. Great writing. I found the book “How to win friends and influence people” to be a great book on building interpersonal skills. I have benefited from it greatly. Even Warren buffet has acknowledged this as one of the best books to have helped him.

    I would suggest everybody to read the book to develop healthy interpersonal relationships.

    Reply

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