Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Rising Strong, Staying Open-Hearted

Hard to believe that two weeks ago we'd have already been on the road towards a great Thanksgiving.  I took with me some craft projects which I didn't complete.  As we've been cleaning/sorting/organizing, I came across some prayer shawls that were unfinished.  I thought I might finish them during our time away, but I didn't.  That's O.K.  I didn't finish them because I was having too much fun--plus I finished one of them last night.

During the very early morning hours of Thanksgiving week, I read Brene Brown's Rising Strong.  Until recently, I had never heard of this woman.  Then, about 2 months ago, people referenced this book again and again.  I'd read a blog post and see mention of this book.  I'd see a Facebook mention.  I'd hear someone talk about it.  Finally I decided to see if the library had it, and happily, I got it before Thanksgiving.

I really liked the book.  Much of it covers material I already knew, but it's good to have a reminder.  If you've spent any time around Recovery people, self-help people/books, and/or Oprah, you, too, likely already know this stuff.  But Brown's way of telling the material is powerful.  The woman knows how to tell a story!

I loved the story of an early morning swim on vacation with her husband--how she was thinking about how glorious it was, while he was still mired in a nightmare he'd had about his inability to save the children from drowning.  They have the kind of encounter that in early days might have led to a fight and days/months of bad feelings.  But in a process that Brown calls "The story I'm telling myself," they're able to talk about their emotional landscape and to deepen their bond.

I, too, have found it easier to talk earlier about what's going on with my emotional life.  I haven't gotten good enough yet to avoid the negative feelings completely, but at least I can say, "You might be perceiving this, but it's about this and not about you."  I've gotten much better at saying, "I'm feeling this way--is it legit or am I misreading something?"

My favorite part of the book was when she talks about the world being divided into 2 types of people:  those who believe that people are doing the best that they can, and those who believe that people could do so much better if they would just do so--in other words, the judgmental types.  And of course, some of us are both, depending on how tired we are, how unappreciated we feel, how much we feel like we have to do it all.

I find this an interesting question, and I've asked others if they agree with her division.  I've also started to ask people if they believe that we're all doing the best we can.  I may stop asking that question because the answers are starting to depress me.

Actually, I already knew that many of us don't believe that people are doing the best that they can do.  I have often said things like "I know that __________ didn't go to grad school hoping that they could shut down a department/school/church/institution"  or "I know that _____ is trying to solve this."  And usually, people say, "Yeah but, if they would just do ___________, then the problem would disappear."

This part of the book reminds me of one of my favorite quotes from theologian Marcus Borg, a thinker who generated many of my favorite quotes.  In The Heart of Christianity: Rediscovering a Life of Faith, he says,  "When I stand in a supermarket checkout line and all the people I see look kind of ugly, I know that my heart is closed" (page 154).

Brown shares her husband's insight:  "All I know is that my life is better when I assume that people are doing their best.  It keeps me out of judgment and lets me focus on what is, and not what should or could be" (p. 113).  I agree with him.

Brown explains why this might be true:  "Most of us buy into the myth that it's a long fall from 'I'm better than you' to 'I'm not good enough'--but the truth is that these are two sides of the same coin.  . . .  Self-righteousness is just the armor of self-loathing" (p. 119).

That last sentence alone would make the book worth reading--and much of the rest of the book is just as good.  I love a book that calls me to be my best self and does it by compelling story telling and great use of language.


Wendy said...

I haven't quite finished the book, but the thing I keep thinking about is how much harder we can be on ourselves than others. I think they are doing the best they can with the tools they have, and, much of the time, I think I can do better. Can I find the same grace for myself that I have for others? (Not that I always have grace for others, but generally speaking.)

Kristin said...

I am the exact same way--finding grace for me--that's the next piece I need to practice!