Risk Being Different

Laura and NancyI spent last week supporting my daughter as she filed papers to end her five-year marriage. We stood solidly, side-by-side, without any hint of I-told-you-so—because of support I sought and received very early in their courtship.

That support helped me to walk steady in our relationship despite the differences between what my daughter Laura wanted for her life and what I assumed was best for her.

While I needed to have a place with my friends to express my feelings, I had to learn to stop projecting my fears onto her. I came to learn that people—including my daughter—needed to make their own decisions. Once I had a bit of space from my concerns, I understood that she saw things I couldn’t see and that she had her own life path to walk. She was on an honorable journey that taught her many things.

Laura stood in line with her papers in hand a much stronger and clearer woman—more herself—than she’d ever been before.

Walking with Laura required that I acquire new skills. I learned to let my feeling flow freely, usually to friends, so that my actions didn’t flow from fear or assumptions. I explored ways both to take responsibility for myself and to honor Laura taking responsibility for her life. I explored drawing limits about my own actions and reactions that weren’t in line with my values. I desired to honor everyone involved, including myself, which sometimes included not acting with or participating in disrespect.

In addition, I needed to learn how to listen, really listen, without forming rebuttals or imagining a list of what-I-thought-made-the-most-sense while pretending to pay attention to her.

All that, while keeping my heart wide open.

Where our differences could have divided us, as they have in far too many families, our relationship strengthened over those years.

Odd as it may seem, these same tools that were so critical in the intimacy of our mother/daughter relationship were the same ones that helped and continue to help me walk through the Big Topics that fill my work.

Early in my life I assumed having a big heart, clear sight and good intentions, whether as a mother or as a global citizen, was enough.

I was wrong.

I needed tools I hadn’t learned in school to walk in the midst of the wide variety of our world.

I’d heard the admonition to practice “tolerance” and “honor diversity.” For me, tolerance (i.e. enduring) was an appallingly low goal. Honoring our differences, on the other hand, was much more complicated than it sounded—whether between family members or coworkers. Good intentions weren’t enough.

Building sustainable partnerships with people with who have very different life experiences and opinions is demanding. It means not getting my own way. It means having my worldview stretched, sometimes uncomfortably. It means being willing to see places where my actions don’t line up with my values or compassionate heart—and adapting my behavior as needed. It means keeping my heart open and staying in relationship with people who make me mad, even when I’d rather walk away.*

Whether as a mother, friend or Big Topic Revolutionary, I want to take steps toward authentic and sustainable partnerships. While I had many friends who have supported me in learning these new tools, the primary place of support and wisdom to walk steady right in the middle of difference came from Be Present, Inc.

This fall I’ve been in three Be Present circles, and I keep returning to their vision statement. It reads like the manifesto I want to follow:

“We are a diverse network of people willing to risk being different with one another, our families, communities, workplaces and organizations.

We are committed to a process that builds personal and community well-being on the strength of self-knowledge rather than on the distress of oppression.

Because we believe that enduring progressive change begins with and is sustained by persistent personal growth, we bring to people a model for personal and organizational effectiveness which replaces silence with information, assumptions with a diversity of insights, and powerlessness with a sense of personal responsibility.”

My daughter and I walked honorably through the middle of our differences. I have no doubt that she will walk into this next phase of her journey following her own inner guidance rather than my advice. As it should be. One person’s perspective—whether for my daughter or global social justice—is too limited.

The Be Present Empowerment Model taught me how to risk being different in all of my relationships. The learning curve has been steep and demanding, but it has shown me the way to be part of the change I so want to see in our world.

 

As you consider end-of-the-year giving, for yourself or as a gift in honor of someone you love, I hope you’ll join me in financially supporting this work so needed in our world, and families, today.

 

*There are times—for example in the face of persistent disrespect—when we need to end a relationship, at least for now. But walking away from people who piss us off means there is no chance for something new and transformative to happen. If we stay and continue to open the conversations, we will have a chance to see if new sight and doorways will appear.

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