Tuesday, January 6, 2015

A Healthy 2015: Honest Tales

I don't think we tell our stories enough. When people share their lives, there are always corners left untouched. Some because they aren't important, but some because we're too afraid. Some of the most important parts of ourselves can remain hidden.

I have a friend who believes in God, loves God, and is influenced by their faith in every aspect of their life, but is afraid to talk about it for fear of being associated with Bible-thumpers and extremists. On the other hand, they've been alienated from people at their church for suggesting that loving others ought to be our highest priority with people. (Hearing this story made me understand their fear of extremists.) This part of their life remains as hidden as possible, because they just can't handle the potential rejection of their remaining friends and family.

It's an extreme example, and yet not so different from the rest of us. I'll never forget the TED Talk by Ash Beckham about how we all have closets we hide in. Telling someone you love them, telling your parents you're pregnant, telling someone you have cancer. "All a closet is, is a hard conversation," she says. "Although our topics may vary tremendously, the experience of being in and coming out of the closet is universal."

It pounded home the thing that I'd heard Brene Brown say more than a few times: that to have true, meaningful interaction, we need to be real with each other. We need to be vulnerable.

Vulnerable, of course, is a much more terrifying word than honesty, but they come down to the same thing. Being real. Letting the things that are important to us come out of the dark little closets that we've stuffed them in.

Vulnerable is a scary word because it means that people can hurt you. And it's true: honesty gives people power over you. Honesty is giving people a piece of yourself; they can do anything with that. They can stab you where it hurts. They can walk away.

Being honest might involve a few of those more vulnerable moments. It will involve times where you wish you'd kept everything bottled up inside.

But it will also involve freedom. Being vulnerable doesn't just give power to other people. In fact, that's only a tiny part of what being vulnerable is. For the most part, honesty empowers you with your own truth. It empowers you to be you, wholly, anywhere, and never have to hide.

Sure, you may have to explain. When I bring up the sexual abuse thing, I sometimes have to reassure people that I'm fine talking about this and it's not something that should make them go all quiet and serious. You'll have to--get to--explain. But you won't have to hide. That freedom feels even better than it sounds.

It has been my experience that often when there are people who are publicly denigrating a group I am a part of, they tend to become much kinder and quieter about things when they know I fall under that label.

I have had more than a few close friends who didn't like Christians, but not one of them has denigrated my faith. They have been free to express their hurt and reasons for their dislike of Christendom, and I to explain how my beliefs differ from their expectations. I received the compliment, "You're not like other Christians," which in that context made me feel immensely special.

Most people in most places want to be respectful. They want to be understood and accepted, and they know other people want the same. They're willing to afford you understanding and respect if you're willing to reciprocate.

Sharing our truths doesn't have to be scary. It doesn't have to split friendships and divide people. More often, it allows you to love and be loved more truthfully.

This year I don't want to shy away from telling my truths. It can feel safer in all those dark, close closets, but I think that's because I've gotten used to the claustrophobia and the mouldy damp of living in fear. The healthiest place is out in the open, where I can grow strong and find belonging with all the people who love me for me and all the parts of my story.

Hello, 2015. Let's measure you in stories of truth.

See yesterday's post A Healthy 2015: Endings, Beginnings, and Middles about telling our stories while we're in them and appreciating the journey while still along the way.

Word count: 716.