“I am sorry– the middle of my sentence interrupted the beginning of yours.” A quote from my friend Jim.
Conversation with friends is near the top of my list of life’s pleasures. Even when topics get heated, there’s humor and a reasonable confidence that I am still loved. And since I live in the Scandinavia occupied Pacific Northwest, there’s the distanced politeness that east coast transplants complain about. So I am taken aback when I read ungrammatical, badly punctuated and vituperative if not downright obscene comments on web sites.
Nothing gets people screaming at each other faster than religion. I can only speak for myself when I speculate why this is. I grew up in a fundamentalist Christian home that was powered by fear and craziness (if you’re new here, you can read all about it in: 99 Girdles on the Wall, which, thanks to my witty friend Susan, has been newly copy-edited to within an inch of its life. http://www.elenalouiserichmond.com/99-girdles/ ) It took nearly 25 years to soften a simplistic code of Right and Wrong into a brain wired to cope with the nuance and ambivalence in life.
Recently Marilyn, a new enough friend that for now she can be Marilyn, the untagged, courageously examined some reasons that, as she put it, she doesn’t “want people to speak while I’m interrupting.” http://communicatingacrossboundariesblog.com/2012/05/17/dont-speak-while-im-interrupting-thoughts-on-faith-dialogue/.
I found some of her reasons poignant: “Fear that my faith, this faith that is the foundation of my life, will be found wanting.”
I don’t know much about my new friend’s world, but in any case, I can only respond from mine. As a music teacher I sometimes get parents who ask me, “Is she practicing enough?”
My response is, “For whom?”
Is she practicing enough for me, the teacher? Answer: Irrelevant.
Is she practicing enough for you, the parent? This begs more questions: Is this about feeling like a good enough parent? Is this about getting your money’s worth out of your daughter’s lessons? Are you comparing your child’s progress to someone else’s? Answer to all: Not my area of expertise.
Is she practicing enough for herself? Answer: If she is playing the piano enough that she enjoys the process of learning, isn’t worried about doing it wrong, is curious about music and can anticipate pleasure and challenge in making music in the future, then she’s practicing enough. Let that be the foundation of her music training.
So to Marilyn’s question, I could ask, “Wanting for whom?” This isn’t about what anyone else thinks, feels or wants. It isn’t about what’s right or wrong for anyone but you.
This poses a problem for fundamentalist thinking—and we all do it–and brings in another reason my friend gave for why she doesn’t want people to speak while she’s interrupting: “fear that I will not have a defense.” A lot of us feel this way when we get outside our thought communities. But why should anyone have to defend their faith any more than why they suck the chocolate off peanut M and M’s and spit out the peanut? Not that anyone I know does that.
To allow that someone else has different idiosyncrasies, conceptualizations, experiences, and emphases is to recognize her subjectivity. If one believes that “God” is the Life that permeates the universe then every different being, thought, and thing is a part of the whole. To disallow the logic of another person’s mind is to suggest that one can fathom all of life including the whole of the unseen, the ineffable, the numinous.
Humility is one of the least understood and least practiced qualities in society. Cultivating a sense of another person’s subjectivity can transport one into the peace of humility: Here is another human being who has his own compendium of experiences, memories, desire, fears, goodness, rage, sadness, and humor with a life that has cultivated and made meaning of those qualities and energies.
This person is not me.