I’ve been listening to a lot of Brené Brown recently, and one thread has struck me.
Ms. Brown shows herself to be a nice, conventional lady, with a nice conventional history and nice conventional desires. She shares a mainstream experience with her audience.
In that understanding, she often puts up warnings or disclaimers when she gets to challenging bits of her work. For example, she notes how she just wanted wholeheartedness and authenticity to come with a couple of changes in her life, but what she found in those who had those traits was that they had — and here is where the gasp, the warning comes — a practice. Yes, they had to work at making different choices everyday, not just do a couple of things.
This reminds me of when MythBusters started adding a notebook with diagrams and equations to their shows. They originally labelled it “Warning! Science Content!” They dropped the warning after a season because someone figured out that people who watch MythBusters are not people who are afraid of science, and even if some are, creating disclaimers stops them from entering the good stuff.
The question that any guru has to decide when offering lessons is how much do you invite people in with sweet candy and how much do you help people heal & grow with raw truth? In other words, how much sugar and how much spice?
Ms. Brown often talks about how producers want her to back off on words and concepts that can be off-putting to the audience, offering a sweet invitation to change. She knows now that she has to stand up for her message to some degree, for example, using the word “shame” in her big TED talk keynote.
ShamanGal has been doing shame work recently. In one of her calls, she asked me why she seemed to get over shame around transgender quickly, but shame around family and identity was more difficult to get over.
Her unconventional shame, I offered, was easier to get over even though it was more stigmatized, because it was surface shame. Her conventional shame, on the other hand, shame about perfectionism and duty, shame about family name and success, was much more difficult to get beyond because that shame was not only taught early, but it was shame that connects her to others she loves.
To break the bonds of conventional shame, she has to recreate her relationship with her deep identity and her family, has to question some of her deepest held teachings, and has to examine choices she made based on those beliefs. Her shame about transgender isn’t deep, but her shame about failing to deny her own heart in order to carry out familial expectations goes right to her core. It is those early, conventional and deeply embedded ways she has learned to block trusting her own heart that are the hardest to release.
This is the deep, dark secret of every motivational speaker, the one that they so often want to hide under glossy homilies: Change changes. Once you commit to change, you don’t get to be the same person making the same choices in the same relationships. You end up having to work the process, to go where change takes you, to become new not only in ways you chose but also in ways you could not expect.
It’s easy to know what the right choice is, but it is often hard to make those choices. Why do we stick to choices we know aren’t optimum, choices that we know lead to the same blind alleys, choices we know are flawed and limiting?
We stick to those choices because we know that changing them won’t just change that one choice, it will change our relationship with the world.
TBB has a friend from high school who was far from supportive when she started living as a woman. Her friend blamed her for screwing up everything by attending his wife’s funeral as a visible transwoman, for example.
Recently, though, her friend has been working to change his life, starting with stopping a lifelong habit of drinking. His latest struggle is around a relationship with a controlling woman, a relationship that he doesn’t want to lose, but also a relationship that keeps him bound up in drama and sickness.
Who does he call for help in engaging that change? One person he calls is his old friend TBB, of course, because he knows that she has done the change work, knows that she has had to let go of the comfortable to engage the new and better. TBB stuck out his blaming, hung in there, and now that he needs to heal, he knows what friend he can trust to share his vulnerability, trust to be safe with his darkness.
Change changes things. Change changes everything, for that matter. And the deeper that change goes, the more it changes relationships that we have counted on for comfort even as they bind us up in expectation, convention and limits. Is there any wonder why we resist change, why we keep doing the same things that trip us up every time?
The notion that change is something we can choose like we choose from a menu, only taking the bits we want and declining those bits that are not to our taste, those bits that demand too much from us, is a lovely, sweet and compelling fallacy.
Change changes, so if we want change, we have to take the changes that come along with it. New always comes with different, innovation always comes with surprises, re-creation always comes with restructuring. We have to stay in the moment, surrendering, having the strength to change what we can, the serenity to accept what we cannot change, and the wisdom to know the difference, always grateful for the opportunity to choose again, working to choose growth and healing.
Opening your heart will change you. Your change will change your relationships. But your change can be both something to blame and something to open a heart, as TBB found out with her high school friend.
Change changes. And that’s the secret many successful teachers don’t want to have to say out loud.