When someone tells you “I am an idiot!” what do you do?
Do you go all Rogerian on them, saying “Tell me more. Why do you think you are an idiot?”
Or do you try and shut them down, saying “Don’t talk that way! I never wan to hear that from you again!”
Somewhere in between those two responses is where I stand. It is important to use that opening to explore and understand their self image, to get deeper into what worries them, but it is also important to go on record as not agreeing with their view.
When someone tells you why their life sucks, they are very rarely wrong. It is their life, after all, and they have spent a long time assembling facts that support their view. There is truth backing up their position.
It is, however, a selective truth. Once they took up that position — that lifemyth — they started collecting evidence to back it up. Evidence that contradicted their view, well, that hasn’t been so prominently featured.
To engage their self-view, you have to really be present. You have to listen hard and do the tough work of affirming and challenging in measured parts. If you just dismiss the truth the way that they see it, they will stop listening, but if you don’t offer a strong view, they will just stay in their own limited vision.
In other words, you have to be appropriately disagreeable, respectful and confrontational at the same time. If you just fight you shut them down, but if you just listen, you do not help them move beyond. Doing both is the hard work.
A very smart person said of a trans celebrity that she really believes that if you know her you will like her, that she can charm anyone. She does that, though, by telling other people what they want to hear, compartmentalizing her own feelings and letting them out behind others backs.
For me, that approach has never been possible. Even though I fear that if I tell my truth people will fear me, try to silence, erase and hurt me, I know that telling my truth is the only way I can be true to myself and move the zeitgeist along. That leaves me in a crack between performance and audience, speaking up but avoiding the spotlight.
My job is to tell the truth as I see it, confronting sloppy, amateur thinking, in as gracious a way as I can muster. I need to be appropriately disagreeable.
This does not make me conventionally charming. I don’t play along, tell people what they want to hear, be sweet and bland.
When I offer myself up, I sound smart because I am smart. I have thought through my positions as much as I am able to.
I know, though, that my view of myself is biased by my experience and by the incredible lack of effective mirroring that is available for people like me in the world. When I say “My life sucks,” I need someone to fight me, to be appropriately disagreeable as much as anyone else does.
In season two of “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt” Tina Fey plays a smart therapist and a broken drunk. Kimmy wants to fix her by getting rid of the bad her, but Fey’s character explains that she is not two people, that she is both brilliant and fucked up. A wounded healer. I get that.
I know why people don’t want to fight me, even if they have discovered the value of having me be appropriately disagreeable in their life. They know that being listened to and challenged at the same time is a sacred fight which offers them the possibility of wisdom and growth.
To stand for me, though, they would have to face their own fears. My sister recently got a report back from an arts marketing seminar that said “Use video, video, video to make a connection with your audience.”
“I heard your voice,” she told me, remembering six years ago when I encouraged her to show herself and shine in the world. That wasn’t something she was ready to do, even if I was there to help.
Is there any wonder then that she can’t reflect back to me a sense that only showing myself more fully in the world can possibly return the respect, value and connections that I need?
The path to growth is the path past fear. As a shaman, I know that. I am much more interventional than any clinical professional should be, barracking for change more like a life coach who really understands transcendence. I am not charming and separate, letting the hours tick by, rather I am appropriately disagreeable, challenging with smarts and humour.
The limits of any helper are the limits of their fears. Dying and being reborn enough times can make you a bit fearless, though, even if you don’t believe that people will get the joke or even really like you.
We have to fight for the future, but fight in a respectful, engaged and vulnerable way. When our heart is as open as our mind, we can really be present for others who need our care, need our love.
Being appropriately disagreeable, though, is not on Dale Carnegie’s list of how to make friends and influence people. It is just the calling that queer prophets are saddled with in the world.
I see truth in a different way than someone who has just taken up the conventions and bought into the beliefs. My journey has demanded a kind of vision and understanding that moves beyond. Every journey, though, demands trying to bring those gifts back into where we live now.
Striving to be appropriately disagreeable is hard, because most see that phrase as an oxymoron. It is easy to miss the mark, being too attenuated and appropriate or too challenging and disagreeable.
I just have never been able to imagine any other struggle for me.