A few days ago, my dear friend's granddaughter made the chalk drawing pictured above after hearing her mother was feeling sad.
I was struck by how deeply this child's spontaneous and perceptive response touched me. No one asked her to draw this, or to make her mother feel better by making a drawing for her. It was an unfiltered expression, filled with tenderness. And because just seeing the photograph made me feel hopeful (I have things in my own life that appear challenging), I can only assume that it helped them both to process difficult feelings, each in their own way.
How often do we express what we're feeling towards one another, especially when it might feel a bit awkward or we fear it might be misinterpreted? Our conditioning discourages us from speaking up unless we're not likely to get into trouble. But that need to play it safe is like a wall that keeps us from making a heartfelt connection that reveals our shared humanity, whether in sorrow or in joy - or just in everyday living. We all know that it makes a huge difference to be acknowledged: to know someone really sees you, hears you and "gets" you.
When I grew up, support and collaboration was much less common than competition and rivalry. The majority of the girls and women I encountered were taught to be highly skeptical of one another, which resulted in a lot of adversarial and competitive behavior and hurt feelings. As an adult, I was at first in disbelief and then great gratitude when I began to meet women who supported eachother, emphasizing their strengths and possibilities and encouraging them to step out and be who they really are.
Of course, men have had an equally difficult time expressing their emotions, having been discouraged from allowing themselves to be tender or vulnerable, whether with the opposite or the same sex. The macho ethic is still very much alive, but there are more cracks appearing now more than ever, perhaps because we've realized how fragile our lives on this planet actually is.
Recently I had an opportunity to share my appreciation for the many talents of a relatively new friend of mine. I saw something in her that I wanted to acknowledge, and at the same time I noticed there was a hesitation - would it sound weird to her? Would it come across like I was trying to get something from her by paying her a compliment? Crazy thoughts. But that's what went through my mind, and I'm making an educated guess that those kind of thoughts happen to most of us, seeing as how we've all learned to filter our conversations so that what we say is acceptable.
That hesitation was only a momentary roadblock, and I didn't need to let those thoughts keep me from sharing something that I found wonderful. I knew that I wanted to express what I had seen more than I wanted to keep silent, so what came out of my mouth was, "one of the things I love about you is...." Obviously, we don't need to use the 'L" word when we're pointing out someone's traits or characteristics - for some people and some situations, it's neither appropriate nor desirable. But to be aware of the place from which the impulse arises makes a huge difference. And knowing where that desire to share came from allowed me to share my impression with her, making it both a gift for me as much as it was an offering to her.
So now I'm asking this question of myself: do I - or am I willing - to share what might seem vulnerable or risky or could be misconstrued? Is the habit of wanting to protect myself stronger than my desire to feel that shared sense of being that occurs when I'm open and willing to express something that comes from honesty and appreciation?
As I keep exploring this question, I'm finding that life really is so much simpler, and so much more satisfying, when I see that the need for protection may not be as necessary as I used to think. Be who you are, the wise ones say. Beneath all apparent need for emotional wall building, the self doubt or second guessing, is a radiance and consolation that unites us all.
I'm all for living from that awareness. You?