” Hov did that, so hopefully you wouldn’t have to go through that”- Jay Z
From the time we are babies, our parents try to protect us from a great many things. Germs. Injury. The world. They tell us stories, they teach us a great many things with the intention of teaching us to navigate the sometimes unfriendly world we live in. They teach us not to talk to strangers, to do things the safe way, and make the choices they would have made if they had the opportunities they often strive to give us.
Protection meant different things in different times. In my grandmother’s lifetime, protection meant turning a blind eye to side families and inadvertently teaching their children to do the same. It sometimes meant asking another family member to raise children you didn’t necessarily want to have, children that may have been the result of rape, lack of choices/alternatives for contraceptives or an acquiescence to a social role as woman that turned a nose down at women who chose to follow their hearts or their passions instead of deciding to have a child.
And those children grew up. As they grew, maybe they felt unwanted, angry, or unloved. They lived with grandparents or other family members who took on the role of parents at a time when they could have been enjoying their golden years. Grandparents who loved the children, but maybe didn’t fully have the vigor or the desire to continue to raise children. Grandparents that may have spoken of their mothers with disdain, or not spoken of them at all. Grandparents who may have believed that children should be seen and not heard, who may not have believed that children had feelings about abandonment that they could not articulate, especially when they could see their parents appearing to enjoy a life that included them peripherally, rather than intentionally.
Some of those children were able to confide in other family members, while others were left to their own devices. They made rules to protect themselves, to keep themselves safe from feeling that kind of hurt or rejection and called it love. Some of them had children and taught it to their children, wanting to protect them from a word that allowed people to become parents that didn’t love their children, hoping to show them a love they did not feel they had ever known. Sometimes, that resulted in penalizing their children for adhering to rules they could not know, did not understand, who in turn, excelled, rebelled, or moved away to protect themselves.
One thing some of those parents did along the way was to allow their children to have their own voices, either by not stifling the voices their children already had or by talking to them, answering their questions to the best of their abilities, and telling them when they didn’t know the answers. Others tried to punish their children and make them take on their worldview, to protect them from a world that would not protect them. Some of those children bent and silences themselves. Some escaped through drugs, sex, scholarship or athleticism.
We are in a renaissance now, wherein those children, us and our parents, get to redefine protection. Rather than keeping us away, we get to create opportunities to explore the world around us, to learn to trust our own intuition and inner guidance and do away with social roles, expectations, and standards that didn’t and don’t serve us. We get to decide to live in world of our own making. We just have to decide if we can live outside of the protection we have always known and hold firm in that decision even when it feels like that protection was safe because it was the devil we did know…instead of the devil we don’t.
The payoff will be worth it.
As I type this, I am waiting to hear back from an opportunity that could change my life. One that could move me from doing what I ‘have’ to do to doing what I want to be doing.
It is a decision that has been a long time coming. Looking back on it, I put a lot of things in front of pursuing my passions: work, family, status, trying to live the life my parents, grandparents, and siblings could be inspired by. When enough people tell you enough times you have to be something, you internalize it. Failure feels like it isn’t an option.
So I did the things I thought were the right things. I was blessed through them too, even though I changed my mind a lot along the way. Every time I changed my mind, I got another opportunity to make a choice and to change my mind again. I only dreamed big enough to get to whatever I thought the next step would be and I was supported along the path. I would finish a degree and move on to the next thing that I thought would bring me closer to being what I was told I had to be…until school was an option I couldn’t afford.
After that, I worked. I put the two degrees I had to use, all the while waiting for the next opportunity to open up. I liked my job, I was good at it, but I still didn’t feel like I was fully doing what I needed to do. I took jobs to see the country and make money. I was looking for home, I was looking for a place to settle, and more than anything, I was looking for me. I bought things, took trips, had experiences, and found pieces of myself. I made my home in different states, found framily in places I never thought I would, and lived some dreams that didn’t really fully belong to me.
The biggest thing I realized was that ‘failure’ brought me closer to myself. The jobs I didn’t get, the money I didn’t have, the relationships that weren’t quite right taught me so much more than getting what I asked for. I learned about what I value and what I didn’t. I learned that when I didn’t really have the room to receive what I asked for, even when I got it, it cost too much to keep it. Or I didn’t really appreciate it. When the manifestation of the desire is the end goal, you don’t think anything about what it takes to stabilize it or to keep it, and it costs you on both sides. In most conversations about manifestation, it ends with the receipt of the desire, be it love, money, or a job. No one tells you that desire begets desire because getting what you want opens you up to dreams you may not have ever thought were possible for you before…which opens you up to more of yourself.
It’s not always pretty, and it’s damn sure not always fun, but dream big and be brave enough to pursue your dreams. If nothing else, you find more of you, and that’s priceless.
Consistency is one of the most important parts of all of the relationships we have: relationships with loved ones, lovers and self. Consistency requires discipline and a clear sense of ones values. Many times the conflict that arises in our relationships arises from a divergence in values that we believe are shared. While the word we might use to describe a particular value might be the same, the degree to which we exercise it in an interaction might differ considerably. The value that we apply in a particular interaction and our understanding of the differences in our shared values contribute much to the cost of consistency.
Many times we find ourselves doing something because that is the way we have seen it done, as in parenting .We are authoritative without explanation and often expect obedience despite the fact we are raising little humans who experience the world by the opportunities we do and don’t allow them to take. We sometimes wrongly interpret questions as defiance instead of genuine curiosity. We get angry with them for questioning our authority, instead of considering the fact that an explanation of our rationale could be sufficient. In consistency being seen as the “boss” in the relationship, we often rob ourselves of the opportunity to get to know the children we are raising.
The same hold true in our other relationships. We might decide there are only certain roles we are allowed to fulfill in relationship. We decide that asking for help is a sign of weakness. We decide that men can’t be in touch with their emotions and that women must only nurture, can never show tough love. We decide that parents must only support our dreams, sacrifice and parent us throughout their lives- even when our own parents haven’t ever completely shown up in that regard. In demanding consistency we do not allow room for deviation; we don’t always allow people to show up as who they are.
What can we do to change this? We have to examine the root of our desire for consistency. What is it that we believe to be true about ourselves, our relationships, our world that we allow to hold us captive? What is at risk if we decide to change our minds?
In the unraveling, we have to ask ourselves about the motivation or the “why” behind our actions. Are we angry with children, partners or friends for not appreciating the effort it took us to buy a gift, to provide a lifestyle, to show up in a certain way? Are we seeking some measure of external validation for the choices we have made?
What we seek in asking ourselves these questions is balance. What we find in answering the questions might be unsettling. We might find that we aren’t very confident in the “why “ behind our actions. We might find that some of the things we believe that we do for benefit of others are also a way we prove to ourselves that we are the person, parent, or friend we wish we had or want to be. We might find that we don’t feel like we have the freedom to who we are, instead of who society tells us we should be.
When the doing of a thing, the repetition of an act becomes a habit it becomes something we do without thinking. Sometimes the cost of consistency is thoughtless reaction to and interaction with the world around us.
It has been a topic of conversation for at least as long as I have been alive. Before I knew what the words meant, I was singing along to songs that ingrained a message to catchy beats, clever lyrics and soul-touching passion. I eavesdropped on conversations that my elders had and learned a refrain that I have seen in more songs, more online arguments, and heard in many more conversations, a refrain I chose to release. What refrain?
Men ain’t sh*t.
Many times it is much easier to generalize than to be specific. From generalizations we are able to make rules that give a semblance of order and foster a sense of control to the world we live in. For example, we tell young children not to talk to strangers and often have to console them when they are hesitant to talk to people they don’t know that include family or friends. It is easier to introduce the exception rather than to make a rule so specific that it is hard to explain and hard to remember.
Perhaps that is why it is easier to make “ain’t sh*t” men the rule rather than the exception. Women who are happily coupled with men who are an exception are still able to join in this refrain, a rallying cry for women who have been wronged by men…or specifically, an individual woman who has been wronged by an individual man.
In a recent conversation with a dear friend, we discussed an unexpected ending to a would-be “fairy-tale ending” to a courtship: Man and Woman were friends, Man proclaimed his love for Woman to anyone who would listen, Woman agreed to date man and man became distant. Man went from calling often to feeling crowded and needing his space. A woman to Woman moment happened when a phone call revealed Man tried to sleep with woman (see what I did there?). I listened my friend be angry, and then I listed to that anger, fear and distrust transfer itself to doubt about the man who was courting her. It was in that moment that I realized the potential damage we do when we make rules to keep ourselves safe.
Can we truly allow ourselves to fall in love if we are always waiting for the proverbial shoe to drop? If we as women or men who love men convince ourselves that they are not capable of receiving and reciprocating our love…then what are we doing when we say we want to be in a loving romantic relationship? Are we setting ourselves up to be unsuccessful, to live in a world where we meet men who show us that we are right?
I offer this as an alternative; take each man for an individual. Live outside of the rules and meet that man where he is. If he, through his own efforts, shows you he ain’t sh*t, let that be a label for him and him alone. Name the ain’t sh*t man instead of making men the boogeyman. Listen to that voice that tells you when something is wrong. Be willing to separate fear from truth, to be courageous and gamble at the risk of great reward.
I know that this in and of itself is not easy, because it means conversations with yourself and conversations with friends and family must change. It means revising both how you show up and what you tolerate from a man in courtship and relationship. The change will start with you and continue from there.
I have always had difficulty with the idea that a person can come in your life to be a mirror. More than anything, I think it is because of how I thought a mirror works.I always known a mirror reflected you back to you, that you looked in a mirror and saw yourself. What I know now is that – in the case of people – that is not the whole truth.A mirror reverses images from front to back…which means your reflection is shown backwards. When you look at yourself in a mirror, you never see yourself the way other people see you.
It took a conversation with a friend for me to really wrap my head around what this meant, and by conversation I mean being a 3rd party to a presently unfolding interaction between herself and an ex. I will share some background, because I think it helps to clarify the point.
My friend was in a relationship. While she may have had reason to believe the relationship was not exclusive, she had held more hope that is was. She elevated his good deeds over his not-so-good deeds. She remembered things, focused more of her attention on things like surprise get aways more strongly than him not asking about occurrences or people he should have asked about. This might have gone on indefinitely, might still be going on if not for her being surprised by another woman while in the bed of the man she loved.
She left, time passed. She grew…older, wiser, spiritually and more in love with herself. She moved from judgement to discernment, moved from mourning the relationship to recognizing it as an important stepping stone to embracing the woman she wanted to become. And then, to he came back. First, it was fairly innocuous. There were sporadic texts or Facebook messages to say hey, or liking Facebook posts. Then there were real attempts to have conversation, see how she was doing. Because she is a gracious woman, because she is loving woman, because she is human and because he didn’t go away despite being asked to and being blocked she made the time to listen to what he had to say. He weaved a tale of woe and deceit featuring himself as the victim. He regaled her with tales of how he had changed and how he wanted the opportunity to show her just how much he had. He reminded her of the happier times they had shared and promised her that they could be things of the present and the future if she were willing to give him another chance. In her response, she taught me what a mirror truly is.
She looked him in his eyes and shared with him the otherside -or the underside- of the relationship they shared. She told him that she had been in a relationship where she willingly played blind because of how she thought relationships had to be.She told him that she realized the part she had played and that in this new understanding of herself she was both unwilling and unable to play that part again. She told him that though she had found forgiveness, she thought too much of herself to try to be in a relationship with someone who had so grossly undervalued her worth.
Metaphysically, mirrors reflect Truth. They show what is. We don’t always – and it may be more true to say we don’t often – fully acknowledge truth in the moment. Usually retrospect helps us to distinguish a Truth that fully reveals itself across several moments in several relationships. It could be because we are in denial because Truth shows us something we would rather not know about ourselves. It could because of fear the work that goes into making the change to become who we want to be, the people we may lose, the relationships we may have to redefine or fear that we may not be up for the challenge.
When a mirror shows you a Truth that you must change, you do. No matter how long it takes or how many setbacks pop up along the way. Until then the Truth waits for you until you are ready to let it set you Free.
A child is conceived and a dream is born. It isn’t fully fleshed out, but the seed is planted. Parents-to-be think about the parents the ways life will change, the parents they want to become and speculate on the life they may bring into the world. They may reject the responsibility and decide to defer the dream to a later date. This might be a decision that is reached individually, as a couple or a result of other external influences.
That dream doesn’t die. It may become a random day dream, a personal anniversary of a choice that could have had a different outcome or a commitment to be ready the next time. While it doesn’t come to fruition, it doesn’t disappear.
For those who press forward because of or despite circumstances that seem to foreshadow the work that is to come, that dream continues to grow. It grows from an idea to a being that impacts hunger, thirst, emotions and breast size. It is pictured on an ultrasound, responds to certain songs, foods and voices. It may change eating, drinking and fitness habits. It may cultivate support, indifference or a love beyond one that the parents have ever known, but the seed is planted and continues to grow no matter the soil.
Finally, the child is born. The dreams are stronger now, because the possibility has become a reality. Parents teach their children what to do and what not to do based on social propriety, their values and beliefs and their fears. Discipline is handed out or deferred due to the parent’s own past traumas and what they feel “is the right thing to do”. Parents begin to shape a path and continue to shape a path for the child, sometimes without realizing the path asks the child to conform to what they believe he or she should be rather than cultivating the child’s own beliefs, talents or truths. While it is not necessarily ill-intentioned, the harm can come from the child deciding -whether by choice or perceived lack thereof- that it is easier to strive to realize the dream that has been in motion since before they were born than to fight against it and risk disappointment, estrangement, or failure in chasing a dream of their own choosing. Besides, it is also true that while some parents can, will, and do finance the dreams they have for their children, that support can be absent in the face of perceived insolence or lack of gratitude.
As a result, some people reach adulthood without being able to share or be themselves fully or completely. They do what they are “supposed to do” instead of doing what they are called to do. They watch others live lives -whether they are what others would call successful or not- of their own choosing and marvel at the freedom to chose to love, live and be authentically. They write to-do lists they never plan to complete. They live one life in public and one life behind closed doors. They self-medicate through drugs and alcohol at happy hours, parties and home alone. They go through the motions, accomplish without any real fulfillment and check off boxes that don’t spark joie de vivre but may inspire public or private conversations about how well they are doing when wellness is not an adjective they would pick to describe their state of being.
Then it happens. Maybe it is a conversation they have or are party to. Maybe it is seeing a crystal. Maybe it is losing a job.Maybe it being sick and tired of being sick and tired. The world shifts to allow the person an opportunity to start to LIVE, on his or her own terms, and they are both ready and willing to take it. Maybe it starts as a haircut, a career change or meeting a person whose interactions make them feel like a self they have never known and would like to get to know. The fear of not missing out on getting to know this version of self outweighs the fear of life-disruption and adolescence begins anew as they explore this feeling.
On the other side is the authentic self.