A Truth Learned Late   1 comment

I’m glad I finally realized the truth stated here by Parker Palmer: “Let Your Life Speak.”  His description could be the retelling of my pre-grace life.

Like many middle-class Americans, especially those who are white and male, I was raised in a subculture that insisted I could do anything I wanted to do, be anything I wanted to be, if I were willing to make the effort.  The message was that both the universe and I were without limits, given enough energy and commitment on my part.  God made things that way, and all I had to do was to get with the program.

My troubles began, of course, when I started to slam into my limitations, especially in the form of failure.  I can still touch the shame I felt when, in the summer before I started graduate school at Berkeley, I experienced my first serious comeuppance: I was fired from my research assistantship in sociology.

Having been a golden boy through grade school, high school, and college, I was devastated by this sudden turn of fate.  Not only was my source of summer income gone, but my entire graduate career seemed in jeopardy, the professor I had come to Berkeley to study with was the director of the project from which I had been fired.  My sense of identity, and my concept of the universe, crumbled around my feet for the first, but not last time.  What had happened to my limitless self in a limitless world?

The culture I was raised in suggested an answer: I had not worked hard enough at my job to keep it, let alone succeed….  But that truth does not go deep enough…. I was fired because that job had little or nothing to do with who I am, with my true nature and gifts, with what I care and do not care about….

Neither that job nor any job like it was in the cards for me, given the hand I was dealt at birth.  That may sound like sinfully fatalistic thinking or, worse, a self-serving excuse.  But I believe it embodies a simple, healthy, and life-giving truth about vocation.  Each of us arrives here with a nature, which means both limits and potentials.  We can learn as much about our nature by running into our limits as by experiencing our potentials.

Despite the American myth, I cannot be or do whatever I desire–a truism, to be sure, but a truism we often defy.  Our created natures make us like organisms in an ecosystem: there are some roles and relationships in which we thrive and others in which we wither and die….

If I try to be or do something noble that has nothing to do with who I am, I may look good to others and to myself for a while.  But the fact that I am exceeding my limits will eventually have consequences.  I will distort myself, the other, and our relationship–and may end up doing more damage than if I had never set out to do this particular “good.”

When I give something I do not possess, I give a false and dangerous gift, a gift that looks like love but is, in reality loveless–a gift given more from need to prove myself than from the other’s need to be cared for.  One sign that I am violating my own nature in the name of nobility is a condition called burnout.

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Posted June 12, 2012 by janathangrace in Reading

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One response to “A Truth Learned Late

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  1. Like – BK

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