"To become fully human means learning to turn my gratitude for being alive into some concrete common good. It means growing gentler toward human weakness. It means practicing forgiveness of my and everyone else's hourly failures to live up to divine standards. It means learning to forget myself on a regular basis in order to attend to the other selves in my vicinity. It means living so that 'I'm only human' does not become an excuse for anything. It means receiving the human condition as a blessing and not curse, in all its achingly frail and redemptive quality." -An Altar in the World
I have written much about the difficulties I have had throughout my trajectory as a blogger and member of this online creative community, most recently right here, where I outlined a few commitments I made to myself in order to steer clear of unnecessary drama. Through my continued informal inquiry into this topic, I have developed a deep appreciation for a much more fundamental truth about all of this, which is that this community is not any better or worse than any other community of individuals. We are human just like everyone else. And when humans come together - each of whom sees everyone else as characters in their own ongoing narrative - there are going to be tangles. There are going to be deep soulful connections, life-changing gatherings, and wildly inspiring collaborations as well as unprofessional interactions, cliquish-ness, and mistrust of another's actions and intentions. That statement is true of this community as well communities of yoga instructors, teachers, dog trainers, and real estate agents. My husband works in the investment industry, and he deals with some of the very same issues I deal with in my industry. The nature of the work everyone is doing doesn't matter; what is relevant is that we are all human beings, and sometimes forget we are dealing with other human beings, all of whom, for the most part, are doing the best they can and trying to find their way - just as I am, just as you are.
I do not say this to be discouraging about this community, but to (hopefully) encourage everyone to take a deep exhale, to recognize that we can let go of any expectations we might have that our particular coterie is better than others. Amazing connections and opportunities can be enjoyed as a result of this global online gathering, and it is also entirely possible we will run into people who will not believe the best in us, who - because of their own fears and sensitivities - might take something personally that has nothing to do with them. And because online interactions can be so immediate, very often words are sent across the ethers in a reactionary, rather than thoughtful, moment. I have been guilty of all of these things. Because I have an online presence, which I use mainly to promote and share my work, I took the time and effort to develop my own personal handbook of sorts for engaging with this community. After having experienced my own share of dramas as the result of flying by the seat of my pants, I have found that by setting clear boundaries I can avoid the kind of interactions that drain me, confound me, and make me want to move to Greenland.
A friend recently asked me what my "hidden agenda" is with the work that I do. I am going to give a different answer here than I gave her, one that is more specific to the topic of our community. My hidden agenda is to encourage all of us to take a deep breath - to try to take one step away from the idea that there is a finite amount of space for everyone's voices to be heard. To pick up the phone and have a conversation rather than send an email. To choose not to announce to the world or anyone else that an idea was stolen, and instead engage directly with the person in question. And in that engagement, bear in mind that it is unlikely that person pored over your work or website, intent on claiming your work as his or her own. On the other side of that coin, if you are looking for information and inspiration, and you find something that compels you into action, put your own thumbprint on whatever work you do. I know work is, literally and blatantly, stolen from time to time (it has happened to me on a number of occasions), but we can still choose to be professional.
My hidden agenda is to encourage all of us to own our actions, acknowledge when we've messed up, and apologize when it is appropriate. It is my hope we can all learn to see one another, and recognize that even if we don't feel a perfect connection with someone - or perhaps if the person we meet face to face doesn't live up to the person we created in our minds after reading their blogs or books - they are still a human being with his or her own fears, hopes, and dreams. My hidden agenda is to challenge all of us to not take things so personally. I've experienced or heard stories about blog entries, blog comments, art shows, retreats, collaborations, books, paintings, emails, and even Etsy store descriptions being taken personally. And when the worst possible assumptions are made about these endeavors and there isn't a timely, respectful conversation about them, friendships and alliances can be lost in one quick instant, each person walking away unsure of what, exactly, went wrong.
"Every human interaction offers you the chance to make things better or make things worse." -An Altar in the World
There is a sentence in my forthcoming book that says the same thing, almost verbatim. I wrote that sentence many months ago, before I read these words by Barbara Brown Taylor this morning. When I read them, my very first thought was, "Great! Now someone, somewhere, is going to think I stole this sentence!" That is where my mind goes all too quickly these days - straight to the fear that something I do is going to offend someone, for some reason. That I have to now stop - before I do anything - and take stock of what everyone else is doing, and make sure my actions don't pierce the imaginary line we all have a tendency to draw around ourselves at times, fearful our voice won't be heard, our work won't be seen, our careers won't soar. I don't like living with that fear, and unfurling my "hidden agenda" is my way of trying to move beyond it. To, instead of griping about feeling that way, try to inspire everyone - especially myself - to treat one another with the same respect and kindness we want for ourselves, and not be so quick to rush to the worst judgment possible.
These tasks aren't easy. They take patience, mindfulness, intense awareness, and trust - in our colleagues and fellow community members as well as in our own work and unique voice. What kind of transformations would happen if we all gave this a go? Where can we be softer, kinder, and more focused on our own actions instead of the actions of others? This community is only going to expand, so we'd better figure these things out now. We are the teachers; we are in the throes of building and growing this world wide web of artistic and entrepreneurial souls. What kind of legacy do we want to leave for those not yet involved?