The Shadow's Gift

Brokenness comes in the form of terrible personal crisis. In the "Broken Open" series (starts HERE), I shared some stories about that. Brokenness also comes in the form of a generalized, ongoing sense of what’s wrong with me? If personal crisis might be called “acute brokenness,” there’s also “chronic brokenness” which is an abiding or recurrent feeling of not being whole.

We have our shadow side, the part of who we are that we don’t like. We have tried to push it away, bury it, ignore it, repress it, kill it – project it upon others. Wholeness comes from embracing our shadow.

The first thing to notice is that the gift and the shadow enable each other.

We could say that if your gift is diplomatic skill, the shadow is that you don’t speak your mind. Or if your gift is that you’re open and speak your mind, blurting, even if nonjudgmentally, the shadow is that you are sometimes inappropriate or give offense. If your gift is the wisdom of experience, the shadow may be an absence of youthful enthusiasm. Or if youthful enthusiasm is the gift, then there’s a lack of long-experienced wisdom.

There are many positive qualities a human being can have, but no single person can have all of them because some of them contradict. Whatever your gift to the world is, that gift is made possible by not having certain other gifts.

Lately such books as Susan Cain’s Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking and Marti Olsen Laney’s, The Introvert Advantage: How to Thrive in an Extrovert World have described the gifts of introversion. Extroversion is also a gift. No single person can be both introvert and extrovert. Certainly, each can learn to sometimes step into the mode of the other, but it isn’t what comes naturally. Introverts can, as LoraKim occasionally reminds me, choose to speak up, contribute -- chat. And extroverts can, as I occasionally remind LoraKim, remember that not everything has to be processed out loud.

Second example: Some people are more likely to trust information that is in the present, tangible, and concrete: They distrust hunches, and prefer to look for details and facts. For them, the meaning is in the data. Other people trust inference and are less dependent upon the senses. For them, the meaning is in the underlying theory and principles which are manifested in the data. It’s a gift to be oriented toward the big picture, the principles and theory at work – and the shadow that comes with that gift is a tendency to be less connected to the concrete reality on the ground. It’s also a gift to be attentive to facts and details – and the shadow is sometimes missing the forest for the trees.

Third example: Some people have a natural preference for approaching decision-making from a more detached standpoint, measuring the decision by what seems reasonable, logical, causal, consistent, and matching a given set of rules. Others prefer to approach decision-making by associating or empathizing with the situation, looking at it 'from the inside,' oriented toward finding the greatest harmony, consensus and fit among the people involved. Each of those preferences is a gift -- and each comes with the shadow tendency to overlook the need for the opposite approach.

Final example: Some people like to get decisions made and to have matters settled. Others are more comfortable keeping decisions open, staying flexible. Each tendency has advantages and each tendency has the shadow that it lacks the advantage of the other.

Sometimes we just need to remind ourselves: It’s OK to be who you are. You don’t have to beat yourself up because you have the shadow that comes with your gift. There are advantages to being tall and advantages to being short. You can’t have both. Yet sometimes we catch ourselves, in essence, wishing that we were both tall and short. If you didn’t have the shadow, you wouldn’t have the gift that comes with it, so relax. It’s OK to be the unique person that you are.

If you could really become the person that your inner critic seems to want you to become, we would lose so much. We would lose the gifts of who you are. Please remember that. Because when you beat up on yourself, you’re beating up on a friend of mine, and I kinda wish you wouldn’t do that.

When your inner critic starts in on you, talk back. Say, “OK, I appreciate that you’re trying to protect me, Inner critic. You want me to be competent and respected and liked. Thank you for your concern. And I realize that you are visiting with me today because some new challenge has arisen, or an old challenge has reasserted itself. And we didn’t want this particular challenge right now, so we’re wishing we had somehow headed it off. OK, let’s just be with that and look at that. If we had headed it off – if we had done something different or been a different kind of person – what would have been the cost? The full cost?”

Then you and that inner critic can have a reasonable conversation.

Suppose, for example, you forgot your anniversary, and now you’re in trouble. OK, so what would it have taken to have remembered and what would be the cost? Maybe it’s fairly simple – you can tell the calendar on your computer or smartphone to give you reminders both a day in advance and the morning of. In any case, it’s worth looking at why you forgot. The resources of your attention were somewhere else. You were focused on that. And focus is a gift – its shadow is that you’re not paying attention to other things.

If you weren’t so focused on that other thing, what would be the cost? Be honest with yourself. Given who you are, would that cost be worth it? Maybe so, maybe not.

Or suppose, for example, you find yourself in trouble for the opposite reason -- you weren’t focused on something your inner critic thinks you should have been focused on. You were paying attention to home, family, kids -- and at work you were tending to relationships, process, and clearing out your email inbox, but weren’t focused on just that one project which is now overdue. Well, OK. Look honestly: what would have been the cost of that focus? What would have gotten neglected if you had paid more attention to that project? What would have been the cost of the extra stress, of lost sleep, of exhausting yourself, of not taking care of yourself?

Once you’re honest about those costs, then you can decide whether they’re worth it – and if they aren’t, then what?

There’s always a reason for what you did and didn’t do – and the reason is NOT, “because you’re a stupidhead.”

You have gifts. You have shadows. And I hope that you see that the shadow isn’t some unnecessary mistake, some brokenness of your nature that could be fixed. The shadow is the absolutely necessary condition of your gift. The brokenness comes from trying to deny the shadow, from trying to be both tall and short. Wholeness becomes possible when we embrace our shadow and become the unique person that we are.


Pain's Surprising Lesson

The recovery community has a number wise and insightful sayings, including this one:
"Pain is inevitable; suffering is optional"
You might run into this saying as a quote attributed to Buddha because it has a certain Buddhist feel to it. The idea is that our aversion to the pain causes more suffering than the actual pain does. When we embrace all of life, even the hard parts, suffering doesn't consume us. When we accept reality, we don't suffer from the mismatch with what we think it should be.

3. Yehuda's Story

Rabbi Yehudah Fine was in a head-on collision. He writes:
“I vividly remember lying in the local emergency room before being helicoptered to a big medical center. I wasn’t a pretty picture. Firemen had pried me out of the car with the Jaws of Life. Blood covered my face, teeth, and lips, the result of the impact with the air bag that saved my life. A torn pants leg revealed a smeared mixture of dirt and blood oozing out of a deep gash in my knee. The force of the collision had rammed my femur out of its socket. My pelvis was shattered into nine pieces. I was broken in half. I had not yet received any painkillers and was suffering mind-bending pain. I prayed to pass out,... Before I was flown to the medical center, the emergency room doctor told me that they could not transport me until they repositioned my femur bone. I gritted my teeth and said, ‘Doc, isn’t the pain going to kill me? What if it doesn’t go right back in?’

He simply said, ‘For your survival, I have to get it back in right now.’ Without warning, the doctor jumped on my gurney, grabbed my leg, and shoved it toward what was left of my pelvis. The pain slammed into me so hard that I screamed in horror. The femur didn’t go back in.

Between crying and moaning, I whimpered, ‘Doc, I thought you’d give me painkillers before doing something like that.’

The doctor looked at me in astonishment. ‘You haven’t been given any pain medication?’ They quickly shot me up with Valium and Demerol and repeated the procedure. This time my leg went back in with a loud pop.

At that moment, although I was angry at the doctor’s insensitivity, I was also grateful for his fearless skill in taking the first step toward putting my back together. I took his hand and said, ‘I want you to know how grateful I am for your skill and courage. But damn it don’t ever do that to another patient.”

Right there, in that emergency room, I decided that I would give thanks to every person who attended my broken body. I was going to honor every act of kindness with words from my heart.... In the ensuing weeks I was totally helpless and in excruciating pain.... I often heard the voice of despair. It would whisper that the pain was too much, that I couldn’t and wouldn’t go on. And so I made up my mind to listen to other whispers.... The secret was not to fight the pain but to embrace it. Once I did that I started finding my strength.... The Talmud points out that, just as we bless the good, so too should we bless the bad. I always found that a profound concept.

But it is only now that I really understand how important it is to surrender to all of life’s blessings – the ‘good’ and the ‘bad.’... From the beginning I tried to accept that where I was, was exactly where I was meant to be. This freed my mind up to pursue my healing. It opened new doors to the spiritual realms, new doors to contemplation and meditation. There is a deep connection between brokenness and Spirit.... I may have been dealt a broken body and heart, but I also can tell you I have had more love and compassion poured over me, through me, and around me than I ever knew existed....

Sadly, we live in a world where we are so afraid of suffering’s teachings that we organize our lives around anesthetizing the messages of our anxiety and pain.... When you are caught up in one of those chain-saw massacre cycles of life, you come face-to-face with some important questions: What really matters to me in life? What precisely do I need to learn, change, and transform within myself? From whom or what will I take my direction and motivation?...

My daily practice now is to continually clean the chambers of my heart – to give and receive love, to stay present to myself and to others, to no longer flee, or worry, or procrastinate.... When crisis exploded in my life, the best in me was born. I found out what I was really capable of. I discovered who I really am.”
That’s Yehuda’s story. He took to heart pain's surprising lesson.

What Yehuda's and Glen's and Judi's stories – and so many others -- show us is how, as James Baldwin said,
“We are capable of bearing a great burden once we discover that the burden is reality and arrive where reality is.”
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This is part 4 of 4 of "Broken Open"
Click for other parts:
Part 1: Seeing the Blessing in a Crisis
Part 2: The Miracle of Becoming
Part 3: The Wisdom of No Control


This Week's Prayer

Source of love, justice, truth, hope, and beauty, aspiration and inspiration for all people everywhere,

We would be whole.

Let us not hide from unpleasant reality, for we would be whole. Pain and sorrow, hatred and prejudice, violence and war, the brokenness of relationships personal, national, and global: these are with us.

Today we notice particularly Hungary, Greece, India, Israel, Iraq, Syria, Somalia, Sierra Leone, and here in the US. Darkness and the winds of hopelessness threaten the flickering candle of truth and justice.

Let also the shining light not be hidden from us, for we would be whole.

The light of service and life shone in the rescue of Baby Lilly in Utah, found after fourteen hours in a wrecked automobile in the river, alive in spite of the death of her mother;

The light of courage and justice shone in the daring of Rima Karaki, a TV presenter in Lebanon, in ending an interview with Islamist Sheikh, Hani Sibai, after he spoke to her disrespectfully and demeaningly;

The light of justice and peace shone in the condemnation by the United Nations High Commission for Human Rights of the murders of albino citizens in Malawi, Tanzania;

The light of hope for both our planet and for refugees shone in Oxfam’s work to develop a green toilet which uses urine to generate electricity, so it can be used in refugee camps to provide both sanitation and light.

The light of hospitality and human kindness shone in Brazil’s act of opening its doors to nearly 2,000 refugees of the war in Syria.

The light of righteous wrath shone in the swift and definitive actions of the President of the University of Oklahoma, David Boren, in response to ugly fraternity racism.

May our own lights shine among these lights as lights of hope and love, peace and justice.


Engaging Jennifer

My claims: Every being has inherent worth and dignity. Not every being has equal claim to our resources of care.

The principle of the inherent worth and dignity of every person does not mean that I am obligated to expend as much of my time and resources of care on my neighbors as on my family. (I do, in fact, take seriously our fourth source’s call “to respond to God’s love by loving our neighbors as ourselves,” but this doesn’t mean I generally spend as much time with them as I do with my family.)

Likewise, the worth and dignity of every being does not require equal distribution of my resources of care to each individual being. Dustmites have inherent worth and dignity, but I am not obligated to expend as much of my resources of care protecting individual dustmites as on pigs, cows, dogs, cats, chimps, dolphins, and blue and gold macaws.

In her post, “A Way Forward for Animal Advocates Who Would Campaign for a New UU Principle” (2014 Oct 28 - CLICK HERE), Jennifer Greene expresses doubts about Principle the inherent worth and dignity of every being.

“As Wrong”

Part of Jennifer's position presents in terms of a dispute about “as wrong.”
“Do I believe it's as wrong to kill an ant, as a human? No, I believe it's far more wrong to kill a human than an ant.”
And she mentions, by way of contrast, Norm Phelps, who, “maintains that it's as wrong to kill an insect as a human.”

But disagreements about what is “as wrong” as what shed no light on the issue. “As wrong” is unnecessary – it doesn’t help the case for the principle of worth/dignity of every being. And “as wrong” is hopelessly ambiguous. When someone says "A is as wrong as B," they might mean
"The punishment for A should be the same as the punishment for B."
Or they might mean,
"A and B call for similar voicings of denunciation -- in the same way that we denounce stealing a candy bar as firmly as we denounce stealing a car -- though of course the punishments should differ, and the resources of law enforcement to prevent them should differ."
Or they might mean,
"It is true that A is wrong, and it is just as much true that B is wrong -- in the way that "$1 is money" is just as much true as "$10 is money.' Though $10 is certainly not equal to $1, the truth of the two statements is equal."
In the end, this "as wrong" talk should be regarded as merely a rhetorical flourish. We can affirm that all beings have worth and dignity without needing to advance any claims about equality of wrongness.


Jennifer helpfully mentions Mylan Engel’s distinction between “equal” and “mere” (or “nonzero”) considerability. “Equal considerability,” (EC) defended by Peter Singer and Tom Regan, says “we owe humans and sentient nonhumans exactly the same degree of moral consideration.” “Mere considerability” says “animals deserve some moral consideration, although not as much consideration as that owed to humans.” Mylan Engel, Jennifer, and I all agree that, as Jennifer puts it,
“it's not necessary to hold EC, in order to make an argument from consistency for the wrongness of even the most entrenched form of animal exploitation (i.e., the use of animals for food).”
While “inherent worth and dignity of every being” does not imply EC, notions of equality have sometimes entered the conversation. Jennifer references Mark Causey’s “Inherent Worth” (2014 Feb 20 -- CLICK HERE). Here’s Mark’s relevant paragraph:
“One of the most common objections I hear when presenting or talking about the First Principle Project is the objection that replacing the word ‘person’ with the word ‘being’ now means that we are all the same. ‘Does that mean that a tapeworm or a cockroach has exactly the same inherent value as a human being?!’ What I believe has happened here is that the objector has subconsciously inserted the word ‘equal’ into the formulation of the revised principle. What we are saying is that we are ‘called to affirm and promote the inherent worth and dignity of all beings.’ What the objector is hearing is that we are ‘called to affirm and promote the equal inherent worth and dignity of all beings.’ If every being has equal inherent worth, does that mean I can no longer swat a mosquito? But the First Principle project is not proposing to insert the word ‘equal’ into the principle. It is quite natural for us to hear the word ‘equal’ here because it is implied (although not explicitly stated) in the current wording of the principle. What we hear in the current first principle is that all persons, regardless of race, sex, ability, identification, etc., have equal worth and dignity. We are so used to fighting for the principle of equality amongst humans, as we should, that we automatically transfer this notion to the proposed changed wording including all beings.”
It’s true that the progress of morality among humans has been tied up with conceptions of “equality.” The language that emerged in Europe’s feudal period asserted that the landed classes were “betters” and “superiors.” Dismantling the lingering assumptions of that time were helped by insisting, “we’re all equal.” The work of ending discrimination continues to have a great need to invoke “equal protection of the law.” Whatever equality has meant – as a value and an ideal for human-human relations and for human institutions -- it has never meant that we expected anyone to devote the resources of their care just the same to everyone. We have always understood that people will be more devoted to their friends and family than to others. Equality has never meant the complete obliteration of loyalty.

So if people are, as Mark suggests, “subconsciously insert[ing] the word ‘equal’ into the formulation of the revised principle,” the problem isn’t that they are assuming the same kind of equality among animals that the current first principle now indicates among humans. Rather, the problem is that people may be – bizarrely -- inserting into the formulation of the revised principle a much stronger notion of equality than any kind of equality we affirm among humans.

Jennifer then says,
“But not everyone shares Mark's view. To others, ‘inherent worth and dignity of every being’ does imply equality.”
If there are, indeed, “others” who think this way, then let us endeavor to disabuse of them of their obvious mistake. I have already indicated the basic strategy: Almost certainly these “others” do not imagine that the inherent worth and dignity of every person requires equal energy of care to every person. So they cannot reasonably imagine that total equality of energy of care suddenly appears when we expand the circle of some care from “every person” to “every being.”

Speaking of Expanding the Circle…

Jennifer cites Rev. Karen Brammer’s post (2014 Oct 11 -- CLICK HERE). Karen says:
"I have difficulty increasing the reach of the first principle to non-human individuals when we have so much more intentional human bridge-building to do."
When we expand the circle of our care – expand the circle of those to whom we extend some care – it never damages those who were already in the circle. I don’t spend as much of my resources of care on my neighbors as on my family, but I nevertheless care about my neighbor. Doing so doesn’t harm my care of my family – in fact, I am better able to be present and loving to my family when I’m a generally kind person to my neighbors. Caring about, and building bridges of connection to people of a different human culture don’t harm my own culture, but strengthen it. In similar manner, caring about animals doesn’t detract from caring about people. Just the opposite. Whenever we expand the circle of care, the total “regime of care” is strengthened.

LoraKim Joyner’s post (2014 Dec 4 -- CLICK HERE) explained in some detail how helping nonhuman animals helps humans. Empathy and concern for nonhumans expands our capacity for empathy and concern for humans too. Karen’s concern for human bridge-building would rationally lead her toward, rather than away from, care for nonhuman animals.

The Prescriptive/Descriptive Thing

I made some of the above points to Jennifer in comments on Facebook. She said,
It is certainly a fact that we spend our time and resources of care more on certain individuals than on others. But when it comes to humans, we don't accept that as an argument against the idea of our "equal worth." "Equal worth" and "equality" are usually understood to be prescriptive, as opposed to descriptive. We say that humans are equal under the law—and the current first principle is widely understood to be a declaration of this egalitarian view. So I am worried that you are citing the descriptive fact of unequal allocation of time and resources of care (i.e., how things are), as if to disprove that which is prescriptive—i.e., how we think things should be, or the legal protections we agree should be applied to kin and strangers alike.
I replied by asking how she navigates the prescriptive/descriptive thing when it comes to humans -- while at the same time spending more resources of care on her own family. Whatever it is that is prescriptive about our notions of equality of all humans, it does not interfere with our sense that it is perfectly right and just to devote more of one's resources of care on one's own family than on one's neighbors. Jennifer replied,
"Well, I think we try to do that by building fairness and equality into our laws (in recognition of our instincts for things like preferential treatment and revenge)."
At issue here is, what difference does affirming the inherent worth and dignity of every being really make? What does it ask us to do differently? The answer is: we don't know. And it's just fine that we don't know. In the mid-1980s, when UUs adopted our principles, including the first one, we didn't know where affirming the inherent worth and dignity would take us -- but it was worthwhile to make that affirmation and see.

It's important that we start with description. The human rights community has broad consensus that the thing to say is the descriptive assertion, "people have rights" -- not "people should have rights." We assert a description of the moral landscape as the first move. Jefferson, in the Declaration of Independence, affirmed that all are created equal, endowed with inalienable rights. That was a moral description. Thirteen years later came the Constitution, where we sketched one of the many possible ways we might have understood ourselves as accommodating the moral reality. The Declaration inspired the Constitution, but didn't dictate any of it.

And that's the function of a descriptive moral principle -- to inspire. Out of that inspiration we may eventually come to agreement on some prescriptions. If, as Jennifer suggests, our present first principle leads us to try to build fairness and equality into our laws, that is just one of many directions we might have gone to accommodate the reality that all persons have inherent worth and dignity. That moral truth itself stipulates nothing about fairness or equality. (That's the 2nd principle -- and there's a reason these are two different principles rather than one.)

The new, revised first principle would tell us to simply notice. In and of itself, all it prescribes is: notice that all beings have worth and dignity. "All beings have inherent worth and dignity," is a moral truth, not a moral rule. The question will arise (as we hope it will), OK, what do I do about this truth once I've noticed it? The fact calls for some response, but in itself dictates no particular response. I think it will probably tend to encourage a greater conscientiousness and mindfulness in all our relations -- but different people will go different ways with it. When a community of people commits to observe (notice) a moral reality, as time goes by, particular action ideas begin to get popular support. Animal cruelty laws might be strengthened -- and slowly expanded to more species. Or more efforts to preserve habitats may emerge. Consumer choices might gradually shift -- not because the revised first principle will tell people to shift them, but as a natural (and naturally highly variable) result of noticing -- having in mind the moral truth that all beings have worth and dignity. Some people might merely say a little prayer for the dustmites before turning on the air purifier that will kill many of them -- even that is at least a start. Some kind of start is better than none.

However we respond, collectively recognizing the truth that all beings have inherent worth and dignity helps shift us toward life, connection, and greater joy in all we do -- whatever we do.

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This post has been cross-posted at the "Worth and Dignity of Every Being" blog, where additional comments have also been posted. CLICK HERE.