Cultivating Virtues to Heal a Fractured Nation - Part 1
As I stomped around the neighborhood last week, fuming at the further unrest in our country, struggling to understand it and feeling a bit discouraged at my inability to come up with solutions, Curt challenged me as to what I personally was doing to help. As I later pondered the root causes of the racial and cultural inequities, the inability of Congress to work together to accomplish anything these days and the realization of how difficult it seems to be for people to come together to solve our differences, I was for looking for answers not only to these issues, but also to Curt’s challenge to me as well. It occurred to me after some further thought, that cultivating certain virtues would be one small way to hold myself personally accountable for doing more on a regular basis.
In today’s blog post, I share a personal story of a falling out this weekend and how it served to remind me of how I can practice one of my chosen virtues - Honesty. I do a pretty good job at not telling outright lies, as Mom and Dad did a good job in my wee years of instilling that yucky feeling down in the pit of my stomach each time I told a little fib. However, I realize that it is the area of self-deception that could use a bit more focus and attention in my life. I’ll share with you how I go about uncovering these areas, as they can be tricky little buggers to bring to light and resolve.
Before I tell you my weekend story though, you may be interested in the other virtues I’ve chosen as well. While there are many to choose from, I’ve settled on three sets of two (so six in total) to focus on cultivating in my life. Choosing was the simple part. The harder part now, is how to put them consistently into practice. We’ll dive into how to do so for the first two day and the others over the next couple of weeks in case you care to join me on this initiative.
Honesty and Integrity
Compassion and Kindness
Simplicity and Generosity
Before we begin, there is one facet of a virtue I think it is important to highlight. The Oxford Dictionary defines a virtue as “behavior showing high moral standards”. I appreciate the use of the word “behavior” in this definition, because it emphasizes that it is more than believing that something is good and moral - it requires action. Cultivating a virtue to the extent that it becomes inherently present in your life requires consistent action. It must become a habit; a habit of consistent acts of love. So that is my intention - to work on making these six virtues a habit in my life.
Cultivating the Virtue of Honesty
Yesterday was a typical Saturday here in the Barlow home. Most of the day I was busy clicking away at the keyboard, catching up on emails and work in general and occasionally stopping now and then to help Curt put up another shiplap board on our ceiling. Later that afternoon we took a long walk in the neighborhood and then began cooking dinner together after we got back home (well, in all honesty, Curt was doing most of the cooking and I was enjoying a glass of wine and giving my opinions about how he way going about it).
At some point we got into an argument, that became more and more heated. The interesting thing is that I wasn’t so angry about what we were arguing about, but rather at the fact that Curt had repeatedly interrupted me in the course of me trying to justify my position. And I became frustrated with how I kept forgetting my “good and convincing” points, critical to me “winning” the argument in the process. I eventually became so incensed with my inability to explain myself that I stormed off to the other side of the house, slamming the bedroom door for emphasis. There I retreated to stroke my wounded ego.
As I sat there waiting for myself to calm down, I realized that I had been feeling this way repeatedly. I recognized this as a red flag. This was something I needed to look deeper inside myself to understand, figure out why it keeps happening and if there is something I needed to learn from it.
At first, I was so angry and self-righteous I couldn’t see anything beyond my view of being a victim. But because I was so angry, deep down I knew that I needed to persist and get to the bottom of why I kept feeling this way. I kept asking myself, “Am I too, guilty of interrupting like this?” My first acknowledgment was okay, yes, I do interrupt people sometimes. “Owning” this made me feel a little better, but I still felt unresolved inside.
So I kept pushing myself. How am I guilty of interrupting people and what more is there that I am not fully admitting to myself? It is important to mention here that when doing this kind of self-reflection with the intention of being brutally honest, the goal is not to berate oneself and feel self-loathing in the process. Rather it is about recognizing patterns of human behavior in yourself to help you move beyond them, becoming a better human being and avoiding a little more suffering in the future.
After sticking with it and contemplating further, I begrudging allowed myself to admit that I interrupt people a bit more than sometimes. I actually do it often enough that I’ve started to catch myself in the process - unfortunately I’ve not yet mastered catching myself before I begin the interruption. I need to keep working on this. But by admitting this to myself, I felt just a little better than I did moments ago. Regrettably, I still went to bed feeling “off”, perhaps knowing I hadn’t gotten to the bottom of this, but not knowing how to take this self-reflection any deeper at the time.
While I felt quite a bit better in the morning, I had enough self-awareness to push myself a little further anyway. So I decided to write about the argument and how I felt in my journal. And in the process of doing so, what unfolded was a clearer picture of how I felt inside when being interrupted. I realized that at the point of interruption, I automatically assume that the other person feels that my thoughts and opinions don’t matter. That they are inferior. Not worthy of being stated.
And in a flood of emotion, I also realized how often I’ve interrupted people over the years as they were telling me their struggles and their challenges. Quite often I’ve jumped to conclusions about their situation in an effort to quickly provide them with solutions to their problems. So often I had interrupted their stories in an effort to quickly share MY ideas on how to “fix” the situation. I was always so eager to give my thoughts on what could help, that I quite possibly at times had inadvertently caused the people I was so anxious to help, feel as I had when interrupted the night before. Inferior. Not worthy. OUCH.
I recognize that this was never openly intentional, yet I also recognize the possibility of how the ego likes to feel superior and how these situations could unknowingly feed my ego. And I recognize that I am human and that I can improve. For me this was a BIG reminder to SLOW DOWN. To fully listen, instead of immediately searching for responses and my way to feel like a hero in the course of the conversation.
My last insight from this deep dive in trying to be more honest with myself, was a feeling of compassion for some of the people I had interrupted over the years. I remembered how on one occasion my sister had called me out on how quickly I had jumped in to give my “advice” and while intellectually I had listened and understood her, I don’t think I truly had the real sense of compassion that I felt for her this morning, years later after the discussion. I all of a sudden felt what it felt like to be in her shoes at that time, which is the essence of compassion. More on this virtue next week though…
I’ll sum up this post with a few questions to ask yourself if you too would like to do some honesty excavation work.
Questions for Honesty Excavation Work
Questions to find areas of your life that are ripe for uncovering self-deception:
In what situations in your life do you feel repeated discomfort or aggravation?
Do you find yourself making the same mistake over and over again?
Do you notice yourself blaming someone for the same thing time and again?
What don’t I want people to know about me?
The answers to each of these questions can give you a place to start digging a little deeper. Questions to help you become fully honest and reclaim your personal power for these areas of your life include:
Is there any way you may have some level of personal responsibility for what took place?
Did you (or your ego) have anything at all to gain from a situation that you are unhappy about?
Is there any facet of this situation for which you feel insecure and may be acting from a place of insecurity?
A few final tips:
Let go of the need to be right. Understand that you are human and that you will make mistakes.
Remember, accepting some level of responsibility doesn’t include beating yourself up and blaming yourself. Rather it is fully owning your power over your life and your power to change things.
Use journaling to explore your feeling. Sometimes by dumping your emotions out onto paper, you can find clues as to what is the true source of your pain. And once you are able to understand this, you’ll be much better equipped with the knowledge necessary to plot a course out of the repeated suffering.
The other side of my first virtue pair is Integrity. Integrity is closely related to honesty. In fact, one facet of integrity is to strive to be honest in all your communications. Here are a few other ways to strive for a high level of integrity as well.
Consider carefully before you accept a commitment. Then follow through on what you commit to doing.
Surround yourself with people that likewise have a high level of integrity.
Take responsibility for your actions and your contribution to problems and misunderstandings.
Show respect to everyone.
I hope you have found at least one nugget of wisdom to take away from this week’s post. Next week I’ll focus on Kindness & Compassion. Have a great week everyone! Julie