Our Issues with Issues
In my pursuit to evaluate my own underlying motives, strongholds, and limitations, I've begun to seen what has held me back -- blinded me, really -- from identifying and overcoming them in the past.
A mark of courageous manhood is taking an honest look in the mirror, owning the scars you see, and leaning into the process of healing them.
That said, it'd be impossible for our culture to not impact what the mirror sees (and what it deems a scar), and so my self-evaluation had me (at least partially) seeing the norms of our culture when it comes to seeing, admitting, and owning the resolution of personal issues.
I believe that our culture has enabled people to not own their issues. As a result, we have "issues with issues." I am taking broad strokes here, but I see two leanings (temptations, really) that people (I am one of them) have in response to their issues:
#1: The unapologetic embrace
Listen, some traits commonly classified as "issues" can certainly have redemptive capabilities and downstream benefits, and of course, there are negative stereotypes that we need to do our best to eliminate from our society's ethos, but many in our culture are classifying silver linings of issues as colorful clouds.
They are calling their issues (e.g. abusive behaviors, aggressive online behavior, soul-sucking addictions, disrespecting any and all authority, pursuing financial gain at all costs) their unique identifiers worth celebrating. This stance is an immature and selfish one.
They may be able to rationalize the touting of their stance or building of their platform with the following they're growing (likely from other confused individuals seeking encouragement) or the sense of "freedom in self" they're obtaining, but they must ask whether they are genuinely benefitting their suitors and followers.
It is easy to fall into this trap; "I am rare. Accept me for who I am! If you don't, you just want me to be generic and predictable, and so you're judgmental." In other words, "I am a special snowflake. Nobody is like me. Celebrate my uniqueness."
Well, what if "who you are" at scale is horrible for society?
Who is this benefitting -- you, or your culture and your time?
If your children similarly championed what you are, would you have peace with it, or would you suddenly see it as an immature avoidance of self-analysis and change?
We must ask ourselves these questions before embarking upon any edifying self-celebration. At their root, these energies may actually be veiled lash-backs to voices within our heads saying; "you are not accepted or special."
Well, those are negative voices that of course we must question the source of, but if the voice is more along the lines of; "this needs to change, or else you'll hurt people," maybe we should listen.
I pride myself on cultivating a diverse network of people in my world -- not just in skin color, but in type of work, religion, background, etc. (diversity goes way beyond skin color, does it not?) -- and what I have learned is that the most interesting and unique people are simply themselves. They do not need to scream; "I am interesting and unique." They just are.
#2: The prideful avoidance
Most successful people focus on the positive. It's a way of keeping momentum, prioritizing their energy, and focusing on the big issues.
They overlook the 10% negatives with hopes of the other 90% growing, making the 10% utterly irrelevant. This is reliable business logic as long as the 10% stays the 10% -- and in business, it usually does. It works.
But matters of the heart are different, aren't they?
They are not dictated by vast, diverse, somewhat predictable market trends, cost outlays, and customer behaviors, but are dictated by our souls -- far deeper, more tumultuous, and more treacherous waters.
Even in our personal lives, our inherent pride defaults us to focus on the surface -- resumes, incomes, family reputations, body image, Instagram followers, etc. -- but if we take stock, we know that those things really represent just 10% of who we are, and are only partially reflective of everything going on under the surface of our lives.
The "prideful avoiders" do whatever is needed to emboss the 10% surface. Responding to a similar internal voice stating; "unless you do X or have Y, you are not accepted or special," they strive and plan and achieve and work and buy and celebrate until they can feel that those boxes are being checked. Matters of the heart don't resonate with them, as they are simply take a backseat to what they have engineered their lives to achieve. They do not have time for issues.
I've seen people who struggle consistently with this "issue with issues" adopt what I will call a "hollow humility." They tout the character trait "humility" because it's a unanimously-praised character trait, and they may even brag about their humility (oh, the irony), but they fail to to subscribe to its foundation by being willing to apologize for mistakes and missteps.
Their thirst for success far-trumps their acknowledgement of a character trait such as humility; many take similar approaches to charity and honesty.
You see, we're also subscribing to the "special snowflake" mentality here, but in
a different way; "look how gorgeous these top dimensions of my life are; the ones at the bottom are a little uglier, but who cares? Focus on my the positive -- that is what matters."
Well, if we consider others, the negative certainly matters also. Through my counseling, deeper relationships and [painfully] deep discussions in a variety of support circles over the years, I've heard countless examples of this dynamic causing multi-generational pain and trauma.
Dad coached the team, but never encouraged the son after a three-strikeout game.
Mothers bought countless fancy European vacations for the kids, but were never sober enough to remember the experiences.
"I love you" was said constantly throughout the home, but slander and resent flew out of mouths as soon as conflict or competition arose.
Glossy exteriors, but hurt interiors.
Amazing relationships, but weak family foundations.
Impressive titles, but depressing stories.
These patterns are tougher to spot on the pretty canvas of career achievements, impressive accolades, and upright behaviors that society rewards, but they always come to light eventually. When they do, it's simply the 90% of their lives, hidden underwater, finally surging through the over-emphasized 10% surface.
We're all broken. We all have issues, and all have issues with handling them maturely.
Whether we foolishly celebrate our hurtful issues as unique identifiers or simply avoid them as a means of protecting our images, we miss the opportunity to admit our broken humanity, to relate with others, and to better serve our world.
I want my mentality towards my issues to be the following:
There are pretty parts of me. I need to let them sparkle while also being vigilant against the potential pride growing there. I hope that they serve others. They do not overshadow my flaws.
There are some ugly parts of me also. Some, I was given. Others, I invited myself. Both, I own. I need to ask myself, honestly, whether they are ugly. If they are, I need to do my best to heal and improve these areas. If they have hurt others, I need to apologize.
Instead of proving to the world that they must praise me for my issues, I can prove to myself that my issues do not define me, and can build confidence as I own, and tame, and mitigate, and eliminate, those issues.
When we focus on serving others more than proving something to ourselves, we finally take issues with our issues, overcome them, and serve both others and ourselves in the process.
The problem with casting ourselves as snowflakes is that snowflakes are frozen and unchanging -- finished products. We are not finished products (thank God), and are always growing, changing, and being reshaped by our pressures and experiences.
We should elect to become snowballs over snowflakes.
We roll into the future rather than demanding respect for our history.
We round ourselves out when we feel imbalanced rather than tout our strongest areas.
We see our issues not as blemishes, but as invitations to grow.
Questions for you:
What kind of snowflake do you try to be, naturally?
What hurts and hang-ups could that be causing, in you and others?
What is restricting you from not having to be so special -- to simply admit that you have issues?