Given all that is going on in the world, what I’ve experienced in 2015, as well as the winter holiday season, I’ve been spending a lot of time considering what it means to simply “be” with another person. A few of my thoughts include:
I don’t know what it is like to navigate this world…
…from the perspective of a refugee.
…with identities beyond those that I currently hold.
…without fairly easy access to technology and food.
As I raise the point in my mind about being with another, I am reminded of a stanza from Oriah Mountain Dreamer’s poem The Invitation (1994):
“I want to know if you can sit with pain, mine or your own, without moving to hide it or fade it or fix it.”
This then leads me to think about what it would look like to set aside the idea of trying to fix someone or something so that it fits our current system of what is necessary for success. If I begin a conversation about this idea (or a similar one), at some point the idea of everything being relative usually arises. Often my response to such a claim is that even if it is true that everything is relative, that doesn’t meant it is equal because we don’t live in a world designed for equality.
So, again, what does it mean to be with another?
I offer that it requires at least two skills.
1. It requires being okay with a wide range of feelings.
‘Tis the season for many individuals to begin feeling as if they have to feel a certain way — often cheery and happy. Facebook posts start to crop up reminding us to recognize that not everyone has an ideal family or a place to share a meal, and that not everyone celebrates the same holidays. I believe that these are important reminders, but they still beg the questions: Why do we need them? Do we want everyone to appear happy so that we feel happy? I can’t help but think that perhaps true happiness doesn’t exist when pushed on one another. Please don’t take that to mean that we need to only acknowledge feelings this time of year. But what if all that we have to offer is to be there for another? Is this a form of support we commend in student affairs? Perhaps providing space for others’ feelings (not taking on those feelings or even agreeing with them) is a true gift that we often overlook. It is easier to delete differing opinions from our Facebook wall, tell others the steps they need to fix their problems, or simply tell them to feel better — all so that we feel better. This brings me to the second skill.
2. I believe that to be with another requires honesty about our own selfishness.
If I try to change someone’s feelings, in many ways, I’m turning their situation into something that is about me. Depending on how deep my relationship is with another, if I try to offer my own story of dealing with the same thoughts and feelings, I’ve potentially turned their situation into something that is about me. Our relationship determines if I might be saying, “Here’s how I dealt with that so here is how you should deal with it too.” I must be careful about when to share my own stories and consider deeply why I am taking that step. Otherwise, I fear I am demanding that not only should others think like I do, but I am also teaching them to behave a certain way around me, which I don’t believe will get us anywhere in terms of progress.
So, I raise the question, “What does it take for you to be with another person?”
“I want to know if you will stand in the center of the fire with me and not shrink back.”
-Oriah Mountain Dreamer, The Invitation, May, 1994
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