Monday, January 12, 2009

Instructions for Change: William James

"To change one's life: 1. Start immediately, 2. Do it flamboyantly, 3. No exceptions." ~ William James

I don't know if change is this easy, but I love the joy that I feel when I read William James' quote.

I remember this one period of time when I was first becoming an "adult" - I was still pretty young in the world - about 24 years old, I'd say. I'd seen a lot and experienced a lot, but in some ways, I was still pretty naive. I was such a people-pleaser and I couldn't really find my way out of it. At one point, a woman I was working with on "Kiss of the Spider Woman" said to me, "You say 'I'm sorry' too much. You don't have anything to be sorry about." I knew what she meant, but I also knew that I wasn't sorry in that I was apologizing - it was a form of empathy. Unfortunately, people perceive that kind of language in certain ways. She told me to pick a different phrase that could be adapted and still be sincere if that was what I was feeling. We chose, "Gee, that's too bad." The meaning of the phrase could be "Gee, THAT'S too bad" as in "how unfortunate" or "Gee, that's too BAD" meaning "Oh, how awful". [For those of you who have never had a way of responding so ingrained in you as to automatically say, "I'm sorry" at other people's misfortune, it may be difficult to understand why I wouldn't just say "Oh, how awful" in lieu of a pat phrase...It's a learning technique that works for some of us. That's all I can say in such a small space.]

I learned that having a phrase that I have practiced gives me the space to react immediately. I am often shocked/surprised/moved to silence. This kind of reaction can also be misperceived. Having an automatically generated phrase that can be altered based on the circumstance and my own intention just gave me room to NOT say "I'm sorry." I used phrases like this in interpreting, "I understand that you are interested in finding out more about [insert client's name here], I'd be happy to interpret for you if you'd like to ask them directly.

Around the same time as the "Gee, that's too bad" phase, my friend, Duane, and I were totally into "Truth or Dare". I was a late-comer to Madonna fan-dom, but this movie resonated for me in major ways. Sometimes, I felt so stupid about it - I mean, HI - this is MADONNA...but I could relate to her lonliness and isolation in weird ways. I so admired her ability - her drive - to speak her mind. Duane and I could recite the movie by the end of the summer and I felt the pendulum of my people-pleasing swing to the other side of the continuum. I knew, even at that time, that in order to get to the middle of the road, I would have to swing WIDE to practice a more severe form of NOT PLEASING PEOPLE. (I suspect I was harsher in my mind than I was in reality). I learned a lot about myself in that process. And I came to respect strong women who are considered "bitches" or "troublemakers" or "pushy" or "demanding".

Here's one of my favorite songs from the movie:

I would be proud to be considered strong enough to withstand the tide of cultural expectation. I'm not there yet.

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