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Prequel: Humility, Arrogance, Trust, & Honesty

September 6, 2009
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If I were to write a book, and I’ve always known I would, what would I write about. Books fascinate me. There is a one-to-many form of conversation that takes place, without being limited to 140 characters. And when one reads a really good book, and I have, they can then contact the author and give feedback – which I have. Sometimes a conversation ensues, other times, not so much. But it is the ideas contained, inspired, and exploding that give meaning to my existence. So, if I were to write a book, what would it be about?

It was somewhere in my teens that the notion to write a book first crossed my mind. In the ninth grade I edited the school paper at Fowler Junior High School in Tigard (In the old building on Main Street that was torn down to build a Payless store). In the next couple of years I dabbled in various forms of writing and journalism. I discovered an old mimeograph machine in a back room at school, and after wasting several masters and two reams of paper, I figured out how to publish a sarcastic/parody newsletter.  I was no Jon Stewart, but I certainly felt like young Thomas Paine in that back room.

As I entered my 20s, I was fairly certain I’d write a book. But a certain humble appreciation for my age and naiveté helped me to realize that I really didn’t have anything to say.  That isn’t to say that other 20somethings haven’t written some fascinating tomes, but I hadn’t found my voice yet.  After reading Asimov’s Foundation Trilogy (which actually include a fourth book, if you’re paying attention), I became fascinated with the novel.  Some great truths can be sewn into a well written piece of fiction.  However, for the most part, I tend to be drawn to non-fiction.

Throughout my EMS career, and some of my travels, I’ve encountered some fascinating people.  People who think they are dying will share some fairly interesting insights with those who take the time to listen.  Not everyone, mind you, but a few of the people I’ve had in the back of my ambulance were amazing.  Some of them shared with me the meaning of life as they understood it.  Some of them, in the midst of their fears, remained externally focused and non-egocentric, right up until the end.  Others spoke volumes through their eyes, their mannerisms, or even the way they treated the situation. My patients gave me more than I ever gave them.  At the very least, I owe it to them, to share some of those insights.

I remember meeting a man in a Seattle bar. I was just passing through and on a whim (which tend to be the way I travel), I ended up sitting to a man who was a Russian defector.  He in his teenage sons traveled with the Russian State Circus, and while performing in Vancouver, BC, they defected.  After living on the streets of Vancouver for several months, awaiting entry to the US, they now found themselves living on the streets of Seattle.  During that time, he concocted a pre-Internet business plan. I sat down next to him one hour after he signed his first contract. Years later, it is his story, fascinating as it is, that pushes me to share the other “characters” I’ve met along the journey.

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There is the bounty hunter that still gives me nightmares; the dying man with hundreds of clocks in various states of repair or disrepair throughout his untidy apartment; The former ambulance driver who went into cardiac arrest, in the back of my ambulance; and the Skipper – a 74 year old retired gentleman who used to teach sailing for the Norwegian government, aboard a 74 foot schooner. In all, there are about 15 or 20 unique individuals who stand out in my life.  Some of them I’ve already written about on these pages, others are waiting to be released into the wild.

Yes, I’ve always known I would write a book, but I wanted to wait until I had something to say. From my perspective, storytelling is the best way to share one’s experience, strength, and hope.  Experience is the path to wisdom – and learning from other’s experience is a great way to avoid pain – while still acquiring wisdom.

Not long ago, I received a very harsh email criticizing me for dwelling on my past.  Apparently this person felt as if I was wallowing in my past. I found it interesting that this person was so harsh.  My philosophy, as I heard it put so eloquently lately, is to “look in the rear-view mirror now and then, but don’t stare.”  Apparently this commenter thinks I’ve been staring.  In another online conversation with a young adult, I was trying to help her see that making one’s own mistakes can be very painful and that it’s OK to learn from others.  That didn’t go over so well either.  For the most part, however, I get some very affirming comments.

Some professional people, who have shown an interest in my career development, have suggested that I disassociate myself with these writings. I’ve been told that this blog will hurt my job opportunities.  This advice caught me up short for a couple of weeks – and it continues to haunt me.  As a social media specialist, it is my task to convince people and organizations to join the online conversation.  Traditional broadcast and print media are dying.  Real, Authentic, Relevant, and Experiential communication is too R.A.R.E.  We need more of it in order to build strong community. What do you think about this?

Granted, as I’ve gone through the process of being terminated from my previous position, I’ve vented somethings that are best left out of the public conversation. I understand that, but as the sub-text of this blog states, these are the “confessions of a not-so-perfect man” on a journey. In other words, this story isn’t finished yet. But like many in this new age of online social networking, I am seeking to find the balance between transparency and political correctness.  If anything, in real life or online, I tend to lean towards full disclosure.  But, in the words of Colonel Jessep, some people just “can’t handle the truth!”

The truth, do you want the truth? Are you willing, and able, to engage in a rigorous and honest investigation of life – and the clues you may find? Is it enough for you to read, and listen, to another’s full disclosure, or are you able to fully disclose your life too?

For me, it boils down to Humility, Arrogance, Trust, & Honesty.

When I approach my life with humility, I know that I don’t have it all figured out and I certainly could learn a thing or two from others.  So, humbly, I lay out my story – my journey, if you will; and hopefully, others will take the time to share their perspective with me – good, or bad.  Humility will enable me to learn from you!

Arrogance is the flip side. Though I’ve had my bouts with acute and chronic arrogance, I’ve discovered that it merely prevents my growth and engagement.  Arrogance is harmful to the process of community building.  It is a rebound from the depths of a poor self esteem.  Instead, I seek the balance between a broken ego that withdraws in shame and an inflated ego that aggressively seeks to control those around me.  Not willing to shrink into the abyss, and not content with arrogance; instead I seek a confidence that allows me to be interdependent with others.  Not dependent, co-dependent, or controlling – just cooperative and interdependent.

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In order for this to happen, I need to trust others. If I don’t trust the people I am with, I can’t be interdependent with them.  If I don’t trust them, I can’t build community with them.  If I don’t trust myself, I will never be able to trust others.  And if I’m not honest with myself, I can never be fully honest with others.

What I’ve discovered is that some people like their lives to be wrapped up in neat little packages. Others, because of their will or their inability, can’t contain it in a package, and their lives spill out all over aisle 13 in the grocery store – or wherever they happen to be.  I  am seeking the balance of a life lived out of the box, but not letting it unravel all over the place.  Boxes are nice, for they let us keep our stuff safe.  But if you never climb out of the box, or take your “stuff” out of the box, it’s really not worth much to others.  Sharing ourselves and our stuff with others is how we build relationships, trust, and community.

Do you agree?

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12 Comments
  1. September 6, 2009 3:37 pm

    I must say this is a great article i enjoyed reading it keep the good work 🙂

  2. September 6, 2009 4:54 pm

    I’ve gotten a lot out of reading this series, although I’m not sure I can articulate it in words at this point. I’m certainly taking a good look at myself.

    As far as the idea that this blog could hurt your job search — well, I think if a company or individual can’t handle who you are, you won’t have a good working relationship (and I know you’ve experienced that already).

    • September 6, 2009 6:58 pm

      Thanks for the feedback Kathleen! I’m glad this has been helpful – especially since you were one of the people who inspired me to turn that first post into a series. Articulating what we are processing is generally considered a female trait, since we men tend to be clueless about what we are thinking, so all I have to say is, welcome to the club!

      I agree with you about being a good fit somewhere, but like Erwin McManus once said, “Dating is a process of withholding information. We hope we can marry the other person before they find out who we really are.” I think sometimes a job search can be like that too – we hope to make ourselves invaluable to the employer before they find out what a fraud we are. 😉

      Thanks again!

  3. terregift permalink
    September 6, 2009 10:32 pm

    Gary, you’re words with this last blog seem to raise more questions than answers.

    After having read your blog, I am left a mental pictureof a person swimming to cross a large river of thoughts. He is a fast swimmer. His natural and cultivated talent as a writer and wordsmith has carried him quckly and far… The further he goes into the middle of the river, where the current is swiftest, the higher the waves of adversity become, and the stronger the winds of life push and spash against him. He is strong, but the current is stronger.

    Being affected by the current, he is begining to show the strain and is tiring; He begins to loose sight of the shore as the waves begin to crest around him. His course has changed. The boats and large ships pass without any notice of the swimmer, beating him with their spreading wakes.

    Treading water for a short awhile he may attempt to muster his resolve and try to rally more strength, all the while knowing that the current is carrying him further away from his original goal, –or any shoreline for that matter. Inperceptively his core body heat has become dangerously cold. He has been on rescue teams and seen how hypothermia and death happen too quickly in the big river. Now it is his life that is at risk. Before he becomes dangerously affected by the cold waters, will he look up and around for help? Can he see a boat? About now, any boat would be a welcome sight. But will he be willing to admit his weakness and call out to a boat?

    (Remember Clancy’s “Invisible Boat” story? — if not, email me.)

    A tired swimmer finds himself too far from shore, when he sees some fellows coming near him, and they appear to be rowing, but he sees no oars in their hands. And as they get closer, he realizes they are sitting up in the water and rowing, but he sees no boat! They invite him to get into their “Invisible Boat”! But he is no idiot, and he is certainly not going to go along with some crazy guys in their invisible boat. So, he tells them, “No Thank you, I am doing just fine.” So they row away from him for awhile.

    Sometime later, they return and invite him to get into the invisible boat. But again the exhausted swimmer declines, and they leave him to his struggles. A third time, they row near the tired swimmer, and invite him into the invisible boat. At last, the swimmer is at the point of drowning and nearly given up. With all his pride beaten, and his body nearing the point of death, he weakly agrees and reaches for the men and their invisible boat. . Amazingly his hands find the invisible boat and he is helped inside.

    There is more to the story, Gary, and it ends well.

    *********

    Find a boat…

    **********************************************************************

    PS:
    On another note, I can agree with the cautionary advice about public posts. Being totaly honest and an “open-book” for all to read, also increases the likelyhood of our being a targeted of bias, and contempt. And most likely, we end up being wounded by prejudice. While I am actively searching for a job, I have closed most of my Facebook to the public. I remain completely open to my friends and family, but to the world, I must be guarded against needlessly stirring up “contempt prior to investigation”.

    • September 7, 2009 7:51 pm

      Well Terre, I appreciate your insight and vision. I think you might actually be a bit more discerning than the average building official too! What a great analogy, I looked it up online, for it sounded vaguely familiar – and I got the gist of it.

      I’ve found that when I use empathetic story-telling, some people confuse that – like the person who sent the email which I mentioned in this post. Often, in a small group setting, I’ll share something that isn’t really an issue for me anymore, in a way that I like to think helps others relate to the growth that God has graced within me. But some people think I’m still struggling with this issue, and rush to my defense and/or protection. In reality, I didn’t really tell the story for my benefit, I told it for the benefit of those still struggling.

      Remember, the title of this post is “Prequel:…” This literary tool allows me to step back in time and tell a story before the other stories. George Lucas used this well in bringing Star Wars 1, 2, & 3 to us, almost 20 years after we’d seen the others. So, while things are a bit tough right now, emotionally, physically (three surgeries in as many weeks), and spiritually – trying to understand the whys and hows of God’s ways, I do not feel as if I’m drowning, struggling, or even outside of the boat.

      But, you have given me an idea for my next post, which will be entitled, “Reaching Back.”

      Thanks for your concern brother!

  4. terregift permalink
    September 6, 2009 10:34 pm

    PSS: I’ll row with you, brother!

  5. K. C. Robertson permalink
    September 7, 2009 12:35 am

    When I retired I resolved to write all the stories I knew because I knew I was the only person who had a collective knowledge of most of them. If I died without putting them in some readable form, a very colorful story would just fade to a bland grey past. Our society is so transient most people can’t name their great grand parents. The people of even my generation who should have known the stories didn’t, because the previous generation had not thought them worth passing on. I roared through the first 100 pages, then worked through the second hundred, the third hundred has been moving by fits and spurts.

    I have discovered most people never try to make sense of things. If one does try to make sense of things they better be honest. When honest they will discover things that make them and the people who would be concerned about the story uncomfortable. When a person starts connecting the dots the picture is not always what one has believed all their life.

    I am now into the period of which I have a living memory. I continue to wonder how the people I know will react to the story.

    • September 7, 2009 7:37 pm

      KC, why do I get the feeling that people don’t appreciate you for all you are? Me thinks maybe you have a lot of really good ideas rolling around under that farmer’s hat. If you’re anything like me, and I suspect you are, you enjoy the solitude of your work.

      Thanks for sharing – I hope you keep writing – better yet, start a blog and share with the rest of us – I can help you get started!

  6. September 7, 2009 6:07 am

    Focusing on the past, is that not what we do when we read the Bible? All those stories took place in the past, so if someone is complaining on you focusing too much on the past, tell them to quit reading the Bible.

    I know I don’t live in the past, but if you don’t learn from your mistakes, look at your past successes, and leave the things that don’t work behind, then you can never live in the present.

    The world is changing on how we connect on personal levels. Sometimes I wish the internet had not been invented , but it humbles me to know that I have contact with many people from around the United States, that I have come to know some and have become friends with authors of book, yes I do have a few that we have conversations through email, and that I have inspired some people to move outside of the institutional thought.

    What I find about you, Gary, is you were the kind of guy that would do anything for anyone,which is good, but it took getting out of the little church to start you on your journey of who you really are. I’m there too.
    God has humbled both of us, and we continue to change.

    Soon, those that used to know you well will wonder what has happened to you, why you are not what you used to be. This will be good. What I read in your blog is fantastic! Keep going with God! You are loved.
    (Yeah, that’s a bit corny, but so is love at times.)

  7. September 7, 2009 12:00 pm

    Well to be honest I’m on the fence on the whole public disclosure thing. Is it a great and noble thing to sacrifice ones deepest thoughts and feelings on the public alter for the greater good? Or is there something to be said for protecting oneself from ridicule and persecution? I do not have that answer…

    I do have an opinion on political correctness…I think it is stupid. To censor oneself for a small group of over sensitive people seems ridiculous. But then I am not a member of a small group of over sensitive people so it is easy for me to have this opinion.

    I have often thought of writing a book, but one for kids…they are about me speed! Kim

    • September 7, 2009 7:55 pm

      Hmmm, that’s an interesting thought – “to sacrifice ones deepest thoughts and feelings on the public alter for the greater good.” I’d never really seen it as a sacrifice. More of a need – or the way I was created. I would share more, if others could handle it.

      Several months ago, I had to lock down my Twitter and Facebook updates because people in “the church” were unable to process my Luke 15:1 & 2 ministry.

      Politically correct? Not me.

      Tactful? I’m learning.

      Someone once said we can catch more bees with honey. This is one reason I’m willing to climb back down the ladder of growth and help those who are still struggling.

  8. September 7, 2009 8:01 pm

    Thanks everyone for the great feedback and dialog. I feel like we can really gain some traction as I strive to build a community of parents, and not-so-perfect men and women – who, like me, are on a journey.

    Progress, not perfection,” has been one of my mantras for years. That’s what this is all about. As I bare my soul, maybe you’ll feel free to do the same. We’re all on the same playing field, and none of us has an edge. Being real, authentic, relevant, and experiential, – well, isn’t that what community is all about?

    Thanks again for the great feedback!

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