Getting to the core of who you are
We don’t always say what we really mean. For reasons that we might or might not be aware of, we sometimes say ‘Yes’ (explicitly or implicitly) when we would rather have taken a stand and said ‘No’
This was the dilemma we explored on a recent webinar – and it took us into unexpected realms.
The example we focused on came from Logan (not his real name) who grew up in South Africa. He has given permission for me to tell his story.
‘I was on tour with the university rugby team. We were travelling on the team bus. Some of the more senior players started a silly, are-you-man-enough-for-this game that involved caning, and once they’d caned one another, they started calling the rest of us, one by one, to the back of the bus for a caning.
I acquiesced but the guy sitting next to me, who was bigger than me, declined his ‘invitation’, saying ‘Come and get me.’ One of the caners jumped up and came running down the aisle, and the chap next to me stood up to confront him. At which point, our coach, sensing that things were about to get out of hand, just said ‘Enough!’ and that was that.’
‘I’ve often wondered why I was so conflicted. Why did I simultaneously want to prove my manliness by taking the caning, but also say ‘No’, like the next guy did.’
Pondering on that internal conflict, Logan came to a new understanding of his past dilemma.
‘The physical side was really pretty minor; the deeper issue for me was: what am I doing in this environment?
In terms of what I could have done in the moment, I’m not sure I could have done a lot more than express my distaste. The most effective course of action, I think, would have been for me to ‘retire’ the moment the tour was over (with maybe a full and frank discussion with the coach and team thrown in).
Realistically, this would have required a lot more insight than I had at the time, as well as the bravery to confront the real issue: stepping away from a convenient identity and identifying and acknowledging my own expectations for how I should conduct my life!
…. It was the dissonance between what group membership stood for and how I actually wanted to be that was at the root of my discomfort all those years ago.’
However, whilst there seemed to be some regret for the cost of adopting a persona that didn’t truly fit, it also became clear that embracing rugby had served him well in other respects.
Significantly, as a younger boy, growing up in a culture that lauded rugby players, it earned him respect and protected him from the bullying that non-players were subjected to.
It also strengthened his connection with his father, who was passionate about rugby and played at a high level. Shared experience of the game forged a bond between father and son.
And even though it was common for rugby players to indulge in behaviours that he wanted to dissociate himself from, he nevertheless had the sense of belonging by being a member of a team.
For those of us with a strong internal critic evaluating what we do, it can be all too easy to focus on the negative – to berate ourselves for saying ‘Yes’ instead of ‘No’. In Logan’s case, his ‘Yes’ was not just to the ritual came at the back of the bus. He was also saying ‘yes’ to being part of a group whose ethos he couldn’t identify with.
But looking at our choices from the perspective of needs helps us to see ourselves with clarity and kindness.
It is perhaps inevitable that when we make choices, we prioritise certain needs over others. Treating ourselves compassionately means recognising the needs we do meet whilst simultaneously mourning (rather than beating ourselves up about) the ones that we don’t in any given situation.
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