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Those Perfect Families
Who else here is old enough to remember Christmas letters?
For those who aren’t it went like this: in the days before Facebook people sent Christmas cards (OK the organized ones still do that part). Inside would be a carefully typed letter catching up your friends and family on all the doings of the previous year. A carefully edited and unfailingly cheerful letter. I think most of us had at least one family member who sent out those letters every year with the same glowing and perfect update:
“Little Billy was officially inducted into the Ultra Super Genius Club this year, we are so proud! He launched his first rocket to the moon with great success and is looking forward to heading to Mars next year. Ken got a promotion at work and is now in charge of the whole Western Division of Ultra Corp, while I have effortlessly perfected cooking macarons in preparation for us all moving to France next year.”
We all read that letter thinking, no you haven’t Aunt Helen, no one perfects macarons; you just sob and eat your failures like the rest of us. In other words, it was Facebook, but a whole year condensed into one page of text. And of course it was heavily edited and not at all helpful unless you were looking to sharpen your snark skills.
Social Media creates much the same space, but it’s daily and relentless. Let’s face it, none of us are actually perfect but no one wants to be the person posting a picture of what our living room actually looks like by the time we get to seven PM on a Friday night, or at the end of a long weekend with the kids off school. I don’t care what you call it, keeping up with the Jones, or Instagram Perfect, or Facebook Posing but whatever we call it, it’s false. None of us are perfect and sparkly all the time. Every one of us has a mess hiding behind some door, has a crying jag at something, loses our temper, or drops an entire container of flour on the floor.
One of my favorite authors is Dr. Brene Brown. She writes about shame, connection, vulnerability and a whole mess of other stuff that makes people uncomfortable. Perhaps the most important thing she discovered in her research was that without vulnerability real connection, the thing we humans need most, wasn’t possible.
”Vulnerability is about having the courage to show up and be seen.” – Brene Brown
In other words, so long as we present that Instagram Perfect face to others, we are missing out on real connection with other people. Connection of course here means something deeper than the number of “friends” or “followers” we’ve accumulated. It goes much deeper than likes or shares.
“I define connection as the energy that exists between people when they feel seen, heard, and valued; when they can give and receive without judgment; and when they derive sustenance and strength from the relationship.” – Brene Brown
Connection is essential. Medical studies are beginning to show that the chief cause of addiction is not the chemical structure of drugs, but lack of real connection and community [source]. We need connection so much that our brains have entirely different reactions to chemicals as powerful as heroine when we are, or are not, connected meaningfully to other people.
There are a million spiritual practices out there, yoga, meditation, crystals, prayer, chant, sweat lodges, vision quests, tarot; but I think that perhaps one of our most important spiritual tasks as human beings is to be honest about the fact that we aren’t perfect. In other words, to be vulnerable. It’s the opposite of the Christmas letter and the Instagram filter. Years ago I stumbled, entirely at random, across a book with an utterly ridiculous cover. It’s author was entirely honest. By the end of the first chapter I was hooked, I sat in bed laughing so hard that tears streamed down my cheeks and I found myself collapsed in my pillows shaking with laughter and totally unable to breathe because she so got me. I scared the poop out of my poor husband. But I also felt like I’d met a new best friend. We cried together and laughed together, and I felt a whole lot better about my own shit because of how honest she was about hers.
The Bloggess (one of my other favorite authors) has built a quirky empire out of being honest about things most people won’t talk about, like mental illness, giant chickens, and a festive Christmas boar’s head (you had to be there, but here’s a hint.) I can’t imagine how much courage it took to write those first articles on her blog, or to have those first conversations with her friends, but the result is obvious. A big, supportive community of people all struggling together and laughing a lot more than we would otherwise.Obviously The Bloggess is an unusual example but our own lives work much the same way. When we chose to be vulnerable (with those who have earned such trust) true connection becomes possible, but not just with other people. Being vulnerable makes it possible to love and connect to ourselves. Letting go of the need to be perfect allows us to spend time getting comfortable in our own skin.
My goal is for this to be a safe place, a place to be honest with ourselves and one another. A place to explore and build something more sane in our crazy world, partly by being honest.
Hi, I’m Jo
I’m Jo, I’m a bit of a control freak, I can be seriously anxious, I overthink just about everything. I’m also totally in awe of every sunrise I see (all two of them, I don’t get up that early, but I love sunsets!), I bounce around and shriek like a kid everytime I catch sight of the mountains or the beach. I cannot walk a beach without picking up pockets full of shells and rocks. I baby talk to my cat, and hold long complicated conversations with my dog and horse. All three humor me. No, we never make our bed, and yes the critters all consider it their own (not the horse). I’m weird and broken but still pretty cool (I think), and I’d love to get to know you as well.