It’s Okay, I Understand
By John Hope Bryant
Written at age 18
This writing is about hope and honesty and the potential in people. About potential, not the pain and the negative that lies in all of us. That, each of us must identify and correct from within. The following writing is only an expression of possibly where you have been, where you are now, and where you have the potential, with self honesty and definition, to travel. Whether I am right or wrong is not the goal. The goal is only to provoke you to question things you might have thought resolved. In provoking you to question I admit, I might anger and hurt you by my statements. This is not my intent, please know that.
You, like most of us, I am sure are brave, sincere and honest to others, if not totally to yourself. And to the extent to which you are not totally honest with yourself, it is because you are unknowingly in the dark, looking quietly for the light, and probably not because you are in any way dishonest. But the light scares you a bit, because exposing yourself to the light involves becoming vulnerable to those you care about, or would like to care about.
You must take calculated risks in order to progress. Risk is directly related to reward. Keeping all your options open, this is fine, if all you expect is a diluted reality and limited possibility.
It is easy when you have been hurt by love to give it up as a bad job and make independence your new god, taking the love you had to give and turning it in upon yourself. And most of us have had to protect ourselves so much at times that we’ve given up the high road and taken the low. But independence carried to the furthest extreme is just loneliness and death, nothing more than another defense, and there is no growth in it, only a safe harbor for a while. The answer doesn’t lie in learning how to protect ourselves from life – it lies in learning how to become strong enough to let a bit more in. And that is the direction in which I am myself trying to head.
I know that many people feel they have to draw away, and others so damaged from the wars can never fight again. I know the joys of owning yourself. I have sung that song myself. But dimply and from a hidden place, I hear a most insistent voice saying to anyone who wants to hear, “there is no growth without love.”
There is a difference between an independence which comes from strength and one which is a retreat from life, the retrenchment of a spirit not trusting in itself. And while I know we are all afraid of being hurt and take two steps back for every forward one we take, the truth is that the moment when we are most ourselves is when we reach out and answer the call from someone else.
It is very difficult to accept the fact that there are no guarantees in life, no guarantees that life will progress as it should or that the people you care about will love you back, or even that they will treat you right. But trust in life does not mean trusting that life will always be good or that it will be free of grief or pain, It means trusting that somewhere inside yourself you can find the strength to go forth and meet what comes and, even if you meet betrayal and disappointment along the way, go forth again the very next day.
“So often we reach out and offer that which we have to give to someone who has no need for or does not recognize the value of our gift. Thus our gift goes un-received through no fault of our own, and this rejection causes pain. But the real tragedy occurs when someone comes along who has a need for and recognizes the value of what we have to give – but because the memory of rejection is still fresh on our mind, we are no longer reaching out.”
It is said that man is born broken. He lives by mending. The grace of God is glue. Which is a nice way of saying that living is the healing. Vulnerability is not weakness. It’s strength. Very few of us are tough enough to be soft!
There is a beast in all of us that protects us from the world, and while in some of us it is a roaring beast and in others it is a beast that crawls, we all have defenses that we use more than we need, and for everything they protect us from they cost us something more (dear). Defenses come in many forms, many more than I can name, and while some of them are more primitive than others, they all keep the world away from us just the same.
I am not sure why we all feel so vulnerable or why so many of us go through life like wounded beasts, crouched and waiting or the other guy to strike, but almost everyone sees himself or herself as a loser deep down inside, and fails to understand that others are frightened too. And a lot of people lash out first, fearing they will be hurt if they don’t, and much of our social behavior has to do with throwing others off our trail before they find us out.
I suppose closing yourself off from your feelings frees you, at a price, from having to do anything about them. And putting other people in parenthesis, or dancing away yourself, very often seems a safer bet than taking your chances on their behavior once you’ve let them in. But you must keep in mind that if you are defending all the time, you are pushing away life, and the life you are pushing away is your own.
I don’t think we always know just how it is we push intimacy away, or how deep and wide we’ve dug our moat. There are many masks to hide behind, so many ways to get lost inside, that it’s very easy to lock yourself away and lose the capacity to get out alive.
If being honest and truly experiencing others and finding and exploring true euphoria’s of love means that occasionally you give yourself away by acknowledging limitations in yourself that someone might have missed before, well, that’s only as bad as you consider it to be.
We are all constantly remodeling ourselves, trying for a better fit between the inner imperatives and the outer demands, and like the blind man exploring the elephant we go through life with only the smallest bit in hand, judging the whole by the little we know. It is important to bear this mind, and to keep in mind as well that we are judged but by what we know, but by the honesty of our search.
“Man staggers through life, yapped at by his reason, pulled and shoved by his appetites, whispered to by his fears, and beckoned to by his hopes,” Eric Hoffer wrote. We can each of us only do our best. Life is after all a search for the secrets of growth and nobody is expected to have them all.
It can be very hard to find the courage to face life wholeheartedly and to respond honestly and while giving 100%, knowing there are no guarantees. And many of us are afraid to fully experience the other person, and to hear with an open heart what is being said to us, and to speak our truth back no matter what reception we think we’ll get.
And sometimes, when we’re been in the habit of not taking any chances for a long time – of hedging our bets even when someone is reaching out to us – it seems too hard to reach back to them, too much to demand of ourselves. So we give up before we try to discover whether there is something out there to meet, and sit back instead to complain about life, because we haven’t got the courage to move out beyond ourselves.
I am not asking of you to challenge something for which I have no (personal) experience. The call to God for the courage to move beyond myself, and to develop into something more, once I made the commitment, was the litmus test in my life. At one point in my life I was so fractured, so torn, that I could not commit to something small, yet along something big. I started with a small, manageable commitment that only God and I had to know about. The commitment to rise to my own level, my own human potential. For this reason, this first step, I am now humbly not only able to commit to something big, but I am called upon from trusting friends and men and women of stature and wisdom, to counsel their lives, …their growth. Now, this does not tell me that I am anybody who deserves special status, but only that I am doing something right in my life. My life has been blessed, but it once was hell. I made the change.
I ask (of you) only one favor, and that is for you to begin to explore the concept of quality over quantity in your life, moving out courageously beyond yourself, self-discipline (self-love), and committing to something small. You, in your hidden specialness, as part of the human race, deserve nothing less. These principals championed in all areas and aspects of your life. And to the degree that you choose or allow yourself to fill your life with quantity, quality will suffer. And where quality begins to suffer to any great degree; when you cannot explore the new cave for fear of the old one falling in on your head, and when you are trying to keep the kettle (of life) from boiling over instead of stirring the ingredients…any real possibility worth anything is choked off or chokes off and dies, before it has ever had a chance to truly live. And wouldn’t you agree, ….you deserve more than that.