Sunday, May 12, 2013
The Power of Showing Up: How Your Presence Matters to Others
So I have a confession to make: I am something of a lone ranger. Always have been, probably always will be. I grew up effectively as an only child, as my older brother was placed in permanent foster care from the time he was born. My home environment was very abusive and dysfunctional and how I dealt with this was by retreating into my own internal space, the bubble of my soul where my organic self could find freedom, calm and protection. To make matters worse, I am an off-the-charts introvert, despite having a big heart and loving the people around me.
There are obviously many benefits to being this way. (Check out Susan Cain's talk 'The Power of Introverts' if you need a reminder of what some of these are). However there are some obvious downfalls too. I can be too serious, too self-absorbed, and I can forget the power and gift my presence can be in the lives of others around me. Check out the following case in point:
My friend's birthday party
So a friend of mine was having a birthday party. She wasn't a close friend, in fact I was more a friend of her mother than her, but nonetheless I was invited. I really didn't want to go - I was tired, it was a long drive to get to the party, her friends were very different people to the types of people I usually associate with etc. So I started making excuses to myself. "She's such a popular person - there will be tonnes of people there, she won't miss my presence". Wrong!
In the end, I felt compelled to go, so I pulled out my usual introvert self-motivation strategy. I would make myself go on the condition that I allowed myself to set a timer to go off after an hour. If after one hour I wasn't having fun, then I would give myself permission to leave. So off I went.
I arrived and I immediately felt so uncomfortable and out of place. I was sitting at a table of people who were discussing their pot-smoking habits. One of them said, "Well everyone does weed, right? Put if your hand if you have never done weed". Up went my head. The reaction: dead silence. Then slowly, people glanced sideways at the person next to them and the conversation continued again.
But then a miracle happened...
Having felt like a leper at that table, I moved to a seat inside by myself and pulled out a book to read (Introvert survival strategy #2 - always bring a book with you!). The girl whose birthday it was came and sat down next to me and poured out her heart. She was really emotional and told me how happy she was that I had come and how much it meant to her. She said "I know this isn't really your kind of thing, but I'm so glad you're here". We ended up having a heart-to-heart about some of our different values and beliefs, and she thanked me for being open, saying, "Despite our differences, I never feel judged or restricted around you; I always feel comfortable to just be me".
Finding the 'Middle Ground'
We never would have had that conversation, and our relationship wouldn't have grown by the leaps and bounds it did in that time, if I hadn't chosen the path of the middle ground. The middle ground for me in this situation was choosing to go even though I didn't feel like it, but not compromising my integrity or my sense of self. I tried to make conversation with people, but I held true to my values and beliefs, expressed the truth even when it would have been less awkward to stay silent, and in the end when it was all too much for me I retreated indoors and took refuge in a book. You might consider this antisocial. I choose to call it honouring my own needs at that time.
What does this mean in everyday life?
Obviously, we are not always going to be in such unfamiliar territory, and obviously we can't say yes to every single invitation we receive (otherwise we would be exhausted). Lately I have been thinking about some extra, more simpler ways that introvert me can show up and bless the people around me in day-to-day life.
A friend of mine has a great talent. Everywhere she goes she bumps into someone and inevitably she always walks away having obtained their life story and made a real connection with them. She does this everywhere: with the barista at the coffee shop, with the person who pumps her petrol, with people she is introduced to at a meeting, with people in positions of authority over her etc. And this has got me thinking: What if with every person I meet, I ask one more question than I normally would. What if as well of asking how people are, how their day is going, what they did at the weekend, and where they work, I also asked "How is your health?", "Do you have a family?", "What is something you are passionate about?".
The 'One Question More' challenge
People don't like to be peppered with questions of course, so my goal is simple. I am going to ask people one more question than I normally would. One more question than I normally feel comfortable asking, to find out one new thing about someone that can open up a point of connection. Because that is the key of life: connection. Humans are created to be pack animals. Quite literally, in fact. Our cavemen ancestors would have died if they had wandered off on their own without the protection and company of their clan. Despite the concrete jungle we live in today, deep down in our DNA we are wired for intimacy, just like they were.
So that is my 'One Question More' challenge. Who wants to join me? Feel free to document your experiences in the comments below.
Photo credit: 'Social gathering' by Benjamin Dobson on Flickr. Image used under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 licence.