A very wise person in my life said to me recently as I collapsed in to a chair in their office, “that sounds like insecurity…they are acting from a position of insecurity.” I had recently had a very tough conversation with someone I don’t believe is acting in good faith. Throughout the conversation I had wanted to yell and scream and shake the person and instead, I kept the most even tone and showed no…emotion.
This very wise person and I went on to have a very thoughtful and, for me, impactful conversation.
We talked about how we show up and the ways it impacts us now and the ways it could in the future. The good and the bad. The beneficial and the limiting.
I have tried to count how often I am less perfect or otherwise beneath the bar the “best me” wishes I’d achieve. I also struggle to count or remember the times I unexpectedly do far better than the “best me” would have dreamed.
On some grand “naughty or nice” list I seem to be doing at least a little bit of both and I’d argue that the peaks and the valleys are the good stuff of life and when you are flat lining with only nominal happiness or comfortable pain, you might be actually flat lining.
The story of “Jekyll and Hyde” comes to mind in terms of comparative archetypes. Jekyll, the scary “beast in the night” murderer acting out of jealous rage and madness juxtaposed with the soft, gentle, thoughtful Hyde who acts only on the best of intentions and in the care and concern for those he loves — these spirits are contained within one man, uncontrollably so, until he figures out what triggers the transition from light to dark, good to evil. And the trigger is quite simply endangering what he loves. That is a unimpeachable motivation when the love is true, in my opinion.
All of this yin and yang, good and bad, stress and calm presented together are generally characterized quite differently than I see them.
I see the presence of both sides of the emotional coin as a sign of balance and a sign of authenticity. But only when combined with accountability, forgiveness, and acceptance.
It isn’t okay to be angry or agitated without saying “I’m sorry” nor to show up exuberant and not give some kind of “thanks.” It isn’t okay to do wrong then not accept the repercussions. This is balance and the grand quid pro quo of life and yet we are pressured to feel more and more like it is erratic or unstable when in fact it is just the conservation of energy taking place on a more observable scale.
“Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those inflicted and drive out demons. Freely you have received; freely give.” –Matthew 10:8
“The world is a dangerous place to live; not because of the people who are evil, but because of the people who don’t do anything about it.” — Albert Einstein
Early education in our formative years and then psychotherapy as we grow older teach us there are a huge number of different emotions and that we must learn to identify and embrace them. Posters showing line-drawing faces attempt to teach us about these emotions and then normalize us to what they mean and look like when they appear.
In reality, these posters teach us to type-cast the depressed person as lacking energy and thoughtless or assume the quiet person who isn’t jumping for joy isn’t satisfied. We then learn that the person who speaks directly and succinctly is “dictatorial” while the person who asks thoughtful questions to understand is “meek.” And then we push ourselves to try to be some incredible balance of every emotion and just show up as some bizarre all-in-one person who is neither happy or sad, engaged or disengaged, passionate or dispassionate…a person who has flat lined. Because all emotions balance. They are yin and yang.
My former manager from years ago at Expedia once told me, “Jason, you wear your heart on your sleeve and you care so much. But I want you to consider how to normalize how you feel — bring it all back to center. Make the highs less high and the lows less low.” Then someone made the comment that “even the most senior executives get angry, they just do it in a soft tone, a smile on their face and without anyone knowing.” Fuck that. Be less happy when I am joyful and be less sad when my heart aches? No thank you.
I want to surround myself with the “heart on sleeves” authentic person who shows emotion. This engenders trust and makes them trustworthy; they can be relied upon to tell you what pisses them off and also what values they hold dear.
Inside of me is a Jekyll and a Hyde: I will smite you with every ounce of my power if you harm or threaten what I love; calling on Hyde’s persona, I will test you for truth, give you a chance, and celebrate your accomplishment when you achieve it. But this comes with a great price: Baccountability, honesty, ownership…demonstrate those things and there’s pretty much no situation where I wouldn’t have someone’s back.
But we hate this duality…so we teach “executive maturity.” We expect and enforce fewer peaks and valleys and the inevitable reality of our lives can then only happen with smaller audiences and behind closed doors. We confine the emotions that once appeared on a poster. In doing so, we instill fear. And that fear stops productivity dead in its tracks because it stops the “new idea” being pitched or the “random thought” from taking flight.
I guess it makes sense then…why we have such generic answers to the question “how are you today?” No one really wants to know. They really just want to hear: “Pretty good!”