This one is for my baby son. He never meant us any harm.
Going into the holidays of 2015 was an interesting time for us to say the least. My husband was entering “finals season” at school. This meant weekends didn’t exist and I’m on my own with the kids more. It meant that Jon was walking miles every day, his preferred way to memorize laws. Our baby was not yet sleeping through the night, our toddler was being toddler-esque, and we were both exhausted. Naturally, we decided to plan a large family trip to Disneyworld in the middle of it just to see how crazy we could make ourselves. Needless to say, I was a real joy to be around amidst it all.
One thing that improved the situation was my stumbling upon these two speeches (here and here) on the subject of meekness, by Neal A. Maxwell. The things I learned from them were uncharacteristically implemented almost instantly, and they included so many thought-provoking lines that I decided I should listen to them daily for a while, which turned into all of December.
Each time, even a minimum of attention gave me a better understanding of what it means to be meek, and it wasn’t what I thought it was.
I tried to select the most telling quotes, but none of them will have the same impact out of context. A sampling:
Meekness is more than self-restraint; it is the presentation of self in a posture of kindness and gentleness. It reflects certitude, strength, serenity; it reflects a healthy self-esteem and a genuine self-control.
The meek use power and authority properly… they reflect a love unfeigned, a genuine caring. The influence they exercise flows from a deep concern.
Because they make fewer demands of life [meaning entitlement, not the lack of expectations for life] the meek are less easily disappointed. They are less concerned with their entitlements than with their assignments.
Meekness does not mean tentativeness, but thoughtfulness. Meekness makes room for others.
I am new to meekness. I was enamored with the book Crucial Confrontations in middle school. That's Confrontations, not Conversations, the former's milder follow-up. I thought it was imperative that any and all offenses get worked out immediately, passionately (read: my timing, my way), so as not to fester (for the good of the relationship!).
When I perceived a wrong being done, I was all about standing up to it, calling it out, doing the 'right' thing in a not right way. My past is riddled with times I thought I needed to valiantly (and loudly, and stubbornly) defend others, myself, or a value I held dear.
So it goes without saying that humility, meekness, patience, and your basic chilling out have been things I've desired to grow over the years, but I was still pleasantly surprised to find that meekness is so much more sophisticated and all-encompassing than I had originally given it credit for.
I want to create tacky bumper stickers that declare, MEEKNESS IS NOT WEAKNESS, because I love it so much.
But also because, as Maxwell points out, meekness is a misunderstood, even a despised virtue in our society. Despised because it is misrepresented as being weak, frail, or requiring one to 'let everything go' and quietly take whatever injustice life throws at them.
In the middle of my meekness binge, there happened to be a handful of controversial issues brewing at once on Facebook (widely considered the epicenter of open and rational debate). The incidents were happening in vastly different facets of my life, yet for the first time, they each had a 'real life' counterpart which I encountered outside of social media almost daily.
I live across the street from Harvard University (Law School), a school to which the entire educational community looks to set the tone for management of sensitive issues. Also, I attend church in perhaps the least traditional N. American congregation of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. Both of these institutions had some big things happen, and when you throw a budding presidential race into the mix, hot topics were rampant.
People from every side posted articles, followed by comments largely from only one side, with perhaps one brave (or silly) naysayer spouting off somewhere in the mix, to an unlistening audience. One thing you could be sure of: no one was listening, but everyone was ready to pounce on the first person to go against their stance.
Like many deeply convoluted and sensitive issues, there are so many ways to look at any one of them. There are anecdotal experiences that color one's view, and there are explicit laws, commandments, and ethics that seem obvious to some and outdated or misunderstood to others.
As I conversed with people on every side of these many-sided challenges, I often found myself wondering what exactly was the solution, or in lieu of one, what was the best way for me personally to proceed?
Part of the challenge to figuring that out, was that each day in the talks on meekness I was hearing quotes like the following, then immediately after (or during!) I was inundated with hateful vitriol on my screen from otherwise intelligent, thoughtful, and even typically kind people.
This made clarifying my own stance difficult, while confirming the usefulness of added meekness in these situations:
Quotes from the talk as follows:
“Without meekness, the conversational point we insist on making often takes the form of I, that spearlike, vertical pronoun.
Meekness also cultivates in us a generosity in viewing the mistakes and imperfections of others.
The meek think of more clever things to say than are said. And it’s just as well, for there is so much more cleverness in the world than wisdom, so much more sarcasm than idealism.
Granted, we admire boldness and dash, but boldness and dash can so easily slip into pomp and panache.
Isn’t it interesting, in a world wrongly impressed with machismo, that we see more and more coarseness which is mistaken for manliness, more and more selfishness masquerading as individuality?”
The cause and effect began to emerge. I began noticing it in my interactions within my marriage and family. I saw how so much of the communication breakdown between the groups on social media, as well as my own individual encounters, came down to a lack of meekness, specifically, being easily offended.
(A life-changing book on the uselessness of blame or taking offense is discussed here)
“Not only are the meek less easily offended, but they are less likely to give offense to others. In contrast, there are some in life who seem to be waiting to be offended. Their pride covers them like boils which will inevitably be bumped.”
Lest you think I am saying the alternative is to just 'take it,’ never standing up for what you feel is right, it all comes down to a proper understanding of what meekness entails. And it is not being a doormat. Far from it: it is being more influential than one possibly could using blunt force.
“Meekness permits us to be prompted as to whether to speak out… But even when the meek speak up, they do so without speaking down.
Some may still say, however, “Does not meekness invite abuse and dominance by the unmeek?” It may. But life’s experiences suggest that sufficient unto every circumstance are the counterbalancing egos thereof; force tends to produce counterforce.
Please do not think of meekness, therefore, in the stereotyped ways. You will see far more examples of those in desperate need of meekness than you will ever see of the truly meek being abused… I stress again that meekness does not mean we are bereft of boldness.
When we are truly meek, we do not engage in shoulder-shrugging acceptance but shoulder-squaring—in order that we might better bear the burdens of life and others.”
Taking action due to righteous indignation, to make a real change in the world, can be a good thing. But if it’s done solely because an individual feels personally offended, the motives and therefore pathways they take to impact change are inherently selfish.
“Assertiveness is not automatically bad, of course, but if we fully understood the motives which underlie some of our acts of assertion, we would be embarrassed. Frankly, when others perceive such motivations, they are sometimes embarrassed for us.”
I’ve allowed myself to be offended at every level, and from every level of intent from mistaken to purposeful. It is exhausting, and ultimately, selfish. As a favorite saying goes, “Only a fool takes offense when it isn’t intended, and only a greater fool takes offense when it is intended.”
Beyond my own lack of meekness that can always be improved, why have I ever taken offense? What is it about what another says or does that can bring out the worst in me if it hits me just-so?
For me, I’ve found that it has something to do with feeling like the other person doesn’t value me in one way or another. That I don’t matter to them. Because when I really, truly, deep down know that I matter to another, it takes nothing short of a massive, deliberate breach of trust for me to find offense in their words or actions.
Consider this, my all-time favorite quote of Oprah Winfrey's:
“I’ve talked to nearly 30,000 people on this show, and all 30,000 had one thing in common: They all wanted validation. If I could reach through this television and sit on your sofa or sit on a stool in your kitchen right now, I would tell you that every single person you will ever meet shares that common desire. They want to know: ‘Do you see me? Do you hear me? Does what I say mean anything to you?’
Understanding that one principle, that everybody wants to be heard, has allowed me to hold the microphone for you all these years with the least amount of judgment. Now I can’t say I wasn’t judging some days. Some days, I had to judge just a little bit. But it’s helped me to stand and to try to do that with an open mind and to do it with an open heart. It has worked for this platform, and I guarantee you it will work for yours. Try it with your children, your husband, your wife, your boss, your friends. Validate them. ‘I see you. I hear you. And what you say matters to me.’”
Most things I read or forums I witness that are heavy on one side of an issue rarely mention the humanity or validity of the other side. I would be pleasantly shocked to ever see a headline proclaiming, "Both Sides Kind of Have a Point!"
Five months ago, I had our son George. Coming just 19 months after his older brother who was considered 'easy,’ George was considered 'difficult.’ What a title to start a life, right? For a little over two months he cried, he slept, he ate, he cried some more. We didn’t even aim for happy; we would have settled for mildly content for five minutes.
One night, feeling consumed by the desire for him to calm down just so I could see him for a minute; to see my son whom I felt I had yet to actually meet, I lay him down on the bed and leaned over him.
Out of frustration, I finally said aloud, “Why are you so sad? Why can’t you just be happy?”
A moment passed, then the crying stopped short. He looked into my eyes with an awareness I had never seen from him. The words came swiftly and with perfect clarity into my mind:
He doesn’t want to be sad.
Then, a wash of compassion came over me, the strength of which I will never forget. At once I felt complete love and empathy for him. I felt the bond I had desired since his birth, but wondered if it would ever come, form peacefully between us.
The connection I have with him now is so precious to me. Words can’t describe the love I have for him. (It doesn’t hurt that he smiles a lot now and lets me squeeze him constantly without tears.)
It is no coincidence to me that before the love, before the bond, first, there was compassion. Before the compassion, there was understanding.
“Yes, there are real costs associated with meekness. A significant down payment must be made. But it can come from our sufficient supply of pride. We must also be willing to endure the subsequent erosion of unbecoming ego.
Furthermore, our hearts will be broken in order that they might be rebuilt...There is no way that such dismantling, such erosion, such rebuilding can occur without real cost in pain, pride, adjustments, and even some dismay...
Better to save one’s soul than to save one’s face.”
There have been times when my heart has been broken at the hands of those I love most. And sometimes, I have allowed it to simply break, without defense, and without offense. When I can muster the strength, the meekness, to allow that, it is freeing in a most agonizing way.
I know that it isn’t for naught. Not long after those sometimes excruciating moments, my heart begins to be rebuilt, each time earning greater capacity and greater strength.
I am so far from being sufficiently meek. As far as solutions to the big issues go, I don’t have them. I’m barely able to make it through finals season without losing sight of my aim to show those around me that they matter to me, like really show them.
But when I try even a little, the imperfect practice of Understanding first, then Compassion, then Bond has proven to be a model that encourages amazing connections to be found in the unlikeliest of places -- even Social Media.