Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Beyond the community of dysfunction

There is a popular myth that takes place long ago in a small kingdom in a mythic land far away.  In this land, the people lived in happiness and harmony with their king.  The king would frequently ride out from his castle to mingle with the people that he called his own, and the people in turn welcomed him as one of them.

Then one day, the community well became poisoned:  One by one, the people of the community became stricken with madness from the poisoned water.  The king alone was spared, because he had his own private well at the palace.

The king was saddened by the news, and frequently visited the community to see how he could help.  His sanity was perceived by the villagers as madness, and soon the cry of, "Something is wrong with our king!  He is not well!" resounded throughout the community.  The more the king tried to appeal to them to see reason, the more the people thought he was mad.

There are two variations on how this story ends.  In one, the king resigns himself to drinking from the community well, joining his people in their madness; and the community celebrates that their king has returned to them, mad no more.

In the other version, the king, unwilling to let go of his healthy perspective, sadly resigns himself to remaining alienated from the people that he once called his own.

Sometimes we find ourselves ostracized by the very people we thought were our own.   Whether it is family, neighborhood, workplace, or faith community, the people around us are sending us the message that they think there is something very, very wrong with us, and that they really wish we would just keep silent and fade away.

One impulse is to rebel against their judgment.  Okay, so they think we are freaks?  I'll show them a freak!  And we go out of our way to be as outrageously nonconforming to the community as possible.  Another, far more common, response is to internalize their criticism and judgment, to be shamed into silence and self-doubt, even self-loathing, carrying within us the belief that we are horribly, fundamentally flawed in some way.

The best response, I think, is to seek balance, both in our lives and in our perspectives.

How do you know that your impulses are healthy, rather than simply another variation on the theme of dysfunction?  Look outside of your dysfunctional community to the larger community.  Gain information and perspective from others who are not part of the circle that has deemed you flawed.  Everyone has their own unique takes on what is healthy and normal, what is valued and what is not, and by expanding your perspective beyond the narrow definitions of your accustomed tribe you can get a pretty good idea whether there really is something out of whack with you or whether you are simply an individual expression of a fundamentally healthy personality, struggling for validation in an invalidating environment.

Probably the simplest, and best, litmus test is this:  Are you being true to yourself?  Are you following instincts that spring from within you, instincts to simply follow your own bliss, instincts that are not in any way objectively harmful to yourself or to anyone else?  I mean really harmful, not the perceived "harm" of not fitting in with someone else's expectations.

As the Wiccans say, as long as it harms none, do what you will.  Seek community that uplifts and affirms you, and allows you to be you.  In the words of the beloved children's television icon Fred Rogers, seek people who like you and appreciate you just for being you.