The freedom of not knowing everything
on humility and curiosity
“Those who think they know something do not yet know as they ought to know” -1 Cor. 8:2
The humility of not having all the information
A couple weeks ago, I self-righteously sent an angry email to someone I’ve known for a long time about a personal and professional grievance I have with the company they work for. I’d done this more than once in years past, even though it never resulted in the action I asked for. But, not one to back down, I thought it time to have another go.
Within minutes they sent me a response that they have not, in fact, worked for that company for two years now, went out on a limb advocating for my request several times when they did, and are saddened that I somehow still hold them responsible.
I felt so ashamed and immediately sent them what my fella Eric calls a “strongly worded apology”.
So often I am a “ready, FIRE, aim” kinda gal, which has been the source of much regret in my life. My own personality aside, what I did not have at the moment I sent the angry email was what we call, all the information.
I then put myself in a response time-out. I was not allowed to respond to any email, text, or message if I was feeling angry or anxious or resentful or threatened, or insecure. So, um…I didn’t respond to anything for awhile.
The humility of not judging your neighbor as yourself
I’ve just finished reading David Zahl’s EXCELLENT forthcoming book, Low Anthropology; The Unlikely Key to a Gracious View of Others (and Yourself) (←Available for pre-order now!)
He writes wonderfully about the grace it takes to admit we don’t have all the information about the people in our lives, and how this can mean grace for us too: “In relational terms, there is always one more drawer to open before you can judge someone with full assurance. Fortunately, that goes for you too...the judgments we make of ourselves, hardened as they may be, are not watertight. Just as others can always surprise us, we may yet—and often do—surprise ourselves.” -David Zahl
The humility of not believing everything you think
In my endless quest for freedom from my own bullshit, I’ve recently been willing to look at Byron Katie’s work around this I-may-not-have-all-the-information kind of humility.
In this episode of my podcast, The Confessional, I spoke about how I had come to a place of forgiveness toward someone from my past who had “hurt me” when I realized how much of my suffering was not so much as a result of what he did, as it was a result of the story I was telling myself about what he did. When I realized that my thoughts were not even true - like magic, the resentment I had toward the other person all but vanished.
Sometimes, when unhappy, I try and ask myself if it is possible to arrange the facts of a situation to tell a different, but equally true story, one that does not make me as miserable. I should say, that while this can be effective, my ego usually resists the idea since it means cedeing its ground in some way.
In her work around the suffering that comes from believing our thoughts to be facts, Byron Katie offers 4 questions that we can ask ourselves about the thoughts we have that makes us angry, anxious, resentful, threatened, or insecure:
1. Is it true? (Yes or no. If no, move to question 3.)
2. Can you absolutely know that it’s true? (Yes or no.)
3. How do you react, what happens, when you believe that thought?
4. Who or what would you be without the thought?
If you are up for it, I suggest her Judge Your Neighbor worksheet and watching this sweet man doing “The Work”.
Look at the difference between his countenance at the beginning of this clip and at the end. That’s freedom and I want it. I want it more than I want to keep believing the stories I tell myself about my life.
Humility and not saying stupid shit to people in crisis
In Kate Bowler’s hilarious and heartbreaking NYT essay about stupid shit people said to her after her stage 4 cancer diagnosis, What To Say When You Meet The Angel Of Death at a Party, she declares that, “there is a trite cruelty in the logic of the perfectly certain.”
One of the people closest to me has experienced the tragic death of a child and their own cancer diagnosis in the last year and she suggests this:
You should teach classes on how to minister to someone in crisis. Charge a lot, get them in a seminar room, clear your voice, then say, "be humble and curious. Now, go home."
Be humble and curious. In other words Nadia, don’t assume you already know shit.
Strange how seldom we seem to read that advice from self-improvement influencers and wellness optimization schemes. And yet, if the stories I tell myself about myself and other people lead to anger, anxiety, resentment and insecurity when what I REALLY want is freedom…then what the hell, maybe I’ll give humility and curiosity a try. I may just switch from Team Stick To Your Guns to Team Maybe I Don’t Have All The Information - if anything, it just feels more relaxing and I’m exhausted.
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UPDATE: Dear reader,
I wrote this piece yesterday morning from a hotel in the Twin Cities. I am traveling more than is technically good for me, have several pieces of writing due, am closing on a new house and listing mine next week and had a window of a few hours yesterday to get some work done. So when I woke up only to discover that the wifi in my hotel was not working, I quickly checked out of that hotel and booked a room at one across the street. The hotel clerk was very apologetic while checking me out: “is this still the right email…pastorMatthew@…” frustrated, I interrupted her, “Um, that’s my ex-husband’s email from 6 years ago…” She changed it right away.
Annoyed by nearly everything, I checked into the other hotel, wrote the piece above and went to my speaking event. As the host of the event (who had hired me and booked my travel) was introducing me, he encouraged people to email him for more info about the church. “Just shoot me an email to PastorMatthew@…”
*sigh* wrong again.
Here’s to another day for grace and fuck-ups. Cheers.
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READ my NYT bestselling memoirs: Pastrix; The Cranky, Beautiful Faith Of A Sinner & Saint (Re-released 2021), Accidental Saints; Finding God In All The Wrong People(2015) and SHAMELESS; A Sexual Reformation (2019).