Don’t flatter yourself

In the movie “Snow White and the Huntsman,” there’s this scene where Snow White escapes from the castle and ends up traveling with the Huntsman. At one point, he takes his axe and whacks off the bulk of her dress, which is hindering their progress. (Don’t worry, she has leather leggings on underneath.) Snow White looks at him pensively, and he says, “Don’t flatter yourself.”

Dont flatter yourself.

What a demonstration of the problems we face in our society: The same experience interpreted totally different ways by two people because of their very different backgrounds.

Both characters had known suffering. But experience with one type of struggle doesn’t make a person automatically privy to all types of struggles. Snow White’s only experiences with men for the last 10 years of her life had been that they come and they rape. The Huntsman presumed something altogether different, based on his experiences, just like so many of us do when we can’t imagine that others in our society could be living such a very different reality than we perceive.

Don’t flatter yourself says that only pretty girls get raped, or are worthy of being raped. Don’t flatter yourself says you don’t get to take a knee because we pay you millions of dollars to play football, not to disrupt our entertainment. Don’t flatter yourself says you’re not fully human if you use food stamps or aren’t a legal citizen.

Don’t flatter yourself says that someone else owns you, and can use you however they see fit. It says it’s your fault that your circumstances suck. It says that the perspective of the powerful is the only one that matters, and that any other experiences aren’t legitimate.

Don’t flatter yourself devalues by assuming we know someone else’s story. It assumes that since everything looks fine to me, there must be something wrong with you.

Good people get offended when people of minority groups treat them like they are not good. Good people don’t understand that it’s not really about them, but about everyone who came before them, because they can’t imagine other people not being good. They can’t imagine other people not being just like them.

Imagine if the Huntsman had recognized that Snow White’s reaction wasn’t about him. Imagine if he had asked her to share her story. Imagine if he had asked her how he could be different than the ones who came before him.

At the end of the movie, I suppose you could say this sort of happened. You could make the argument that they recognize their mutual need for each other. But even the Huntsman’s kiss scene is still all about him — resolution for his pain, her requirement for his intervention, the implication that she wouldn’t be queen if it weren’t for him. Part of me wants to tell the Huntsman: Don’t flatter yourself.

Somewhere in the middle of the movie, Snow White does point out that she saved the Huntsman from the troll, and the wise blind dwarf tells him he has eyes but can’t see who she is. What a metaphor for power today. Power never understands its reliance on those it oppresses. It never perceives others as having equal worth and value.

The opposite of don’t flatter yourself isn’t flatter yourself. That’s what we see in the wicked queen. That’s the attitude of people who find the struggles of others insulting to their version of reality. No, the opposite of don’t flatter yourself is May I flatter you?

Seek permission to understand someone else’s perspective. Seek permission to raise them up. Esteem them. Value them. Bring legitimacy to their humanity by listening to their story, and seeing the experiences that shape their reality.

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Devaluing

“Wow, that’s really personal,” the woman said to me sarcastically. I had handed her one of our Christmas cards, as a sort of “Merry Christmas” and “Thank you for all that you do,” and because I didn’t write her name on the front, she felt insulted before even opening the card.

Each year, I spend probably half a day creating our Christmas card. I comb through the photos for the year and select the most beautiful scenic photo for the front. Then I choose scripture or poetry that speaks to me and works with the photo, and I photoshop them all together. On the back of the card, I include 1-3 photos of the family and other interesting moments. I also include the funniest or most poignant things our kid has said over the course of the year — yes, I keep track of that all year long, just for the Christmas card.

But I forgot all that when this woman insulted me. I backpedaled and apologized, when I should have refused to be devalued. I should have instead pointed out that our card is highly personal; I hoard those cards, and I would kindly take it back from her, thank you very much.

“Do not give dogs what is sacred; do not throw your pearls to pigs. If you do, they may trample them under their feet, and turn and tear you to pieces.” – Jesus, Matthew 7:6

When I first started doing the cards this way almost a decade ago, I wanted to send them to as many people as possible. I was proud of them and wanted people to see them. My purposes have been changing. The last few years, I’ve seen the cards as a way to possibly bring some inspiration or hope into the lives of our loved ones. I still see them this way, but now, I also see them as a sharing of ourselves with others.

Because of that, I think I’ll be printing fewer cards next year. I hate to say that because it sounds like I’m being stingy or unChristian. I think what I really believe, though, is that I’m valuing more highly everything the card represents – our family, our beliefs, our convictions, and the time it takes to creatively communicate those things with a 5×7 piece of cardstock. Our cards won’t be just for “giving away,” as they have been in the past. Instead, they’ll be for our dearest friends and family – the ones with with whom we share a mutual vested interest.

When Kids Lie

This morning, a friend of mine asked Facebook what to do, as she’d just caught her daughter (about 4-5 years old) lying to her for the first time. One of the responses was a suggestion to get the Berenstain Bears book on lying. I have an intense dislike for that book, because it is what taught my literal, concrete 4-year-old how to lie in the first place. He understood what they did, but he did not understand that it was wrong, or why it is wrong. This made the process of dealing with lying even more difficult.

My approach had to be multifaceted, and went like this: If I caught him lying, I took away privileges. This had to happen multiple times. If this is our ONLY approach, however, it just makes kids better liars, so more is required.

We talked about how lying ruins relationships. I asked him questions to help him understand how he would feel if I lied to him. I think my example was promising to take him somewhere he liked, and then saying we weren’t going there because I was only lying. You have to be careful with what you pick, because if it’s something that can happen on accident, you’re almost guaranteed to have it happen and be left with a kid crying “you lied to me!!”

I also watched very carefully to learn his “tells.” His tell was that he stared at me *very* intently, unblinking, when lying.

I also learned that lying was habitual — it quickly became his default response to any question, even if it wasn’t an “incriminating” question. I realized I had to break that cycle. I did this by 1) pointing out a lie when I saw it and/or asking him to rethink his answer, and 2) prefacing a question with “I’m going to ask you a question; please think about the answer before you say it.” But the most important aspect of this is to remove the opportunity to lie whenever possible. Instead of “Who made this mess?” you say “There’s a mess here; please clean it up.” They’ll say “But I didn’t do it!” which is when you say “That’s fine; please clean it up.” That usually worked for us, but if they persist, you say “I clean up messes all the time that I did not make; you can too.” In this case, you’re using children’s heightened sense of fairness to your advantage. By saying, “That’s fine,” or something like it, you’re not condoning lying — you’re taking away some of its emotional power over you, the parent.

Phrasing things this way reduces the practice of lying, and also lets them know that things will get done either way, which makes lying pointless. Your goal is to take the power of out lying. As people with little power over their lives, children need choices, but lying must become an unattractive option for getting those choices. Using the mess example I gave above, you could say, “Would you like to clean this mess up before lunch, or after lunch?” You’re circumventing the thought processes that lead to lying, and, you are replacing it with a healthy form of power.

Essentially, as a parent, you have to work the problem from multiple angles, and you have to give them internal ownership of the problem. Your role as a policeman (external ownership) has to be temporary. You have to acknowledge what they already know, which is that sometimes, they will get away with lying. Some Christian parents will say “God doesn’t want us to lie,” but that’s not any more effective than telling them not to lie to you. So you have to break it down — why doesn’t He want us to lie? Because it ruins relationships, and relationships are very important to children. Right now, lying is not at all connected to your child’s relationship with you. If you can talk about it in a way that helps him or her empathize with your hurt and disappointment, s/he can begin to internalize it and own it.

A Good Man

“Why do men like boobs?”

This of course is one of those trick questions that women ask men, and a step up from the infamous does-this-make-me-look-fat question. The man being questioned is a wise man, however, and after pausing to think, said, “Well, I suppose it’s because it’s something women have that we don’t.”

That got me to thinking about the old adage, “Opposites attract.” Generally speaking, I think women are attracted to strength in men. It could be physical strength, yes, but it could also be strength of emotion, or intellect, or of a particular skill. Again, I’m speaking generally.

Maybe this isn’t such good news for men if you’ve read any of Brene Brown’s research on this issue. Essentially, she observes that women have many roles in which we might fail – employee, mother, wife, daughter, friend, volunteer, supermodel – and we make ourselves batty trying to fulfill all those expectations. Men have just one area in which to succeed or fail, however, and that is strength. Even with their spouse, they never feel permitted to fall off that white horse.

What does this say about a typical marriage? It says that men never feel completely safe because they are never permitted (by society, not just their spouse) to show weakness, and this is compounded by the fact that most women are attracted to strength (in whatever form) in men.

I want to suggest a solution for that by discussing strength just a bit more. Here is something I’ve casually observed in the great stories we tell, whether it’s fiction or nonfiction:

A great man affirms the women in his life.

I once got a job where my hourly salary was quite a bit more than I expected it to be. I saw my parents later that week and said, “I’m getting paid an exorbitant amount to do what I love!” My father looked at me with disbelief and said, “But you’re worth it.” He couldn’t understand why I thought any amount would be too much.

He made a connection where I did not. He saw me more completely than I saw myself. A great man – in any type of relationship – affirms the women in his life as complete individuals, and stops them when they try to define themselves against other people or other standards.

That’s a different kind of strength than we normally imagine when we think of strength. It’s a lasting strength. I might be attracted to physical, emotional, and/or intellectual strength, but those things fail at some point. Bodies get sick. Emotions change depending on many factors. People make bad decisions. But an unceasing propensity for affirmation, regardless of other conditions, is a powerful gift men can give to the women in their lives.

Now I’ll come full circle: Women, you can do this, too. If a man can’t be vulnerable or intimate with his wife, he probably won’t find it from anyone else (at least, in a healthy sense). You are joined with your spouse, yes – but you are still an individual, and so is he. Strengthening each other by affirming the completeness of the other as an individual is a primary source of strength in a marriage — maybe the source of strength in a marriage.

People will always fail you, no matter how hard they try. Women, we will never experience true intimacy until the men in our lives know we are not dependent on them for our identities. Please note, I’m talking about personal identity, and not comfort, or joy, or any of the other experiences we long to share with another in our lives. I’m talking instead about men knowing if they fail, our fundamental valuing of them does not change.

Use strength to affirm each other. That means declaring the worth of the other as a human being, not as an employee, or spouse, or parent, or whatever, even though those things are important. And men, affirmation means something special coming from you versus coming from our mothers/girlfriends/sisters, although those people are important. When you affirm the women in your life, you share with them your strength in a lasting way, and you create a relationship where vulnerability is safe.