July 14, 2011
Half a century ago (well, almost), Barbra Streisand sang “People who need people are the luckiest people in the world.” Many of us admired her voice, but even then a great many of us had a serious dispute with the lyrics—people who need people are the luckiest people in the world? Thinking about the life stories I know prompts me to say, “Well, Barbra, not so much in my part of the world. People do need relationships, but that need is part of the human design we can’t change rather than a matter of luck. And all too often people find themselves needing a relationship that injures them. That’s luck?”
By what cosmic absurdity can we need something as dangerous as we know human relationships to be? This matter of guarding one’s heart is not straightforward, is it?
As we considered in an earlier blog, we can initiate a program of shutting down or shutting out, but neither works well. Either tactic may reduce the frequency of injury from relationships for a short time, but ultimately both produce failure-to-thrive in the authentic self at a level that can become fatal. Most people with whom I talk have an intuitive sense that this is so. Trying to work it out, however, confronts us with the “rock and a hard place” dilemma. No easy options, no free lunch.
Developing constructive methods of self-protection is possible, however. Doing so requires us to consider carefully what dangers face us relationally, and to identify the source from which they come.
Shutting down and shutting out presupposes that what injures, the unnamed danger to us, is out there, in others. But what if this is not so?
As we grow up we learn eventually that the thing that makes us afraid in the night is not really a bear that lives under our bed—it is something in us, not something out there.
What if in order to guard our hearts constructively, we have to learn a parallel truth in adulthood? What if a part of the danger in relationships lies in me—not just out there in others? What if when we meet the real source of relational danger we discover, as the cartoon character Pogo said, that we have met the enemy and it is us?
What happens if, at least in part, guarding our hearts requires us to face and master something of potential danger in ourselves?
Thinking with you that the possibility of bears under the bed is much more pleasant to deal with.
See you next week.