There are so many hard truths.
As I say that, Captain Obvious pops into my mind. I could list my hard truths but I don’t need to. As soon as you read the words “hard truths” you probably had one or two of your own pop in your mind. In my role as a therapist and in my role as a nurse, I regularly sit with people who share their hard truths with me. In those roles, I am required to put my hard truths on a shelf for a time. The beautiful thing about the therapy process is that it is not about me. It is about the person with the hard truth in front of me. The process of making space for people and their stories has value. It has value to the storyteller and to the story listener. In therapy, the teller of the story is what matters, but the listener is impacted.
In 2010, scientists at Princeton University investigated the impact on story listeners using MRI. The researchers measured the neural coupling, the connection between human brains that occurs when hearing the stories of others. The same region of the brain that is firing for the storyteller, fired for the listener. Brene Brown speaks of the role of experiences of collective joy and pain to support the community. Like the singing of “Sweet Caroline” when the Red Socks play, and the way we sang it after the bombing at the Boston Marathon, these experiences of joy and sorrow allow us to feel the energy of connection that is always around us. You have felt it, I know you have. It might come as goosebumps on your skin, a lump in your throat, or possibly spontaneous tears. That is a connection, and it is in our biology. I can measure it on an MRI and I can document it in empirical data.
Lately, I have found myself questioning the connection found in community that I have always believed in. So what do I do? I pivot!
Sometimes I pivot a lot. Sometimes I pivot quickly. We all have hard truths. They shape us. Listening to the hard truths of others can also shape us. They broaden the way we think about things; they remind us that different is not wrong, just different. When I am questioning the presence of community or connection, it usually means I am afraid I might lose it, or that it was never there in the first place. I recognize that feeling. It is fear, and fear is a dangerous place for me. The research tells us that fear is at the root of many experiences of bad behavior and emotional dis-regulation. Fear is often at the root of behavior that is outside my integrity. Fear is generally the gremlin present when I regret my behavior. Fear requires me to pivot. Pivot to the awareness that, at times, I will be going at it alone. Making choices that go against the crowd. That feels like disconnection, why is an early and scary fear. But I must go it alone, at times, until I work my way down the path to my people again. To the people of understanding, logic, and compassion. The people of strong backs, soft fronts, and wild hearts.
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