Abraham Heschel wrote:
“Being human is a surprise!”
Really? Even when each day feels like more of the same?
Little children know the spirit of surprise and wonder. They live inside it the way fish live in water.
But as we get older, the drag of routine and repetition can sometimes smother the spirit of surprise and leave us feeling like life has been programmed for predictability.
Heschel is encouraging us to fight back—so that we don’t turn into dull, predictable folks with predictable ideas, predictable conversations and predictable arguments.
When life starts feeling a little too dull and predictable, it’s time to surprise things up!
Say something meaningful over dinner!
Get up and dance to break up an argument!
Tell a story. Tell a joke.
Ask a thought-provoking question. And really, really listen.
Have coffee with someone you wouldn’t normally have coffee with.
Surprise your co-workers with your calmness under pressure.
We have to find ways to stir up our lives so they don’t stick and burn.
Remember, you are a completely new, unique expression of a human being. There’s never been a person exactly like you before, and never will be.
So you aren’t needed to be like everyone else. You are needed to be you.
And you are a surprise.
I read about a therapist who begins the first session with each new client by asking:
“If you were already cured of the personal problems that brought you here, if all of those issues were resolved…what would you do? Would you renew a broken relationship? Change jobs? Go back to school? Write a book? Take up a new hobby? Enjoy life more? What would you do?”
After the client gives her answer, the therapist says, “Why don’t you just do that?”
This struck me for a couple of reasons.
First, I was impressed with a therapist who at least tries to make himself unnecessary!
Second, I like the empowering nature of the question: “Why don’t you just do that?”
This is not to suggest that life problems can be disposed of with the snap of a finger.
In fact, quite the opposite.
I think the point is that we don’t have to wait until problems are resolved or conditions are ideal. Life is short and there’s always something important that we can begin to do right here, right now, exactly where we are.
We can take action even in the mess.
So here’s a mind-stretching exercise for this week:
If all excuses and roadblocks were taken away, what would you do? What would you most want to do? What do you most need to do?
Why don’t you just do that?
In one of his routines, comedian Chris Rock joked about how Dads are often under-appreciated:
“Does anyone ever say, ‘Gee Dad, thanks for taking care of this rent’? No, all Daddy ever gets is the big piece of chicken!”
Actually, it’s a safe bet that most people feel under-appreciated from time to time. Ask any group of employees: do you feel that your boss really appreciates you? I think we know what most would say.
Observing this “appreciation deficit” in human life, Mark Twain commented:
“When you cannot get a compliment any other way, pay yourself one.”
I actually think this is a healthy practice—perhaps at the start of the day, when you’re looking in the mirror (the most challenging time to compliment yourself!).
This morning, I looked in the mirror and said, “Geoffery, I don’t think there’s anyone in the world with a nose exactly like yours. Congratulations!”
Silly? Perhaps, but I tell you, it beats starting the day feeling down on myself.
And consider this: when someone asked Mozart what it was that gave his music that unique, Mozartish quality, he said, “It’s probably the same thing that gives my nose its unique shape.”
So here’s a suggestion: this week, compliment yourself on being a unique person, unlike any that has ever lived before. Then compliment yourself on something specific you’ve done this week—maybe something others didn’t notice.
Then take it a step further. Find someone whom you suspect has not been shown appreciation for something they’ve done—and let them know you noticed.
It may not sound like much. But it’s something we can do to help reduce the “appreciation deficit.”
After all, showing appreciation is one investment that never depreciates.
“You are enough.”
Dr. Rachel Remen says that this simple insight changed her life.
In her book, Kitchen Table Wisdom, Remen talks about attending a seminar at Stanford University with the great psychotherapist, Dr. Carl Rogers. Rogers described how he prepared himself before meeting a client:
“Before every session I take a moment to remember my humanity. There is no experience that this man has that I cannot share with him, no fear that I cannot understand, no suffering that I cannot care about, because I too am human. No matter how deep his wound, he does not have to be ashamed in front of me. I too am vulnerable. And because of this, I am enough…’”
Then Dr. Remen commented on what this meant to her.
“I had always worked hard at being good enough…Even ‘good enough’ was not really good enough for me. I had spent a lifetime trying to make myself perfect. But if what Rogers was saying was true, perfection was the booby prize. What was needed was simply to be human. I was human. All my life I had feared being found out.”
We’re not all therapists, of course, but there are two interesting ideas here.
First, the idea that I could take a moment to remember my humanity—at the beginning of a day, before a difficult conversation or a challenging situation, etc.
The American Express Card had an advertising slogan: “Don’t leave home without it.”
What if we adapted that: “Don’t leave home without your humanity—without your empathy, sense of humor, awareness, honesty, creativity…the things that make you most human.” (And, of course, remember your humanity at home too!)
In a world where there is so much inhumanity—where the human being is often treated like just another case or statistic—can that really make any difference?
I believe it can. Don’t you?
Then, the second idea: when you just bring your genuine (imperfect) self to the table… “You are enough.”
Is that really true? Only one way to find out.