Between the Dark and the Daylight, Mary Pratt, 2011
AND HERE WE ARE!
Number 6 of 6. We’ve heard from 7 women in total. 7 very different women of different ages, different life experiences, different places of work and calling—and all of them looking at their own life and seeing something very valuable.
This is the last post on Everyday Influence and its from my friend A. A. is a mom of 3 kids under 6. She is a registered nurse and volunteers in so many areas of our city’s life. She has a deep and infectious passion for people on the margins….It was her question to me that prompted all of this – “How do we make change in our everyday spaces?”
This is a very vulnerable and powerful response. I hope you are encouraged – literally given more courage—by A’s story–to reflect on your own places of influence, your own power, the ways the world is made better, the ways God has made it possible for his shalom to flourish even here, in our dusty, beige Calgary streets.
The world is made up of us. How incredible is that?
How do you influence others right now? What’s that specifically look like in your life? What is your goal? How do you do this?
I will start by saying that this took a lot of soul searching. I truly see the influence of everyone around me, the leaders in those who are most valued in society with the credentials and titles to confirm their leadership status, but I also see it and immensely value the influence in the leaders within those that are least valued by society, those struggling on the margins, who have never been told of their influence but who should feel their value and know that they too, are influencers. And I don’t know where I fall on that scale but I do know that it took a lot of peeling back of the layers of self doubt and recognize the influence I have. So here is me trying to pull off a whole lotta layers….
Influence in my life looks a lot like conversations and using those conversations to initiate meaningful change-nothing dramatic, I suppose. I love to be a part of those deep soulful connections and using those conversations as a tool for change, whether that is within myself, within my family, small group of friends, or a bigger organization, like the non-profits I volunteer at.
Despite the 100’s of people the extrovert in me interacts with via volunteering, parenting, and “life”ing in general, I believe my greatest influence comes as a parent-the most incredible and hardest role I have. Equally essential, comes my small influence as an advocate for those within marginalized communities, struggling with poverty, addiction, and mental health issues. (side note-I say small as I am just getting comfortable merging my very personal and professional experience).
Both these areas of influence are for selfish reason, really, as both are very personal.
Selfish reason #1. My kids are extensions of me, and I want a just world for them. But I also want my kids, who are coming from privilege, to be apart of making that just world for everyone else by keeping them informed, engaged, and aware. I remind them to pay attention to how someone might be feeling. Their lived experience is so vastly different from mine as a child-I grew up within poverty, around addiction and closet mental health issues. Like many, feelings and experiences were not something we talked about and a lot of pain, guilt and shame surrounded us. I feel very responsible for ensuring the bubble we are creating for my kids in their very comfortable and safe life includes exposure and living alongside those who’s everyday is a struggle. But they are little, and teaching is simple and involves exposure and validating feelings. I feel that if we were able to be more vulnerable from a young age, we would have adults who wouldn’t feel so insecure and inadequate, regardless of how big or little the struggle may be. Now, we talk a lot about feelings in our home and making sure my kids feel validated no matter how big or irrational their emotions might seem sometimes. I want them to know that feeling sad, or mad, or jealous are not only normal, but that we, their parents, will stick with them as they navigate through these emotions. We all have to learn to live with and through these hard feelings, not ignore them or pretend they don’t exist. Maybe if my kids feel that they have been carried through their feelings without shame they will be confident in themselves and go forward allowing someone else the same.
Selfish reason #2. I grew up in all the social issues I try to represent-poverty, mental health issues, addictions, none of which was talked about growing up, all of which were overconsuming. The effects of my early childhood penetrate every layer of my being and I continue to struggle with common issues: anxiety, self doubt, sadness, to some degree, every single day. But my story is not uncommon. Did you know that 1/ 10 people in our city lives in poverty,1 in 5 are concerned about not having enough money for food and 1 in 3 Calgarians are concerned about not having enough money for housing. That 1/5 people suffer with a mental health or addiction disorder in any given year, and 1/2 people will suffer a mental health or addiction disorder by the time they are 40? This is NOT an us or them issue, it affects us all in one way or another.
So I want people to have more understanding, and we understand by being informed, and we become informed by listening to each others stories. I love this image of our stories as “data with a soul”- we need our stories to be told, we need that data too. But we need to really listen, listen to understand, to see a person in their moment of sadness, or anger without trying to fix, or compare or judge.
Sometimes tears are often met with awkward laughter, met with apologies. We quickly try and brush it off with that same routine, ashamed. And the built up emotions get buried deeper, not wanting to burden anyone. It can be uncomfortable to be apart of someone’s vulnerability and maybe we just aren’t used to it. But that is a scary and sad place to be, buried in your own emotions and no where to go with them. I don’t want that for my kids, or anyone. I think we can do better, I know I can do better, but we need to listen.
The goal, for me, I guess, is simply to transition the way someone sees or thinks about these issues, the key being transition. We live in such a “results” driven world- wanting outcomes now, but to grow roots in our understanding, it requires time, love, tending to, like a garden that starts from a seed. Some topics are so foreign to one person and common sense to another that it can be very divisive. But I think that if we sit with each other and really listen, we will quickly realize that we are each other’s greatest resource and that transition in thinking and understanding can happen.
Who influences/influenced you? Who empowers/empowered you? What has been indispensable in making you you?
Oh goodness, who hasn’t been? I love this article written by George Matthew Adams, where he says “There is no such thing as a “self-made man”. We are made up of thousands of others. Everyone who has ever done a kind deed for us, or spoken one word of encouragement to us, has entered into the makeup of our character and of our thoughts, as well as our success.”
And although my home growing up might have been considered a pretty broken place, it has 100% made me who I am. And, like all things, I am thankful for all of this-the good and the bad. The bad made me resilient, my goodness, made me respect my family in THEIR resilience. But it is the sole reason why my heart bleeds for others, that even though the empathy I feel at times can appear too big for me to carry, it is still better then no empathy, better then no understanding.
And the good, oh the good, that teaches me I am strong and worthy, the good that brings those huge belly laughs and tears of joy, that make me jittery with excitement and a lover of life-so much good even if some days I have to open my eyes REALLY wide to see it, it is all there.
To quote CS Lewis- “You can’t go back and change the beginning, but you can start where you are and change the ending.” Amen to that. (A-FREAKING-MEN pastor Jacqui adds while reading this!)
What is the outcome of your influence? How do you gauge success? When do you stumble in your influence and what does it look like to get back up?
Success is me bringing just one other person closer to understanding whether that’s my children, a friend, or a stranger. Maybe that’s simply by sharing my own story, which I am slowly learning to do, or maybe it’s a more formal setting teaching about the current issues within bigger groups. In any case, I know that impact will have a domino affect and reach someone else.
And stumbling on this journey, oh dear, do I ever stumble: that “too busy” status, pride, shame, sadness, anger–all fun things I try and recognize and validate within others, I suck at recognizing within myself. That can be a barrier for me in making those connections with people, makes me scared and insecure to connect.
I believe that recognizing someone else’s pain shouldn’t undermine your own pain, and vice versa. I have a habit of believing everyone’s struggle is worse then mine, and even if they are, I know that pain is pain-we all need to recognize it within ourselves and within others. If we don’t, we risk judging someone else’s pain as something insignificant, our own included. Instead of trying to convince each other that the mountains we see in front of us are just hills, we should encourage each other on the hike up and maybe we’d gain confidence that we can do it. They really meant it when “they” said “it takes a village.” We aren’t meant to do all this alone-I am slowly learning this.
On the topic of influence and leaders I will end on this: I truly believe that we are all leaders, and if we can teach our children this, by our actions towards another person, towards them, they themselves will feel valuable and in turn see the value in EVERYONE.
Drew Dudley nails it by saying
“And I worry sometimes that we spend so much time celebrating amazing things that hardly anybody can do, that we’ve convinced ourselves those are the only things worth celebrating.
We start to devalue the things we can do every day, we take moments where we truly are a leader and we don’t let ourselves take credit for it, or feel good about it…….
My call to action today is that we need to get over our fear of how extraordinarily powerful we can be in each other’s lives. We need to get over it so we can move beyond it, and our little brothers and sisters and one day our kids — or our kids right now — can watch and start to value the impact we can have on each other’s lives, more than money and power and titles and influence.”
Oh friends. Deep Breath.
Influence has every thing to do with listening. And connection. And knowing your own experiences and voice to be valuable. And then passing that along to everyone, even, and especially those in the margins, those who hardly ever feel that. In very real ways, this is the path of following Jesus.
What incredible women these are who opened up their hearts to share with us about what influence, leading, and change feels like, looks like. What it isn’t and what it could be.
The world sometimes seems like no one is caring. But that is not true. People are looking for the good and influencing, changing, leading towards that good. My mom would always say, “All we can do is raise levels of awareness.” And its true – we don’t change anyone. But we can create the space and call those around us to look inside and see the good that God has planted there for the re-creation of this good world!
The biggest themes I noticed in all the responses were these:
1-We have to know that we have influence. We all do. We all have power to use our voices and direct our actions. We all have agency – even if it’s not acknowledged by the powers-that-be. We all live with others, therefore, we effect others. So many of us did not grow up knowing our voices valuable or needed. And they are.
2- We can only influence others towards goodness in so far as we are grounded in our own growth, grounded in love, grounded in our own belovedness as, if I may, daughters of God.
3-Influence is all about interconnection, community, the web we live in–we are intricately intertwined and this is the exact location where we influence the world to goodness.
4-Influence all about everyday stuff, everyday intersections of people, everyday conversations, everyday life.
5-We influence in the listening, in the kindness, in the giving space to others, in the WAY we are when we are with others. Anything else is just peer pressure at best and propaganda for power at worst. Influence is absolutely concerned the dignity of the one it is face to face with.
What a beautiful “way” we’ve been given.
What a beautiful thing to know that everyone of these ladies learned these truths by paying attention to their lives and then acting there. What a gift.
Crowd-sourcing for the WIN!!!!!
Thank you again to Laura, Rona, Connie, Beth, Jaimie, and A. And if you read this and thought, “hmmm….I would like to think about this too.” Think out loud with me!!! Its just the start of the conversation!