29 January 2014

Not That Kind of Person

A couple of days ago I received an email inviting me to join an "interfaith devotional exchange." The message contained two email addresses and the instructions were to send an inspirational quote or poem to the first name, move the second name to the top of the list, add my own name and then send the invitation to 21 friends.

The invitation was similar in format to those emails promising magic if you send it on within 10 minutes (and misfortune if you don't). My first thought had been "Oh no, it's one of 'those' emails" and my first reaction was to delete it.

But my second thought was that I liked the idea of sharing inspiration and encouragement with a stranger. There was something improvisational and pay-it-forward-ish about it that appealed to me. Besides, I love language and writing so the idea of sharing good writing felt 'right'. Maybe I could try something new? Do something I don't usually do? Break one of my rules?

Deciding what to share required revisiting documents and browser bookmarks I hadn't looked at for awhile, a nostalgic stroll through words and ideas that have shaped me, encouraged me, affirmed me. The process was like taking a tonic or going on retreat.

Deciding who to send the invitation to was a different matter. I have no email addresses for many of the most likely candidates; we're connected only through FaceBook. I anticipated some people would have a similar first impression to mine and decline to participate. Some might even take offense at being included in the recipient list.

I scanned my Contact list, conjuring the face and voice of each person as I read their name. Many of them were people I'd met at spiritual retreats or personal development seminars of one stripe or another. Some were audience members at one of my performances. My evaluation ran along the lines of "Will they read and consider or just delete? Will they be offended?"

As is always the case when trying to anticipate another person's reactions, my thoughts became a tangled mess. It's a profoundly perplexing assessment. How to predict what someone else will think (given the staggering limits of our acquaintance, even with 'close' friends). The airwaves are full of friends and family and neighbors surprised by the behavior of someone they thought they knew well. 

How to see another person (or anything, for that matter) clearly (given the unavoidable encroachment of my experience, value system, fears, desire, etc. on my point of view). My first impression of the invitation was a perfect example:  "Oh, it's one of those emails" I thought and my perspective was instantly clouded by other emails, stuff from The Past and my feelings and opinions about those Past Events. Standing in Right Now, consciousness flooded with Memory.

I came up with two names. I was intellectually bedraggled after the process. Peace of mind was shattered.

And I thought, How curious that a message with the intent to inspire and encourage has delivered me to a state of exhaustion and spiritual disruption... 

I took a cigarette break.

In that pause, I remembered:  I know nothing. Anything is possible. In that pause, I identified a niggling fear creeping through my thinking. Fear of what "they'll" think of me:  they'll think I'm "one of those people" who send "those kinds" of email messages.

With an affectionate nod, I acknowledged Ego's terror, chose 26 names from my Contact list and sent the invitation on its way. 


One by one the no thank yous began to hit my email box. Who knows what motivated the folks who replied? Some of the refusals were lengthy. Some were eloquent and heartfelt. Some were nervous and polite. I responded to the first few messages, attempting to communicate comfort and acceptance -- it's okay, you're not rejecting me, I didn't initiate the exchange, other people declined too so you're not alone or strange...

"I'm not the kind of person who....." or "I don't do these kinds of email..." or some variation on that thinking appeared in some of the replies. I smiled to see my own initial reaction reflected back to me.

At first, it seemed ironic to me that people who declined to allow a single stranger a glimpse of their heart by sharing an inspiring or encouraging text, seemed to have no trouble posting a FB affirmation or wearing a message T- shirt or sticking a bumper sticker on their car or otherwise exposing themselves to countless strangers. Was there something intimidating about one-to-one versus one-to-many?

On second thought/guess, it seems more likely that they were less concerned about intimacy with a stranger. The issues were not wanting to offend or impose upon their friends, not wanting their friends to see them as "the kind of person who...," and a perhaps unexamined need they felt for identity integrity, i.e., to not see themselves being the kind of person who sends those kinds of email.

Peer pressure is a bitch--even after you're all grown up.