Ground Rules

About a month ago, I pulled together 28 men from around the Mankind Project to come to Bellingham and listen to Jim Mitchell teach a class called “The Balanced Man.” In the class, Jim presented a wonderful panoply of tools and ground rules for living a better life.

One ground rule Jim offered is, “Fire your rep.” What he means by this phrase is that each of us has a part of us that wants to manage other people’s perception of us. It’s as if we have our very own sales representative out there selling ourselves to other people. The problem with our rep, though, is that most people can see right through it, either consciously or unconsciously. At some level, when they know they are dealing with the part of us that wants to manipulate them somehow, they will trust us less.

So what motivates our rep? What drives us to show you pieces of us that aren’t real? Even more importantly, what’s would happen if we let each other see us as we really are? As a man in this culture, I have been trained that if I let you really see me, warts and all, you will see me as weak and attack me. During my teenage years, this belief was reinforced over and over again. So I grew a “rep” to keep you at a distance and make myself safe… or at least give myself the illusion of safety.

What if my assumption that being open and vulnerable means that others will attack me is not entirely true? Is it possible that being open and honest about who I really am will create the kinds of relationships that I deeply desire? Let’s explore that question.

I believe that each of us is made up of many parts. Some parts of each person are beautiful and brilliant. Everybody has something in or about them that makes them stand out in their own unique way. For some of us, those parts may be very large, and for many of us, they may be only small parts; but we all have something that is pretty special. Depending on what our parents taught us, we may let those brilliant parts of us out, we may over-hype them, or we may hide them away.

And we have some parts that are, truth be told, a bloody mess. There are parts of me that I carry deep judgments about. Whenever I touch those parts, my inner critic goes, “Boy did you screw that up again!” My rep is certainly not going to let you see those screwed up parts of me, but they are still sitting in the room with me, wherever I am.

The rest of us is average, plus or minus. With 6.9 billion people in the world, the likelihood that any part of us is perfect is pretty darn small, and if we did make it to the top of the heap in any one area, we become a very big target for others to shoot at.

Now my inner critic doesn’t want you to know that I am really just an average guy, and it certainly doesn’t want you to see how screwed up parts of me are; so it instructs my rep to go sell you an illusion. This is probably not a great way to build friends and influence people.

So let’s explore the alternative. What if I stopped listening to my inner critic and held myself with some compassion? What if I trusted you as being capable of making whatever choices you want to make about me and just let you see me as I really am? Some folks may see this as a sign of weakness and attack, but I haven’t seen that happen in a very long time. And if we develop a solid sense of personal boundaries, we can easily protect ourselves from this type of attack. Some people will not have a clue how to deal with us. They may put on what Jim Mitchell called the “goat face” and stare at us as if they had just encountered an alien from the planet Zork. But strangely and perhaps counter-intuitively, most people will feel safer. When we can see that we share a common humanity, it connects us. Intimacy and compassion are possible. In short, good things happen.

So now to the cool part. Jim has given me permission to take his teachings into the community and Whatcom Community College has given me a green light to teach a class I will call “Ground Rules for a Better Life” this fall. “Fire your rep” is only one of many ground rules and tools Jim taught. Look for my class when the catalog comes out. I hope I see you there.

Last updated on 5/21/2008

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