Monday, January 4, 2016

I've got a word

I didn't mean to spend New Year's Eve staying up all night, counting down till midnight and reflecting on my goals for the coming year ... but Miriam's teeth kept her and me awake, and so that is exactly what I did.  In my exhausted and half-asleep reflections, one word kept coming back to me:


It's not an active word, which is good, because I don't know how active I will be able to be this year.  But it's not a passive word either -- if it turns out that I pull out of the tired phase and am able to accomplish stuff, there are things I can do to seek truth.

The other day I was talking to a friend about truth, beauty, and goodness, and I admitted I have often succumbed to the temptation to choose beauty that isn't good or isn't truthful.  There are beautiful things that aren't good -- for instance, I love novels with premarital sex in them, and they often portray beautiful relationships, but most of my readers would probably say that's not good.  Even goodness itself can be the wrong goal, because if you don't have the facts, you can find yourself adamantly pursuing goodness that isn't the real deal.  That's exactly what I did in Regnum Christi -- I felt the important thing was to Do the Right Thing, but I spent no time really discerning what the right thing was.  As a result, I did more harm than good.

I learned this year that you can't be good if you don't know the truth, and so truth ought to be the first thing I pursue, even before beauty and goodness, even though I prefer both of those.  Pursuing the truth is difficult and requires humility (to admit you may have been wrong in the past) and persistence (to refuse to settle for the obvious answer).  You have to learn to stop taking easy answers, blindly following feelings and hunches, or just tagging along with what your heroes think.  I don't mean to say that your heroes or your hunches are necessarily wrong, but that you don't know they're right until you've looked into them.

Our ability, as humans, to know the truth is limited.  For awhile I saw that as a reason to give up, to just admit I don't know anything so I could just do whatever seemed like a good idea.  But obviously you can know more or less of the truth.  Some ideas have more or less justification for them.  And given the choice between blindly guessing (and having a high chance of being wrong) and using all the available tools to get my best grasp on the truth to lower my risk of being wrong, I know which the smart and moral option is.  I mean, if you were sick, would you rather go to a shaman who said he had no idea what would cure you but he may as well try leeches, or a doctor who said the available treatment was not completely tested, but had been promising in initial trials?  There are never any guarantees in this life, but there are better and worse choices.

Beyond that philosophical side of the word, there's also a very practical issue I have with truthfulness.  I hate lying and try hard to avoid it, but I tend to omit a lot.  If a conversation will be emotionally-charged, I move heaven and earth to avoid having it.  If I think a friend might reject me -- if there's even an off-chance they might -- I hold back as much as possible of myself so that they won't.  Heck, even the way I dress is a bit untruthful.  I don't wear the clothes I like, because I'm afraid others won't like them and they'll reject me.  But isn't that hiding a truth about myself -- my actual personality and taste -- so that I can be a bland generic person that no one will reject, but no one will actually like either?

I suppose I'll have to ease into this.  Too much honesty can be a bad thing, and no one has the right to know everything about me.  But maybe it's time to buy a few pieces of clothing I actually like.  To put the colored streak in my hair I've wanted for years.  Admit to my friends that I disagree with their opinions once in awhile.  Tell my husband what I really want instead of saying "oh, I'm fine, I want nothing" -- an answer that's frustrated him for years, which I struggle very hard to stop giving.

And yeah, maybe start admitting to a larger circle of people that I don't believe.  I thought coming out on this blog would be the hard part, and everything after that would come naturally.  Instead, the only real-life friends who know are the ones who also read this blog, because I can't find it in me to bring it up.

I was afraid to choose this word because I am NOT ready for a big Facebook reveal and the reactions I know some people will have.  But I don't have to start there.  I could tell a few of my best friends and see how it goes.  No one has a right to know.  But on the other hand, I think I'm letting my fear keep me in a prison of others' expectations, and that I'll feel a lot better when I master that fear.  I also feel morally conflicted by the inherent dishonesty of letting people assume I'm on their team when I'm not.  I have coped with that all this year by continuing to go to church and saying, "Well, I still count as Catholic even though I believe none of it, because I practice."  But that's not entirely true anymore either, and so there's really no sense in which admitting to being Catholic is honest.

A couple of weeks ago we had a Catholic friend over.  We had a conversation about the Faith and I just went along with it, saying the sort of things that fit in with that conversation, even though I don't believe those things.  It felt safer than the alternative, at the time, but afterward I felt terrible.  I deceived my friend because I didn't trust his friendship far enough to admit the reality about myself.  How would I feel if someone did that to me?  Pretty crummy.  I have to do better, even if I'm still trying to figure out how.

So -- 2016 is the Year of Truth.  We'll see how I do.  At any rate, this blog has given me lots of practice -- I am honest here in a way I rarely am elsewhere.  (Though don't kid yourself -- I keep some stuff back.  I mean, it's the internet.)  Wish me luck.

Do you pick a word for the year?  What's yours?


Anonymous said...

That sounds like a good word to live by. I would want to do something similar, and maybe, to some small extent, I will. However, circumstances dictate that I at least moderately conform. But, either way, all the best of luck to you!

Anonymous said...

Different anonymous here: don't worry about what other people think. If your friends ditch you for your hair color, clothing choices or religious beliefs (or lack thereof), they're not your true friends.

Sheila said...

Friends are one thing, but when you *need* other people's acceptance (employer, professional contacts) I can see an argument for a little less honesty. Unconventional clothes and opinions aren't always welcome at work.

Ember Words said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Enbrethiliel said...


Sometimes things are unwelcome for good reason. There's a difference between being honest about yourself and forcing other people to accept you even at your worst. For example, thanks to my family, I grew up thinking there was nothing wrong with blowing your nose at the table. But after a couple of lunches in the school cafeteria during flu season, one of my classmates finally told me to take it somewhere else. She was hardly a bad friend. But I would have been one if I had made everyone there adapt to me instead of the other way around.

Re: coloured hair
One of my friends has been streaking her hair for over a decade. So has one of her sisters. When I told her I was surprised her other sister wasn't doing the same, my friend said: "She really wants to, but she's going to enter the medical profession. How many patients do you think would be happy with a doctor who had neon in her hair?" At least this isn't a problem a housewife would have! =)

Sheila said...

Yes, there's a great deal of freedom in being out of the workforce, and I really should take more advantage of it!

Here in America, though, it's becoming increasingly acceptable for professionals to have colored hair, piercings, and tattoos. Still, you never know how a prospective employer or customer may react, so it's often safer not to.

There's a line between honesty and rudeness ... I think the place to draw it is where your actions actually affect others. Blowing your nose at the table spreads germs around, while having pink hair doesn't harm anybody. If they're upset, it's because they have an unreasonable expectation of being able to control how others look.

Enbrethiliel said...


I should have said that my blowing my nose at the table was only an issue because it was really loud. When I blew, people had to stop talking. LOL! When I was in elementary school, there was no way it was about germs. I mean, when the water pressure at the drinking fountain was really low, students would often put the spout in their mouths so they could get a drink more efficiently. The next person in line would just run the water for a few seconds to wash the saliva off.

This isn't to say that germs were a total non-issue. Obviously, they still existed even if nobody cared. But I was asked to stop for the same reason someone with a really loud laugh would be asked to tone it down. Yes, it was affecting people, but there was no reason they couldn't have adapted their own behavior and just talked louder. No reason beyond convention, that is. Apart from rules against truly immoral acts, every society has unwritten agreements about things that merely make life more pleasant for others.

Now, I'm not saying that streaked hair is a catalyst for societal collapse (LOL!) or that one person's sense of what is pleasant should be enough to keep someone else from dying his hair. (Perhaps a better analogy would have been when I started wearing a veil in a very, very liberal parish? Or the time I wore a bright red pencil skirt to a funeral?) If streaked hair is odd enough in your community that it's not just your own anxiety that is keeping you from doing it, then by dyeing your hair, you're also asking other people to adapt to you. I agree with you that there isn't actually any harm done (and I personally think a good neighbour would happily adapt); but I think you're being ironically harsh in your judgment of those who might react negatively to it.

Having said all that, the idea that you can do what you like as long as it doesn't affect others is a very American idea. So I suppose an American reacting negatively to dyed hair can actually be considered a jerk, whereas a non-American with the same reaction is just human. LOL!

Sheila said...

The thing is, I've never actually known anyone to react negatively to dyed hair. I mean, maybe some people internally disapproved, but if so they kept it to themselves, like good Americans. ;)

To dye your hair (or get an odd piercing or tattoo -- both things I admire on others and would never do myself) is a way of signalling that you're a certain kind of person. A free spirit, I guess. And I would like people to think that of me, but I'm also afraid that they will not like that version of me. Which is sort of silly, if they're THAT intolerant of unconventional people, they'll never stick around once I open my mouth!

I do understand what you mean about etiquette and giving up your rights to be considerate. John always rants about that stuff, but to me it's just a way of telling the people you're with, "I like being with you so much I'm willing to go out of my way to make you comfortable." And let me be honest -- loud sniffing, loud laughs, scraping your fork against your teeth, perpetually tapping your foot, etc. -- drive me bananas. A highly sensitive thing, I guess. I understand it's a me issue and I would never demand others change for me, but I appreciate that etiquette forbids this and so most considerate people avoid them. And yes, I am slooowly teaching my kids about these things ... not as "this is bad" but "people don't like it."

But part of American etiquette is that your body is yours and it's rude to object or comment negatively about it. Unless you are naked or completely unwashed*, most people assume that you've got the right to present yourself how you like. The only exception being at work or school, which might have stricter codes.

*By American standards, people from almost every other country smell bad because they don't bathe daily. I disagree with this, but I don't make the rules!

Enbrethiliel said...


I think everyone has a "stinky foreigners" story! It's not that we ourselves don't smell; it's that we're so used to our smell that we don't smell it any longer. LOL! But we can definitely smell others.

My funniest "stinky foreigners" story comes from the ex-girlfriend of a former neighbour . . . Her family was hosting two German foreign exchange students who scandalised the household by not only failing to bathe every day but also slathering scented lotion on anyway. It got to the point where the live-in help were refusing to have anything to do with the Germans unless their boss told them to bathe! The task fell to the ex-gf, who tried to be diplomatic about it by beginning with a general conversation about people from different cultures having different smells. And that's when the two Germans enthusiastically said, "Oh, we were just thinking that you Filipinos smell like chickens!" (ROFLMAO!)

As for the issue of how people react to us or what they think of us . . . I hope you don't mind if I pull out another Last Psychiatrist insight. He has pointed out that unless you are truly deceiving people, they probably already see that "secret" side of you. So you might as well let it all hang out . . . with calibrations for courtesy, as you find fit.

Andrea said...

Hey there! Lots of prayers for you in living this out! Anyways, I thought you might be interested in the discussions on Reddit in the Catholicism subreddit. It seems like you like to discuss, so you should throw out some of your objections to Catholicism to those on this forum. There are a wide variety of Catholics on this forum, and the discussions are often quite interesting.

I really enjoy it as it sometimes leads to interesting thought provoking discussions in my own head or with my husband and points that I've never thought of before.

Here's the link:

Sheila said...

I have read some of it before, but I don't have a reddit account and am not sure I want one ... seeing as I already blow way too much time on social media.

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