I recently wrote a post about rediscovering my desire to serve others. Much to my surprise, my post garnered a very long, angry comment largely focused on what an arrogant dick I am for openly expressing this desire. The comment opened with “I don’t even know you” and proceeded to cover a wide swath of territory that included judgments on my character, accusations about my intentions, and speculation that losing my job was caused by my arrogance in thinking I have something of value to offer.
The level of judgment and bitterness was extraordinary. I hadn’t written anything controversial, it was a personal statement, nothing I’d ever expect anyone to care much about. I wrote it for myself, to clarify my own thinking and solidify my commitment, and I’d expected it to go entirely unnoticed. That it engendered such a vitriolic response was a giant surprise.
But what was most surprising was that this stranger had plucked out of my head my very own words, fears and doubts and insecurities, typed them up, and sent them to me. When I read that so-familiar and hateful rhetoric, felt the judgment and resentment, I was paralyzed. How did this stranger know to use those words, the exact words that live on a never-ending loop in my head? How did they know to say the most harmful words, words that would undermine my confidence, and tear down what I’d worked so hard to build – my belief in myself, in my own value and contribution?
How could one person say such cruel things to another person – a complete stranger, someone they know nothing about? Even worse, what if they were right?
Encouraging words from a friend helped me gain perspective, but this comment, I think, may prove an invaluable tool. Seeing my own self-doubt and self-judgment so clearly articulated was terrifying. I would never say those things to someone else, why am I saying them to myself? Marianne Williamson’s famous writing on our deepest fears includes the following lines:
“It is our light not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented and fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There’s nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you.”
My internal monologue and this anonymous comment both demand smallness. They demand that I not recognize any of my potential, talent, or value. This message – that we have to play little, hide our light, deny our desire to shine and grow and expand – is the message of fear and denial and rejection. It is rooted in rejection of our shared beauty and grace, grief at our self-imposed barriers, and a profound fear that we will never measure up. It is that message that keeps us suspended in a state of perpetual self-hatred and destruction.
It is valuable also because I do need to check in with myself, ask for feedback from friends, and pay close attention to the impact I have on others. But I get to decide which feedback is helpful, which friends and colleagues to ask, and what advice is helpful. Because I tend to believe the worst of myself, I have to get objective opinions, and advice from people who care about me and want me to thrive.
Ultimately, that one comment prompted useful thought and reflection, although perhaps not in the way the author intended. I am proud of my talents and skills, the work I’ve done to develop them, and my commitment to helping others, and it doesn’t matter what other people think about my decision to write those things down, or say them out loud.