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From the Ministers

In Care - July 2017

Know Thyself, and, To Thine Own Self Be True

by Rev. Deborah Cayer

The business executive turned Harvard Business School professor, Bill George, says that the key to successful leadership is to start with ourselves, and with our own story. We need to know where we’ve come from, and what we’ve come through. These are exactly the ideas behind our own spiritual autobiographies and Odysseys. Here are just a few of the quite wonderful questions that George offers in his book Discover Your True North:

  1. What one word do you want people to use to describe you? What word do you think they’d currently use?
  2. Fill in the blank: My life is a quest for _______. Money? Love? Acceptance? What motivates you?
  3. What is your biggest regret? If you could go back and have a ‘redo,’ what would you change?
  4. When was the last time you told a lie? Why? What would have happened if you had told the truth?
  5. What would others say is your biggest asset? What would they say is your biggest flaw? Be honest.
  6. What did you like to do when you were 10 years old? When was the last time you did that…?

Research shows that taking the time to do this kind of reflection helps us have better mental health, sense of well-being, and maturity. And as we go deeper and begin to examine our motives and actions, we start to weave a narrative, a personal story that can help us better understand what we’re looking for, what matters to us, and what brings us satisfaction.

It’s so easy sometimes to fold ourselves up around the sharp point, or the cutting edge of a loss or a failure, even if we don’t intend to, or want to. It just happens. And then we become isolated, and in that severe loneliness we sometimes shut off part of our life: our experience, our feelings, and with it our capacity to act…and sometimes our ability to tell, even just to remember our story.

So a key part of our story gets created by the ways in which we deal with loss and failure. And how we come to know things that we really don’t want to know. (And that for sure, at least at first, we really don’t want other people to know.) For awhile we might need to protect our wounded dignity by keeping our story private, or even by refusing to look at it ourselves. But eventually we need something more—we need the wholeness and peace that knowing our full, whole truth can bring. We may not tell our whole story publicly, but we hold it in our mind, our heart, and there’s a comfort in that, and a sense of integrity.

If we can stay flexible and keep looking for more perspectives we can keep growing. One thing that can really help this living process is to share our story, or listen as someone tells us their story. At times this is so profound it can be a sacred act. Hearing another person’s honest reaction to our story is important too, because it’s difficult to see our self in the middle of the situation we’re in. So hearing other people’s responses can provide us with perspectives we haven’t had.

We need to know our stories, individually and collectively. We need keep in touch with our core values, the ones given to us by the past, and the ones that are emerging among us as we become something new together. This is true for us as individuals, members of families, congregations, and nations. Who are we? How did we get here now? Who will we be together in the days to come? Finding answers to these questions are a quest for meaning, hope and love. It’s how we might become the people we envision ourselves to be.

Blessings, Deborah