Welcome to Day 25 of “30 Days of Brené Brown.” I am feeling sheepish today because I learned last night from a wonderful friend and cousin-in-law, the Amazing Kat Hurley who’s just published her own very memoir, i think i’ll make it, that Oprah Winfrey and Brené Brown have been doing some awesomeness class together and I had no clue.
I’ll tell you what: I’m not trying to co-opt on that action. I hope I’ve not made too much of a dent in their endeavor’s success. My apologies if I have stolen any of their thunder. I have to admit this: I really want to like Oprah. I can’t. She never returns my calls. That’s not friendship.
Today’s quote is …
If you want to make a difference, the next time you see someone being cruel to another human being, take it personally. Take it personally because it is personal! (p 272)
― Brené Brown, I Thought It Was Just Me: Women Reclaiming Power and Courage in a Culture of Shame
I’ve actually almost gotten in a cat fight over this very behavior. I saw a mother treat her toddler daughter horribly in a Red Robin restaurant. I wrote about it here in my Jung series.
Ok. So I still think about that moment and I wonder, “Was I being cruel? Was I not seeing that woman in her pain and could I have been kinder to her? Could I have been softer to her?”
I think at that point, I was so ramped up that it was almost impossible for me to be OK with it. That little girl needed an advocate and I happened to be there.
I think this all the time when I see public displays of assholicry: if this is how you are, out in the open with seemingly NO self-awareness, how bad must it be at your home?
As I look back on that quote, I can’t help but think of Kat, my cousin-in-law and her memoir. She has worked hard, insanely hard to confront her demons and trudge on, “I fight fear every day!” she said with her megawatt smile at an annual Christmas party.
At a tender age, Kat indeed saw cruelty and (let me know if I’m overstepping here, Kat) took it all in and then had to do what no one should ever have to do. What she did and what she endured, scoped out her life and her missteps and victories in a way that makes me personally jump for joy every time I see her.
Kat has taken that “we are here for a reason” thing and let it drive the beat of her heart and power the pumping of her blood.
I won’t give away her story. She is still living her story; we all are.
Brown’s quote raises for me my own involvement in a very difficult proposition: if you see someone being cruel to someone else, and you take it personally, is that all there is? Are you done? Are you off the hook? Of course you could take it personally — and you might. Doing that, just taking it personally, is empathy. You have been there yourself; you have felt the humiliation that the target of the cruelty feels… of course you have.
So, if, you were like me, how do you let that be the end of it? How do you defend the oppressed while not being terse or cruel to the offender? How do we keep it in check? How do we know the context? How do we?! What if the person who is now the target was actually the antagonist a moment before we witnessed anything? It’s SO HARD to know when what is going on is enough context.
In the case of that little girl and her frustrated mother in the Red Robin, it’s easy to see who is the protagonist and who is the antagonist. In Kat’s story, it’s quite clear who was being cruel and who wasn’t.
BUT… what if you’ve got a situation of some really screwed up, entrenched dynamics of the Baby Jane and Blanche Hudson variety?
Where the where do you begin to undo THAT web?? Who do we defend? Those two women were simply fantastic and CRAZY.
I think Brown’s quote presumes that there is a good guy and a bad guy; or maybe it’s not that simple: everyone’s feeling wronged. So how to call attention and then work to end the cycle?
I guess we just do what we can to stay present and not see the cruelty as a truly personal act. To take some of that truly personally edges too closely for my comfort to psychosis and it can create unhealthy ownership of all the cruelty in the world, of which there is plenty… but there is also plenty of good too.
I remember when I first started therapy, I was encouraged to look outside myself to see that my story is universal: that everyone suffers from time to time and that anger, while powerful and motivating, needn’t be the force that got me up every morning.
So then I did my best to actively look at life that way; that I’m not so alone. There is injustice and pain everywhere. Everyone needs a shoulder. That shoulder can be me. But my shoulders are already heavy and then there’s so much sadness and everyone should have a reason to be angry and then they are angry and then I should be ok with their being angry or else I would be fearful and then judgmental and then that just makes more targets and more meanies and then everyone is sad and then I get sad and I want to be happy I mean that’s why I’m in therapy anyway right so am I selfish for not wanting to be sad when there is so much sadness everywhere?
Then what? Y’dig?
So, yeah… I guess: take it personally, but then try to work it out. It’s not personal. It’s just a bummer. We can all become cruelty vigilantes and that would be good… but then there would be the vainglorious among us…
This is starting to feel like an Escher nightmare.
I didn’t like this quote so much. Her energy is right, the intention is there, but I feel like there is a lot missing which could explain what she’s really trying to get into.
In the meantime, go check out Kat’s book. She’s great.