Show your work

You remember in math class, you were learning long division or something and you had to do all these pointless extra steps, just to prove to the teacher that you knew how to do it?

(Not that that ever happened to me, obviously.)

Show your work was the name of the game, right? Basically, she wanted you to demonstrate your understanding.

Excuse me while I rant…

I find myself feeling the same way when I hear people share their beliefs. For instance, when I say of my own experience, “I have a lot of empathy for people in bad relationships, because when I was in one, I knew that I was being stupid, but I couldn’t give up until I had exhausted every option to make things work. It wasn’t that I didn’t know it was unhealthy, it’s that I didn’t want to walk away until I knew I had given it everything I had,”  I get a resounding agreement. It’s a bit disconcerting, because I know very well that the standard opinion of people in bad relationships is “you should just walk away,” as if that were the easiest thing in the world to do, and that if you haven’t it’s because you are blind or in denial, or dependent in some way.

So when the person I’m talking to agrees with me wholeheartedly, to be honest, this is what I hear:

“I admire you and I want to copy your beliefs because you seem to have things figured out.”

This is why I don’t really give instruction around here. Because until you come to conclusions from your own experience, you really have no idea. And, not to be rude, but I feel really uncomfortable in an echo chamber, so if you’re just going to agree with me because I’m pretty smart… thanks, but no thanks.

We learn from stories

I don’t mind sharing, especially the ones that reversed my former opinions (because to me, those stories epitomize why you can’t fully trust knowledge that doesn’t come from your own experience.)

I remember when:

  • I realized sexism still existed, and was a force to be reckoned with
  • I realized being strong didn’t mean you had to prove it
  • I realized leadership was one of the heaviest burdens you can bear, but also the most rewarding
  • I realized you could love someone and still not be right for each other
  • I realized the best way to thread a sticky situation is to choose the path that makes you feel proud of your decisions, even when the short-term consequences really suck
  • I realized that true strength comes from trust and radical vulnerability. It’s the best armor, ever
  • I realized forgiving yourself is the only way to compassion. And that when you really forgive yourself, you have compassion and love for everyone.

These are seminal moments in my development. They not only changed me, they shaped me. They’re now some of the backbone of my belief system. And if you model yourself on me, that’s fine, role models are great things to show you what to aim for. But remember, you have to show your work.

Experience trumps intellectual understanding.


3 thoughts on “Show your work”

  1. Showing your working out in maths used to annoy the hell out of me.  So it figures that it’s has taken me quite a whiles to realise the difference between intellectual and visceral understanding.  And that it frustrates me no end.But then it’s cool to look back on those pivotal moments – like the conversation with your friend at writers’ camp – and remember that feeling of my internal world being shifted on its axis and then seeing the spreading out of that change spilling all over my life.  It seems that frustration about not being able to just instantly integrate some new ‘answer’ or perspective shows up when I’m thinking there’s something wrong with where I’m at, and there’s this level of shame about it.  So I want to just get the right answer, meaning the one that will garner approval.  Leaving a little reminder note to myself here from Sovereign Me for situations like these: ‘Come home to yourself!’Lovins x

  2. Pingback: “Thirteen Ways of Looking at Space/Time” – short fiction « Curves 'n Angles

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *