I have been in some pretty unpleasant situations. Some of the unpleasant situations I’ve been in are consequences of my own actions, either directly or indirectly. Some of them are consequences of the actions, the choices, of others. A number of them were inevitable, while some were completely avoidable.
A few years ago I was going to counseling four nights a week. It was court ordered counseling. I was going to grief counseling, substance abuse counseling, anger management, and “PTSD” counseling. Before I reached that chapter in my life, I spent several years as a counselor who dealt with these topics daily. I had been trained in the same way, by some of the same people, as the case manager who was assigned to me. I knew the whole rundown, I even assigned the same coursework and exercises. When I met with my case manager the first time, we spoke for two hours. We were both crying by the time I left her office.
My wife was killed by another person’s selfish decision, just over six years ago. I still see her out of the corner of my eye sometimes, I still dream about her. Things happen in life, and then more things happen, and then yet more, and then it’s over, so get it while the gettin’s good.
After my wife passed I entered into a nihilistic death spiral. I tried to destroy myself, and did a lot of damage in the effort, but alas, here I still am.
As a consequence of the events in my life and the choices I made in response to them, I found myself going to court ordered counseling four nights a week. The counseling was in a run-down building in a pretty nasty part of town, and it was full of dirty people. I hate to say “dirty people,” but it captures the way I felt when I first started going there.
During the first conversation I had with my case manager, I made the assertion that this whole situation was humiliating. And it was. I was labeled something that I never was in actuality. I had to urinate in a cup, pushing my pants down below my knees and holding my shirt up around my chest, while another person stared at me, sometimes multiple times a week. I had to come up with excuses and explanations and apologies at work, my boss was apathetic to my plight. I had to bear the stigmas of addiction and abuse and uselessness.
She looked me right in the eye and asked if I was sure I didn’t mean humbling. I took it the wrong way at the time, but now I think about that conversation almost everyday. I am grateful that someone who I respected, who I grew to trust and developed a certain fondness of, cared enough about me to confront me with the truth.
In almost every situation we are faced with choices. One choice that we face constantly is whether or not to take offence, to take things personally, to place yourself and your ego at the front of the line. I do my best to never offer offence to anybody, to never hurt anybody’s feelings, to never be rude, but it is more important that I do my best to never take offence.
The same principle is in play here. The difference between humility and humiliation. I got through those uncomfortable situations, and many others in life, by accepting things as they were and not assigning personal values to impersonal things. Grace lies in the distinction between the two, the blubbering idiot who sees everything as a personal attack, and the wise man who takes things at face value and walks with his head held high, no matter where his feet take him.
It was a painful lesson, and it took a very long time, but I am eternally grateful that I have learned it. Too often people make things more difficult for themselves by making self-centered judgements and projecting values that simply don’t exist.
Honest self-reflection is the only way to overcome these value judgements. Most of the time you’ll find that the pain exists because you’re hiding something from yourself, not because someone else wishes ill upon you.