Saturday, February 02, 2008

Staying Credible Amidst Multiple Realities

We received an email earlier this week from a person we've been using as a role model of sorts that rocked us a bit and woke us up to how important it is to use discrimination. We can be so judgmental of those who tend to reject New Age sensibilities out-of-hand. It reminds us of witch hunts. It reminds us of war and discrimination based on "religious" values of all sorts. And yet Paul and I both cringe at the company we get lumped into as people who openly admit to using psychic skills in the work we do and this email was a perfect example of the kind of really out-there bizarre stuff we'd hate to have people think we believe in, too.

Paul is technically-oriented, used to design and build custom speaker systems for a living, and can talk your ear off about Einstein's theory of relativity and other such things. We're both thinking people and are both skeptical about certain kinds of stuff. We both also have suffered for being overly gullible at different times in our lives and that taught us to pay attention and listen to our own hearts, research what we're interested in and make our own choices based on what we find out. We know the value of listening to our intuition—hell, it's an integral part of what we do—but we know the value of the good old scientific method of inquiry as well. Test it out and see if it works.

The issue of credibility gets all mixed up in this, of course, because we don't reject everything. If something very unconventional and out of the ordinary works we keep trying it out, we use it, and accept it into our knowledge base. Or at least into our belief system base. But that alone affects people's perceptions of our credibility in the wide world. When people don't seem to have the same experiences we have, or have very different knowledge bases and beliefs about what's possible and interpret things differently as a result, they tend to reject anything that doesn't validate their point of view. Never mind that the belief systems they grew up with actually prohibit certain experiences from even happening.

For example, in Zimbabwe the Shona tribe practices a day long ritual in which people go into trance, allow themselves to be possessed by an ancestor, and then receive guidance for the group. They use a musical instrument called the mbira to accomplish this. Supposedly there are shamans in Tibet, here in the Americas and many other places who do similar things using the help of drums or other musical instruments as well. I used to play traditional Shona music on marimbas and mbiras with a group of people here in the U.S. To my knowledge no one in that community nationwide has ever fallen into a trance during the music-playing and started channeling guidance as a result. And if that did happen I'm CERTAIN every white American in the room would be horrified. The person would be looked at like a freak, probably feared, labeled psychotic and never fully trusted again unless someone intervened to set the record straight. Even then, it's unlikely they'd be embraced and revered for their value to the community as they would be in Zimbabwe.

The consensus realities we've created in our country don't tend to support this experience. As it doesn't believe in and support a lot of the things Paul and I and a lot of other people do. Witch-hunting and public "burnings" keep us all in line. People aren't burnt at the stake much anymore but they are "roasted" with public humiliation and discrediting dismissal nonetheless.

Everyone wants to be thought of kindly if at all possible but people in leadership or otherwise in the public view are often held to a higher standard than the public at large. For visible teachers, politicians and religious leaders a career can rise and fall based on the public's perception of who they are or appear to be. Notice how vulnerable our politicians appear to be to public opinion and how they'll use that vulnerability to try and discredit an opponent if they fall prey to thinking they have to. And notice the extreme criticism launched at those who step outside of the mainstream. Visibility comes with a high price in our society today. And heaven forbid you should become paparazzi-bait. I don't want to even discuss how TV shows like TMZ make me feel.

As a person who has always felt different first because of my religion (I grew up Jewish in an Irish and Italian Catholic neighborhood), later because of my intelligence and extreme shyness, and now because of psychic abilities I admit to and the career choices I've made, I've struggled with my feelings about how people will perceive me my whole life. I thought I was finally making peace with it but now with the publishing of a new book that is already being picked up by what I assume could be a mainstream audience the fears are up in my face again. The book is about family caregiving for people with dementia and other brain-impairing illnesses. I keep thinking someone from AARP, the Alzheimer's Association or the Parkinson's Foundation who has the ability to write a wonderful or scathing review about me will find my spiritual counseling and healing website or this blog and dismiss everything I have to say.

And that might be the case. It's also extremely likely that if I market the book to a New Age market it would be well received and people would wonder why I didn't come out of the closet in my writing even further. (Sigh)

Today, I feel at a crossroads in my life and a colleague I felt respect for came out of the closet with the really unusual beliefs that define her piece of the world. It was hard to read it, made me fear for her well-being, and made me distrustful of her point of view. And yet I don't want to dismiss her as fellow human being on the path, to throw the whole package away, reject her out of hand.

This I think is a key shift we need to see in our society today. Do we need to shove people up on a pedestal and then drag them down into the mud and trample them under our feet if they don't live up to our very limited beliefs about what they should think or how they behave? Or can we respect, support and love our teachers and leaders without agreeing with everything they do or say? I think this is a key issue because the condemnation and disrespect we see everyday not only marginalizes and hurts people who dare to be seen in public and lead but everyone who witnesses it and unwittingly participates. It holds people back who might otherwise come forth with better solutions to the problems we have in front of us. It reinforces the idea that it's dangerous to stand out in a crowd and keeps us dangerously immersed in an increasingly narrow perspective. That's not to say in any way that we need to stop questioning—we HAVE to use discrimination. I'm just asking that people take what they need and respectfully leave the rest. Put the condemnation aside (or save it for the most horrendous crimes) and show a little love and respect instead. Anything less undercuts our human spirit and limits our potential.

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