Mr. Potato Head
Yesterday I was affirmed on my ability to break things down (thanks JosueMolina and DanLangendorf!). It’s something I’ve heard before, but perhaps this was when I really needed to see it. As I get back into the swing of things for the antihero initiative and fighting those creative inhibitors this year (doubt, fear, self-pity), a simple word of affirmation will go a long way. And it has.
But I couldn’t help to think when this ability to break things down wasn’t just a blessing but also a curse. After much reflection yesterday, I realized that I tend to break down people like I break down complex ideas. Simplify them to a list of patterns, clever bullet points and memorable categories.
I used to tear the closest people to me apart like a Mr. Potato head. Snatch the eyes, nose, ears, mouth, feet and arms, leaving the pathetic brown oval rolling around helpless on a floor of judgments. I’d probably leave the hat alone so they’d have some sort of dignity.
It took a friend to help me realize this is what I did. They were starkly different from me—in almost every way imaginable. So it was easy (and sometimes rather fun) to take on the challenge of parsing them like an ancient language. To study, pick apart, then put them back together.
But I failed to realize that this spirit was one of judgment—not “objectivity”. I’m not an anthropologist and I wasn’t observing and studying loved ones for the sake of learning how to love them better.
So while I might’ve thought I just had this intuitive approach to figuring out a person and finding out how to better connect (or manage, let’s be real) with them, I really was just hurting people in the process.
Breaking down complex ideas or even complex emotions is different from breaking down a person. And you only know what it truly feels like when someone starts to pluck at your own extremities and rearrange them for their personal comfort and sanity. Not until I became a Potato Head did I understand what it felt like to be broken down.
For those of us with the ability to “read people” or with the “spirit of discernment” or an eye for making complex things simple (and paradoxically simple things complex)—be careful. Use it to build, not to tear down. And if it’s people, don’t tear down at all.
Let us stretch ourselves to find an uplifting, humble way to enlighten others about themselves and the world. And we do that by “being the change…” oursevles. Not just lip service. Life service.