(crossposted from Facebook)

So, maybe you went to a workshop or something recently and learned something that could really enrich your life and the lives of the people around you – the importance of emotional honesty, for example. You’re excited, and you want to tell everyone about it. How might that look?

It might look like judgment. “Everyone is so fake. What we need is more honesty and realness!” I don’t know about you, but I don’t feel encouraged to try new things when people start out by telling me how bad I am.

It might look like advice. “The next time you’re in a conflict with someone, just open up about yourself!” I think people dramatically underestimate how hard it is to give good advice that people will actually use; what’s easier is to fall into a familiar pattern of what advice sounds like.

It might look like abstraction. “When people are really honest with each other, incredible things can happen!” But there’s something about this that’s hard to grab onto.

All of this is fine and I’m not saying that you shouldn’t do it. I like hearing people be excited. But there’s something that each of these responses have in common I want to talk about. It’s like they all create a kind of distance between me and you. This is clearest with judgment; when you judge me, you’re placing yourself above me. But advice and abstraction also create distance; you’re placing yourself in the role of a teacher to my student.

That was abstraction just now, so I’ll get a little closer. I’ll tell you what I want: what I want is for you to get a little closer to me too.

When you come across a stunted tree in the forest, you might dream of making it healthier and stronger. But you’re not going to get there by judging the tree for being stunted, or giving it advice about how to grow, or talking to it about how amazing growth is. What you can do instead is nourish the tree. You can keep its soil rich with nutrients. You can help it get enough water. You can show it the sun. And the tree can grow, and how it grows is not up to you, and that’s okay.

That was advice. (I don’t want to go all the way back to judgment.) I’ll try to get a little closer again: I cherish the part of you that wants to share what you learned to make everything better. I hope you cherish it too. I hope you keep looking for what nourishes you, and keep learning how to offer nourishment to the people around you too.

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