My last blog post explores the wisdom in Amanda Palmer’s “The Art of Asking.” Palmer’s book ultimately urges us to be open and vulnerable, creating opportunities and true connection. Palmer’s personal experiences with asking are compelling. Through asking, Amanda was the first crowd-funded musician to break one million dollar funded on Kickstarter. Palmer was able to achieve this because she has devoted enormous time and energy and emotional currency to her fan base, her extended family. In essence, her fans have asked to be part of her life. She has let them. When they asked, she answered honestly be revealing herself. In return, when she asks she is also answered. She experiences the inevitable give and receive, karmic wheel, that results from being open with the world.
Palmer’s description of her community reminded me how much I long for connection. Too often, I turn away from opportunities for connection. Connection is about letting people see exactly who you are, and when you’ve been defined as less worthy by the majority culture this becomes particularly difficult. For folks labeled “bi-polar” our yardstick of normalcy can become those things valued by majority culture (to be “normal”). Psychiatrists, for instance, are interested in whether we are exercising, eating right, holding a job, etc. None of this is bad, but neither does it encourage a life full of creative thought or vibrant emotion. We are overtly or covertly encouraged by our culture to cover ourselves in a mantle of grey, to dilute our creativity, deny our emotions, dismiss our worth.
Palmer has found her community: those who value artists, which is not a given in our culture. As an artist, Palmer has been haunted by the refrain she faced as a street performer “get a job!” Which I think really means: “conform to majority values!” Like Palmer, you and I are probably not going to qualify anytime soon. It is legitimate not to conform, even if we do believe we have a “mental illness.” That does not mean we should conform to be happy, which is what I thought for a long time. Again, I lost my internal yardstick in the personal devastation that followed my affair and bi-polar diagnoses. I was desperate to control whatever destructive impulses led me down that path.
The truth is, we can never be happy trying to conform to any type of external yardstick. If we are worried what people think, how we measure up to others, if we’re a good enough X, we will be miserable. I would argue that conformity is always the enemy of connection. At least, I believe this is true of majority American values. Our culture values things like: working very long hours, acquiring possessions and most destructive of all, self-sufficiency to the extreme. I believe that this trend will continue because making people feel disconnected and ashamed is profitable. Companies profit from shaming the “heavy” folks into dieting and the “mentally ill” folks into medication. While some people may find help in medication, I think many others may not given the risk/benefit equation. And the question remains: would any of us need medication if our culture embraced values such as: connection, simplicity and compassion (even those labeled schizophrenic reportedly do much better in other cultures)?
What I think is important to understand is that approximately 99% of the population is struggling to embrace inherent self-worth, separate from anything external. I think the best example of this is babies. Who would argue that a baby is inherently worthwhile? All they really do is consume resources, they don’t do anything. However, they are inherently worthwhile and precious. As a mother I cannot imagine a time when I won’t feel this way. No matter what my child goes on to do or not do – she is inherently magnificent. We all are!