Recently, I joined a new group on social media and was asked to introduce myself, to say a bit about where I was from, and to share a little-known fact about myself. Immediately, I started sorting through personal details. Should I pick something big – share about my family, say, or my work? Or open with something small – my favorite ice cream flavor?
Since these brand-new friends of mine didn’t even know the basics about my life, I decided against going deep, talking about my struggles or my wounds. That could have been uncomfortable for everyone. I discarded the details that felt like bragging. What could I share that disclosed just enough about me to help others connect and not so much that I gave away my private life to total strangers?
All this consideration actually took me just a few seconds. I jotted down a detail about myself, pressed “send,” and moved on with my day. But I’ve been thinking about disclosure ever since.
Sometimes we choose to share something vulnerable about ourselves as a way to bond with a new friend. At the same time, we can use this same mechanism of community-building to exclude people, keeping important facts from someone we don’t feel is really part of our group.
Sometimes people respond to trauma by oversharing, which can be too heavy a weight for a new or fragile relationship to bear. Some folks protect themselves by not opening up at all, never allowing anyone close enough to witness their truest essence. When you are stressed, which direction do you lean?
We connect by learning about each other, sharing our stories. But we should avoid conversations in which we only try to identify similarities among us, especially if we then draw lines around those similarities and keep others on the outside. To build real community with others – to participate in real, complicated relationships – we need to learn how to love people we don’t fully know, people we may not understand.
In a recent interview, the author, attorney, filmmaker, and activist Valerie Kaur said, “If you choose to love, if you choose to see no stranger, then that means . . . to look upon the face of anyone and anything around you, and say to yourself, ‘You are a part of me I do not yet know . . . I must choose to wonder about you even if you do not wonder about me, and in that way, I choose to love you even if you put me in danger, and I will choose to protect you even when you are lashing out in hate at me.’”
Choosing to wonder about each other – doing the hard work of staying curious and open – takes practice. As Quakers, we have the gift of spiritual practices that help us develop these skills. As we sit attentively with the stillness within and wonder about Spirit’s moving breath, we increase our resilience to uncertainty and deepen our capacity to love our neighbor, to love ourselves, to love even the one who appears to be a stranger.
Oh, and that little-known fact I shared about myself? I’ll just keep that a mystery. ~~~
Bethany Lee lives and writes in Lafayette, Oregon, drawing inspiration from her travels, her daughters, and her hospice work as a hospice harpist and accompanist. Her first book of poetry, The Breath Between, was published by Fernwood Press in May 2019. She attends Quaker worship as an independent member of Sierra Cascades Yearly Meeting of Friends.
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