What We Believe: We Teach Who We Are
One of the significant lessons for me in just how powerfully what we believe on the inside permeates our attitude and the energy we project I learned from a man charged with child molestation. At the time I was working as an assistant probation officer. One afternoon we were informed the court needed a pre-sentence investigation report earlier than expected. The senior officer in charge of the case was on vacation. I was assigned the job.
I sat with the offender who was charged with several counts of child molestation for nearly two hours, listening to his story. Most of those two hours, and for many hours afterward as I wrote my report, I would think, “What happened to you? You were once a little boy full of dreams and stories…what happened to you? What got broken inside you?” As I typed away at my report, I cried for him. I cried for the little girls he had molested. I cried for this crazy, cracked world that breaks people and doesn’t know how to fix them.
The following week the senior officer came down to my office with the very thick report in his hand that I had written for him. “How in the world did you get all this information from this guy?” he asked, amazed.
I wasn’t sure how to answer. “Well, I just listened a lot and asked a few questions,” I said.
“God! I would have gotten about three paragraphs from that piece of shit!” exclaimed the officer.
The ground beneath our building wasn’t shaking, but the ground within my soul was heaving up mountains and caving in valleys. My inner landscape was permanently altered that day.
What had I done to get all that information from that “piece of shit”? For starters, it had never crossed my mind that he was “a piece of shit”. Instead, I saw a little boy locked up inside a very broken man. Did I believe he needed to go to prison and that he needed help? Yes. He had done some terrible things that had scarred two little girls and their family. Perhaps others that we didn’t know about. Probably. He needed to be locked up because we needed to protect others from him and we didn’t know any other way to do that. He needed help to figure out what was broken and if possible, to mend and heal it.
Secondly, I had felt genuine compassion for him. I had cried for the broken man and the lost boy. I had listened to him. Deeply listened. Evidently, he felt this. Perhaps he sensed that I respected his humanity, even if I was grieved and angry with what he had done. I will never know how I affected him, or if I did, other than that he told me more than he told anyone else who tried to talk to him during the time of his trial and sentencing.
Living our lives really cannot be done disconnected from one another. We affect one another no matter what we do or do not do, and by what we think even if our voice is mute.
We teach who we are.
I grew up the oldest child of two teachers. My mother taught special education in the local public school district. My father taught in parochial schools, usually the only male teacher in the school if not the only one who wasn’t a nun. He was my teacher in the sixth grade, and again in the eighth grade. He was remembered fondly by many of his students, some for the rest of their lives.
My father was passionate about making a difference in the lives of those around him—even if it was only in small ways. Although he didn’t have the language for it, and although he went through his life with a lot of unresolved and unhealed baggage from the era he grew up in, looking back I believe my father was one of those rare individuals who was living his life on purpose. His soul was awake and he struggled to live from his heart.
As the oldest child, I caught the brunt of his youthful ignorance, and I was not fond of being “the teacher’s kid”. For many years I had no idea of his inner journey. Only now, in my own middle years do I begin to see how awake, how enlightened, how beautiful was the soul of my father. It is only now that I also see how much he taught me simply by how he lived. I absorbed the notion that we must never stop growing, never reject new ideas or new information that might alter our world view. It became part of the fiber of my being that we should care about the world and seek to make a positive difference in it. I grew up thinking that the way life worked was that you gave your all to whatever you did, and you never, ever gave up. These are things I learned by growing up in my father’s house.
We teach who we are.
Whether you are a teacher in a classroom, a parent, a preacher, a therapist or a policemen: if others are learning their life lessons from you, you need to understand that the influence you exude is the energy generated by your thoughts, your beliefs, your attitudes and emotions. These are the rich soil in which your behaviors are rooted.
I believe I first became aware of this when I was a young mother. I was full of good intentions for the kind of mother I wanted to be, but repeatedly I struggled to be that kind of mom. Two major areas of struggle for me were perfectionistic criticalness and rage. I was aware enough to note the impact my negative behaviors had on my children. To this day I see the imprint of the difficult lessons they learned from me in those years. I am so thankful that I had the courage to pursue a journey of self-discovery to unravel old patterns of beliefs that kept me locked into behaviors I abhorred and prevented me from actualizing the qualities I valued. This willingness to confront my inner demons and to follow the path of the Hero’s Journey I unconsciously learned from my father. Not because he discussed it with me. But rather, because I had watched him do his own inner work.
We teach who we are.
Perhaps because of my own willingness to figure myself out and to change, it is difficult for me to observe people in positions of authority who are not doing their own inner work. It is especially difficult when their position entitles them to directly, and often significantly impact the lives of other people. Preachers who don’t practice what they preach. Therapists and social workers who tell others what to do to get their lives together while hiding behind their own dysfunctions. Lawmakers and law enforcers who don’t obey their own laws. Teachers who focus on content and rules while ignoring to model the values they demand of their students.
Whether we realize it or not, for better or worse, we teach who we are.