When I was in high school, I turned in the draft of a paper for some assignment or other. The teacher used one word repeatedly – written in blood-red ballpoint ink – “Citation?”
I asked her what she meant and she said, “You need to cite where you got these ideas, Michele.” To which I replied, “They’re my own ideas.”
She looked at me glaringly and said, “You’re not supposed to have ideas.”
As if every scholar who’s come down the pike for the last twenty-four hundred years is merely riffing on Plato.
If my memory is correct, I went ahead and gave the teacher what she wanted but have stubbornly and subversively continued to have my own ideas.
And it’s funny. I see this “you’re not supposed to have ideas” idea play out today in a million different ways.
On Facebook, for instance, there are scads of people who endlessly post inspiring quotes by famous people but nary a peep of their own thoughts. Now, I love me an inspirational quote as much as the next gal, but why do we invest the wisdom of Snoop Dog, er, I mean, Snoop Lion, with more meaning than something from our own heart?
This happens in real life, too, when the CEO is surrounded by Yes-men and Yes-women who play Whac-A-Mole with their peers only to produce banal, safe ideas which never move the dial or solve the real problem.
Oh, I understand the reluctance to speak up and say something. It’s hard to claim your own knowing. Especially for those of us who worry what other people will think – what if we say something that’s wrong? Or stupid? Or shows our innate lack of any intelligence, experience or capability? What if they find out we’re really an impostor and don’t know what the hell we’re doing?
So we keep our heads down, our mouths shut and post other people’s words.
You know exactly what I’m talking about.
Yet, over time, it gets harder and harder to be a blank slate. In Malcolm Gladwell’s terrific book Blink (hey, I just made a citation!), he suggests that based on sheer dint of having lived, you have expertise. And your knowledge and insight and instinct are almost always correct.
But owning our innate smarts and the viewpoint our own life has afforded… well, that is pretty hard to do. Maybe it smacks of arrogance, or is – using a phrase we threw around in high school – conceited to say, “Hey, I know this.”
Tell you what, though – that’s precisely what I want my brain surgeon to say someday when he opens up my noggin during surgery: “Hey, I really know this.” That’s my kind of doc.
Yes, it takes bravery and belief in one’s own competence to say what you think. But it also takes the willingness to be vulnerable and open. Because knowing that what you’re offering is merely your perspective – standing in that place of claiming while at the same time recognizing someone else’s equal and valid right to share their own perspective, and then taking that information onboard and deciding which of it is true for you… that takes courage.
In her book (another citation!) Daring Greatly, writer Brene Brown talks about the courage it takes to live wholeheartedly and vulnerably while at the same time taking the risk to allow yourself to be known for who you are, warts and all. Brown says that it’s only by doing so that you can be fully yourself, and be fully loved in return.
And we all want to be loved, don’t we?
So, let me leave you with the universal truth Miley Cyrus shares in the neo-classic, existential anthem (see, Teacher? I can write citations) “We Can’t Stop”:
“To my home girls here with the big butts
Shaking it like we at a strip club
Remember only God can judge ya
Forget the haters
Cause somebody loves ya.”
I couldn’t have said it better myself.