This is the next essay in the series on Marie Howe's poem: Magdalene– The Seven Devils. Today we are going to explore how we fence ourselves off from others.
We set ourselves apart from others by saying, as Marie Howe states:
I am different from you: whatever happened to you could not happen to me, not like that.
Or, we can turn it around and make ourselves victims by saying: whatever happened to me, could not happen to you, and you don’t understand– because no one suffers like me.
One way we separate ourselves from others is reflected in a recent interview with our Supreme Court Justice, Sonia Sotomayor. She was talking to students at Georgetown Universtiy. She said one of the most frequent questions she is asked is:
What is the biggest obstacle to moving forward?
And without much pause she said: fear of embarrassment. Think about that– a supreme court justice saying our biggest stumbling block is being afraid of how we look to others! How do we overcome this? By not setting ourselves apart. But instead, we overcome alienation by reaching out to others– and being willing to experience the vulnerability of asking for help, of saying I don't know, of looking foolish.
If, on the other hand, we compare ourselves to others by making ourselves superior or inferior, by praising or criticizing, we lose our own voice. Our voice cannot be heard in a sea of comparison. Listening to and developing our voice, our own particular work, is not about the external effort of becoming more or less like someone else. What is needed is the listening inward required for becoming more and more ourselves. And on a deep level, there is nothing that happens to someone else that could not happen to me.
A fresh perspective that is not based in comparison is helpful when the devil of this voice says things like:
Oh, I am too old, don't have enough talent, enough money, etc.– I could never do that!
or: That will never happen to me!