The Courage to be Uncomfortable
Last night belligerence came to my front door.
At 2:30 a.m. my wife and I were awoken to what sounded like a jet engine whistling towards our house. This was followed by the sounds of tires screeching, steel scraping and glass shattering against the asphalt in front of our house. Adrenaline infused we burst out of bed called 911 and I went to check to see if the driver was ok. As I opened the front door I could see a large figure lifting himself out of his vehicle. It was an eerie scene. He limped over toward me awkwardly and I could smell sweet alcohol on his breath. It was terrifying in a primordial sense, how he so overtly flirted with death.
A month ago one of my long time patients died in a horrific car crash up in the Cascades.
There have been other such losses recently. Some dramatic and unexpected and others I saw coming.
I’ve been asking myself could I have stepped in and made a difference? For some of them I think I could have and yet something stopped me. Sometimes, I find that rather than share what may make someone feel uncomfortable I ingratiate them.
That is, I get nice, when I really want to get real — be authentic.
I’ve been working on being aware of ingratiating my whole life and it continues to be an area for me to refine. Sometimes rather than ingratiate I will distance my self from someone or a situation.
Either way I’m afraid to create discomfort. I’m afraid to hurt people’s feelings. I’m afraid of not feeling needed and loved. So I do nothing.
Ingratiating it self is not a problem. It’s when I ingratiate instead of share my truth that becomes a problem for my life and health.
As I approached the driver to check on him, He was beginning to panic as he started to grasp the implications of his actions. I instinctively comforted him by placing my arm on his shoulder, and said, “hey man it could have been a lot worse, you’re still alive”. He then asked me to help him get the rest of the beer out of his car that was perched on its side against the curb. At that moment, barefoot on the cold wet asphalt a chard of glass sliced the arch of my foot and I knew I couldn’t help him. The emergency response was on its way. I began to distance myself, making my way back to the house, towards my wife. I explained the situation to her and we watched to make sure he was ok.
The great sages of Chinese Medicine say that ingratiating is a way we lie to ourselves to make us think that what we are doing is ok, when we know deep down it’s not.
My patients and I have an agreement to be honest and respectful of one another. My job is to offer an invitation for healing, their role is to make a choice to accept or amend my offering. In the security of this agreement a lot of healing can take place rapidly. In life outside the clinic I sometimes struggle to intervene with people I care about because the rules are less clear. I may instead ingratiate or simply hold a space of neutrality.
The drunk driver forced me to look at my behavior. How belligerent and off balance does someone have to become before I step in and make an offering? It’s an important inquiry.
Life is short and precious. I’m working on being more courageous, speaking my truth not just when it’s safe, but when and where it matters most. How ‘bout you?