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A YEAR'S THOUGHT

As 2021 is coming to an end, Beau Lotto asks: Other than oneself, to whom can we look for mentorship in 2022?

There are three people I’ve met who I feel live with true self-honesty, creativity and love within the context of challenge. One was Dr. Patricia Gaspar, neurologist turned-neuroscientist 20 years my senior who I worked with in Paris many years ago. Her breadth and solidity of self was remarkable. It enabled her to find real value in friendship with people who were completely different from her from 16 to 88 years old in a way that was empathic without fear. She could be at a 16 year old’s birthday party as a (real) friend despite the vast difference in life-experience between them, as well as have a cup of tea with an 88 year old (real) friend on an equal footing. Patricia was wisdom and not some pretence exploration in the guise of intellectualism

Another was Duane Michals. Duane is one of the world’s leading photographers. At 88 years old, he finds true beauty in the most challenging questions of life. Not as egoism masquerading as ‘personal self-growth’ …. nor as a facade of cynical intellectualism (after all, who cannot find negativity - that’s easy) … nor as a backhanded compliment to himself in the guise of overcoming one’s historical struggles - but beauty in of itself for the sake of itself. He honestly struggles deeply with deep questions and finds humility on the other side.

The third was Her Excellency Noura bint Mohammed Al Kaabi the Minister of Culture for the UAE. A modest yet powerful woman in a world of challenge for a person who is creating change. We had wonderful - though brief - conversations. In those moments I experienced one of the most open woman/people I’ve met. Formally educated in many places - including America, she wore a traditional headscarf. Not as a symbol of religion as such. But as an act of humility (a quality that is often lacking in my experience of the world - including too often my own experience of myself - which I believe is the engine of true creativity and openness). Her openness transcended her own values for herself. I felt she’d be as comfortable with a topless woman on a beach in Italy as she would be with a woman in a full burka. Her range of respect of other and difference transcended her personal and cultural biases and assumptions.

For me all three embody grace, at least my feeling of it (for which I’ve no words … which when in rare instances I experience it in myself I find OKness in myself). Grace is a rare commodity - especially in times of hurt, sadness or anger (easy to have grace on a sunny day - most of us can do that!). Most of us require others to be a type (but don’t want to see ourselves as a type or be typed … though we so often type ourselves and become caricatures of those types that were rewarded or punished when young). Each of them seems to see past the superficial facades we all put up. Each seems to find beauty and struggle in each person (without losing criticality) … with judgement since we all judge (necessarily so), but with the wisdom that their own judgements reveal their own barrier to true love in action.

Grace is in each of us. Maybe a cliche … but if it’s true who the fuck cares. Another cliche is that I believe we’re all trying to be graceful. All trying to do well. All thinking we are “in service of others” … when in reality we’re all in service of ourselves. That is not a negative statement. Just a true one. We are in service of our need to feel like we ‘exist’ and have ‘value’ in our brief existence. Maybe true grace is in living with that knowledge, and applying that with self-honesty in action, since the worst things throughout history (and in interpersonal-relationships) were (and are) done “in service” of another. How many times have you heard just after being criticised: “This is for your benefit … I’m just being honest”. What would happen if we acknowledged that the critique is about and for oneself? What if one of the deep ironies of life is that in acknowledging the self-centredness of life where the possibility for true kindness begins?

Recently the Lab of Misfits conducted what we call the ‘Looking Back’ experiment. Each person was asked to imagine being on their deathbed looking back at their life. What is it that they wanted to see? The majority of people said ‘Meaningful’ (you can take part in the experiment and find the results by clicking ‘Looking Back’ above).

Maybe the question we could ask in 2022 is this: “What is it in my actions, which I consciously tell myself are ‘for others’ but in reality are unconsciously for myself, that enable me to feel that I exist and have meaning in my existences?” If you don’t like what you see in that moment of self-honesty, then maybe ask a second question: “Are my words, intentions and actions aligned?“. If not, then a third question is also suggested: “How might I act differently towards others to feel that I exist and have meaning in myself that adds to life rather than consumes it?”

 

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