Sunday, 13 May 2018

Accepting the praise when you know it's not enough ...

I have been wrestling with this particular post for quite some time. I'm still not convinced it quite says what I want it to, but I'm not sure I am going to be able to articulate it any more clearly so sometimes you just have to click publish and hope it makes some kind of sense.

It originally grew out of a conversation about our Hope Projects house: a conversation with someone who wanted to thank and affirm us for what we had chosen to do; and yet one which left me feeling strangely deflated and tearful. Admittedly, it came at the end of a long, intense and exhausting day, and I know I was tired. I was also anxious about and frustrated by a number of stories I had recently heard or been involved in, and in which I felt powerless to make a difference but with the nagging sense that there ought to be more I could do.

And so all I could think, as the conversation drew to a close, was "yes, maybe, but it isn't enough." I know I still live in luxury compared to the many asylum seekers and refugees I know, let alone those who have been refused the right to remain by our flawed immigration system. I know I have access to a multitude of opportunities which I can so easily take for granted. I know I remain one of the privileged few.

But as I started trying to write something, I realised I wanted this post to be about more than just that one conversation and my response to it.

I think initially I wanted it to say something about how, perhaps because we have deliberately stayed at arms length from the management of it and it doesn't feel like it impacts significantly on our daily life or that it has involved making any major sacrifices, the Hope Projects house doesn't feel like a "big deal", doesn't necessarily feel worthy of the recognition and praise we have received. I guess I wanted it to reflect the challenge of judging our own or others actions and their 'worthiness' and the struggle of receiving praise which doesn't feel fully deserved.

Then I wanted it to say something about how we deal with the reality that there is and always will be more to be done, and how we deal with knowing we can never do enough. How we hold in tension the uneasy balance of knowing our limits and not trying to go beyond them, but being willing to allow them to stretch to encompass that next thing which we can and maybe even should do. How we avoid both the paralysis of thinking we can't do anything (or anything more), and the exhaustion of feeling we have to do everything (or everything else).

But I also wanted it to say something about the value of affirmation, and about how we respond to it, whether we feel it to be deserved or otherwise. I recognise that affirmation is important: I have seen the damage it can do to feel undervalued, particularly for things which cost great personal effort. Genuine, heartfelt praise, offered in good faith by someone who really means it, (whether or not we agree with their assessment of how deserved it is) is something worth treasuring, and learning to accept it in good grace is something I am working on.

And maybe I even wanted it to say something about how these last two interplay:  Because while perhaps they are two very separate things, perhaps they are not. Perhaps it is the affirmation, the love, which stretches the boundaries. Perhaps our genuine experiences of affirmation and love can help us sit more comfortably in that uncomfortable space between what we can do and what we can't, and draw us draw us onwards to take that next step towards being the best version of ourselves we can possibly be.

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