We were sitting around the kitchen table eating dinner earlier this month.
Josh looked at my husband Darryl.
“Dad, did you know that Mom’s tribe stole your land?”
Without missing a beat, Darryl said “Why yes, son, I did.”
I tried not to spit out my food.
Such discussions are not uncommon around our household, especially in the month of November as schools prepare for the Thanksgiving holiday. Josh has asked me:
- Mom, are you a pilgrim?
- Who won the pilgram war?
- Why did the pilgrams take our land after we taught them how to plant food?
As you can imagine in our mixed Anglo/Diné (Navajo) household, there are very few clear-cut answers. Instead of giving short, simple answers for our kids, we like to discuss the gray areas. This approach leads to very deep topics like “why is there war?” “what is genocide?” and “if I am both you and Dad, what am I?”
We firmly take an AND stance. You are Anglo AND Diné. Humans do terrible things to each other AND have the capacity for unconditional love. You have total soverignty over your own life AND you must pick up your pajamas and put them away in the morning.
This philosophy spills over to every part of my life.
One of my clients has political views that are the polar opposite of mine. If we were both into drama, we would stand on two sides of the street, waving signs at each other, along with a stream of blanket insults like “liberal hippie” and “conservative jerk.” Instead, we have really interesting conversations. We talk about our lives, and our kids. We discuss what it means to come out of the closet with political views, knowing that will alienate some of our audience, but possibly bring others closer. In this gray area, we listen without judgement. If we were in the same room with our families and a fire broke out, each of us would be prepared to lay down our lives for each other. I can care deeply about him as a person, work with him to build a business, and at the same time disagree with some of his political views. And he can appreciate my business advice, respect my work and firmly believe I am misguided in my political views.
In business, you can hold the clear intention to close more sales, and at the same time openly discuss if your potential client can actually afford to hire you. You can proudly stand behind the value of your services while not suggesting it is the only way your client can make progress. By exploring the gray areas together (“Will you make your money back from this retreat? Well let’s talk about it. What do you think? Is this the best time for you to make this investment? Do you feel like we have an appropriate match of skill and chemistry to do great work together?”) you will develop openness and trust. If your thought is “let me be of service to this person,” sometimes you will both decide that working together is not a good answer. For a great example of “gray area” discussion, check out Is it possible to do financial harm to a client? on the Heart of Business Blog.
Right now, my Bonus Dad Larry is very, very ill. He has had a long struggle with a fatal illness, and all indications point to the disease finally winning. The grief I feel is very deep. I know how close he is to my Mom, and what a vital part of my family he is. And at the same time, I can feel deep joy and appreciation for all that he has brought to my Mom and my family. The laughter. The companionship. The support. Losing someone dear is all about the gray area. Grief and joy mix together in emotional ballet. It is exquisitely beautiful, while being terrifyingly painful.
Applying the gray area to the holidays
How many of you are bracing yourself for uncomfortable holiday interactions?
- Are you dreading the reaction from relatives when you tell them you are quitting your job to start a business?
- Are you practicing your wince for when your Dad asks you when you are going to return to a “real” job?
- As a single person, are you bracing for insensitive remarks from “coupled up” people about your romantic status?
To apply a little gray matter to these situations, what if you believed:
- You can love your family dearly AND wholeheartedly disagree with them.
- You can fully embrace your location independent, work in the cloud entrepreneur lifestyle, AND fully support the choice your brother made to be a corporate accountant.
- You can appreciate the fact that your sister runs marathons and fits into size 4 pants, AND that you are wholly, completely, beautiful in your size 16.
- You can be proud of the fact that you Occupied Wall Street, AND be truly interested in why your Uncle Louie thinks you are causing the downfall of Western Civilization.
- You can be devastated by the end of your marriage AND excited to create a loving holiday for your kids.
Yesterday, driving Josh to school, I asked:
“What is that thing that connects all of us, regardless of what we look like, or where we come from? What can we all celebrate on Thanksgiving?”
“That’s love, Mom,” Josh said. “It is the force of energy in all of our hearts.”
That is something I can stand behind.
I am thankful for my life, for your life, and for our friendship. Long live gray areas! And Happy Thanksgiving.