For most of my 50 years, I have made my life an open book. As a student of rhetoric, psychology, and literature, I have great faith in the market place of ideas. Making my life a topic of conversation allows me to draw on others’ strengths. People often lack the ability to temper themselves—which I first noted all too vividly as a child. I hoped that I might overcome the problem of personal bias by seeking feedback. As a general rule, I see life as a collaborative act.
Lately, I have come to question my “C’mon over!” policy. Should I really open my heart to all the sisters in my ward, to every blood relative no matter how many times removed, to my co-workers, to my hair dresser, yoga teacher, and bank teller? Over the last year, I have received harsh criticism from several people. Because I have allowed crowds of people into my inner chambers for decades, I finally suffered some major vandalism at the very core of my being. Now I understand the value of being selective.
This spring, I was working out on the arc rider at the YMCA, trying to find a path into a new psychological space. I thought of the architecture of the temples. In an effort to formulate my new stance and to explain it to others, I seized upon the following analogy. I could see myself as a building that should allow fewer and fewer people into the inner chambers. Although not a perfect analogy because of its ancient sexism and tribalism, I find the layout for Herod’s Temple serves as an image that helps me create new boundaries. That building had a series of courtyards, allowing certain sets of people to move closer and closer to the inner most chambers. As people moved from the court of the Gentiles, to the court of the women, to the court of priest, and finally to the Holy of Holies itself, fewer people qualified for admission.
I am sad to observe this, but many people will use others to bolster their own vanities and to address their own insecurities. I have mistreated people in this way, too, failing to act appropriately when given the privilege of walking on holy ground. Now it’s time for me to show greater tenderness towards others when they allow me access into the quiet corners of their being. And now it’s time for me to be a gatekeeper. At half a century old, it’s time to make more judgments about myself instead of surrendering this task to others—so very many others. I realize that some may feel hurt by being moved to one of the outer chambers. My purpose is not to injure others, but to protect myself. I need the space to repair the vandalism at my core, a small space only for me to confer with God, my architect.
If the temple analogy is too archaic (and a bit self-aggrandizing, I’ll concede), perhaps changing the image to a modern home will communicate my ideal. I hope to be a charming hostess to all when I call “C’mon over!” I may have merely invited another—metaphorically speaking–to a BBQ in the backyard or to a book club discussion in the living room. No longer will I host a parade of people into my guest rooms for a weekend get-away. Even fewer will enter the master bedroom for a heart-to-heart while I’m on my sick bed. Even if someone just shows up on the porch for Halloween candy and never gets a full tour of my heart, mind and soul, I still hope to communicate love, respect and affection.
By this point, some Segullah readers may have realized that this post takes an alternate position from Jessie’s post that appeared yesterday. I don’t mean to invalidate her position on integrity. I sketched out this idea weeks ago, so when I got up on Friday and saw her topic, I jumped out of my desk chair and considered scrapping my post. I agree with her: we should display integrity by being unafraid to present our true selves to others. I think there is value in both arguments. Maybe the synthesizing concept rests in the source of validation: Yes, I can share who I am, but I should not grant others the power to validate/invalidate me. That’s too tenuous.
Like most topics discussed here, there is a need for striking a balance and for making a judgment. However, essays that fail to take a firm, distinct position are often not very interesting to read. In this moment, I am extolling the virtues of personal boundaries. But declaring is different than doing. As a lifelong extrovert, I’m gonna need some practice. So don’t be surprised if my next blog brings you all into on a grand tour of secret passages and locked rooms.
Do you alternate between an open door policy and a closed door policy? Or do you have a clear preference? Have you been able to rebound from a betrayal? Have you mishandled someone else’s trust after gaining access to their private emotional quarters? How do you manage the emotional risks inherent in human relationships?