I have committed to bringing what I refer to as more Hermetic energy into my life. Hermes was the messenger, able to deliver communiqué from the gods to humans as well as information from mortals to the Divine. We can utilize this divine messenger as a metaphor. The spirit of Hermes lives as we allow for the flow of information to travel from our hearts to our minds and back again. I have wondered if I would be able to translate abstract concepts into embodied thoughts, ideas that could be emotionally felt and ease into action. The test of my ability to decipher abstract considerations in such a manner came in response to the curiosity of Faith, my 12-year-old granddaughter.
Faith, who possesses a large brain and a larger heart, has an immense interest in friendship. Periodically we take to our Hot Tub where we pursue and explore human relations. The following conversations between a grandfather with a strong philosophical proclivity and a granddaughter with a vast sense of wonder, attempt to unearth what supports relationships that really matter to us.
“Faith, shall we talk more about friendship,” I ask, anticipating a strong endorsement for such a dialogue.
“Yes, let’s talk about friendship. Where should we begin?” Faith asked, eager to hear me offer some question that might ignite her pondering, adding to her ability to be a good friend, which is currently her favorite pastime.
“Well, as a good friend, are you mostly focused on the feelings and needs of your friend or on your own?” I asked, wondering how much acculturation had already influenced her understanding of authentic friendship.
After several moments of deliberation, she offered, “I would say that I mostly want to be thinking about my friend’s needs,” she suggested, tilting her head slightly to the right, squinting her eyes as if wondering if her response might be a bit too appropriate.
“Let’s start by recalling what happens before takeoff when the airline attendant explains what to do with the oxygen mask if the cabin pressure drops. Do you remember their instruction?”
“ I remember that they mention something about an oxygen mask, but I don’t remember what they say about it,” Faith explains.
“They instruct the passengers to place the mask on themselves first and then help a traveling companion or someone sitting nearby” I point out, fairly convinced she would understand the benefit of such instruction.
“The flight attendant is saying that because if we put the oxygen mask on first, we can be more helpful to others,” notes Faith, following an introverted pause that resembles a car ignition readying the full employment of all cylinders.
“Sure, if we attempted to get the mask on another person first, without securing oxygen for ourselves, we might not effectively support either person. What if we squeeze this airline story as a metaphor?” I ask, knowing that she understands the use of metaphor.
Again, the introversion is palpable. “ It means that whatever we are doing, we need to start with ourselves, if we’re going to be really helpful!” she exclaims, with her arms flapping out of the water and her jaw tightening.
“Yes, yes! It’s like making sure we have enough gas in the tank to get us where we want to go and do what we want to do,” I add.
“Grandpa, I don’t live this way!” she exclaims, with her large brown eyes getting larger.
“Most people don’t. And they don’t because somebody probably told them that good people remember their friends and forget about themselves. Anyway, you have plenty of time to learn the new way and get good at it.”
“Since somebody needs to be responsible for my tank, it might as well be me. Isn’t that kind of a gift to my friends?” she wonders.
“Absolutely! That’s a great gift to your friends,” I confirm.
“Grandpa, nobody uses a flight attendant’s instruction as a way to live!” she points out, not withholding her praise for my insight.
“Well, I’m sure some people do,” I respond, feeling some reserve in regard to receiving the strength of her admiration.
“Oh no, Grandpa, nobody does that,” insisting that I hear the fullness of her commendation.
“Okay, okay, I hear you. But I’m betting that you will do it. In fact, because you understand it so well, you’re already doing it,” I suggest.
“We’re not talking about staying focused only on myself, right?” she asks, eagerly wanting my agreement with her understanding.
“That’s right. We’re talking about the starting point being ourselves and then moving our focus to others. Of course, in real life we’re not checking to see if we have enough oxygen, then what are we checking for as we focus on ourselves?” I ask.
“Wow! It could be a lot of different stuff, like am I feeling okay helping this person? Or, am I feeling too tired, or maybe just having a bad day. Maybe, I’m not feeling too good about myself, like those days when I’m not sure anybody really likes me,” she continued to wonder out loud.
“You’ve got it. It’s about getting clear about how full or empty is your tank. How much do you have to give right now and how much do you want to give are important questions,” I suggest.
“Are you saying that if my tank is full, then I can still ask if I want to give something?” she asks, eyes squinting accompanied by a tone of disbelief.
“Absolutely! Giving is about being both able and willing. Being able to give is the first
question, and being willing to give is the second consideration,” I point out.
“I don’t get it. If I’m completely able to give, why would I not be willing?” she asks, with the largeness of her heart unable to give any credence to being able but not willing to give.
“Well, the person may not be able or willing to receive what you have to offer. Let’s return to the airline example. If your oxygen mask is in place and you turn to help someone with a mask, and they fight and resist you efforts, then you might turn to someone who is ready to receive your help,” I explain.
“That sounds a little like my friend Julie who is always asking for my advice and after I give it, she tells me it’s bad advice,” offering an example, and not withholding her frustration.
“Yes, that may be a good example of your being able to support Julie in the future, but you might become unwilling because of her resistance to accept your support.”
“What do you think of advice? I don’t really like getting it,” she points out, squishing her nose.
“I’m hearing that you don’t appreciate it much. What turns you off about it?” I ask.
“I don’t know. It’s like the answer to my problem is coming from someone else. I mean it might be a good idea, but it isn’t my idea. I like it better when it comes from me,” she says, looking to me for some response.
“I like your thinking. There was a man who lived long ago who believed that we had lots of answers inside of us. Do you know what a midwife is?” I asked, before going on.
“Yes, it’s someone who helps deliver babies.”
“That’s right. Well, this guy who lived long ago, whose name was Socrates, called himself a midwife of the soul. That meant that he believed that the truth any of us are looking for is in us, waiting to be delivered. And he would ask questions, helping to deliver it,” I explain.
“Sounds like that guy didn’t like advice!”
“No, he wasn’t into advice. However, advice isn’t always bad. Sometimes, advice we’re given might get us thinking in a particular direction. It might help us to create a solution that really feels like our own. Did anything like that ever happen for you?” I ask.
“Well, kind of. Remember when the boys bullied me on the bus about the stickers I place on my cheeks? I got off the bus and was crying at the kitchen table and my father came in and talked to me about what happened. He had some good suggestions about how to handle it, but I wanted to think about it more and see if I could figure out what was the best approach for me.”
“Tell me again how you handled that one.”
“My stickers represent something that is important for me, like friendship, dance or something I’m just feeling. I took a bunch of stickers to school and brought one to almost everyone in my class. So, if someone were a good athlete, I would offer them a sticker representing their athletic ability and see if the person might want to wear it on their cheeks. I did that with the best math student, the one who helps other people a lot, the one who get the highest grades, and the one who is really funny. I think I handed out around twenty. The boys who bullied me stopped,” she detailed her strategy, with a smile of satisfaction.
“Faith, Socrates would be proud of you. You found advice inside of you and it sounds like it really worked out well,” I affirmed.
“I can ignore advice when it’s being given to me. But, what do I do when someone wants advice from me? I don’t want them to think I don’t care because I don’t give them advice, “ she pondered.
“Do you want a suggestion that borders on advice?” I ask, with the both of us bursting out into laughter.
“Sometimes, advice can be given in the form of a story involving the problem that the person is wrestling with. For example, if someone comes to you about feeling bullied, you could tell your sticker story. They would not necessarily have to pass out stickers, but they might create interpretations of the story that might offer some solution,” I explain.
“Wow, I see how the story doesn’t necessarily tell them what to do, but offers them a chance to create their own approach to the problem. What about something more simple to say when someone wants advice from me? Can you give me another suggestion that isn’t really advice,” Faith petitions, with a laugh.
“Okay, a response I like when I’m not getting caught up in having nifty answers for someone is: “That sounds really challenging. Tell me more.””
“I really like that. If someone said that to me, I would feel like they really cared without giving me advice,” she responded, with a look of satisfaction.
“I think it’s time for popcorn and a movie,” I recommend.