Unity in Community: Space for the unusual.

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challenge / mentalhealth / wellbeing

“If I get to be me, I belong. If I have to be like you, I fit in.”  – Brené Brown

It’s pretty easy to absorb as true whatever are the social norms we are surrounded by. But when we do that thoughtlessly, we run the risk of discarding any experience or knowledge we feel and/or hold that lands outside of said social norms.

What we want, though, in the communities of which we are a part, aren’t people who simply“fit in” – we want people who belong – no?

And in order for people to belong, they need to be afforded the space to do so – and in order to be afforded the space, there needs to be a flexibility of its surrounding environment for the existence of shapes that hold a different form to their own.

In an individual sense, I’ve learned that it matters that we are able (and it takes courage) to put weight on what it is that we are feeling, what it is that we know- before we pre-emptively discard it as irrelevant in honour of the voices around us (which is usually the easier option).

Over my time as a counsellor (and it’s still early days), I’ve become certain there is always wisdom hidden in the quiet places – I’ve learned that a lack of noise doesn’t necessarily mean a lack of wisdom or data: it just means the volume is set to mute.

Half of what makes counselling therapeutic, is finding a relational space that will gently turn up the volume on the stories that have been overlooked amidst a context that, for whatever reason, has failed to incorporate as important into its wider narrative.

What often brings people into counselling is a sense that:

“I feel this way, but I shouldn’t.”

And this place can be pretty disheartening to both feel as a client and to observe as a counsellor – when into the room comes a fundamental sense that “it isn’t really okay to be me anymore.”

But that sense, is one that has always, always been learned in a communal context.

These sorts of conclusions aren’t ever made in isolation.

In such instances, I have witnessed the counselling room become a mysterious little haven where magic is offered the space to happen.

And the thing is – counselling isn’t about convincing a person to think differently, or about forcing unwarranted advice or change on a person.

Every good counsellor knows that: they don’t actually hold the wisdom hidden within the stories of their clients lives. It’s really just about listening well to stories, and subsequently, offering an experience of being understood – accurately.

That, I think, is what makes up a large part of what is therapeutic about counselling.

And from that place, change often DOES happen.

Go figure. It’s uncomfortably ambiguous.

To take this idea further,

I think we also need to seek to become communities that will learn to be gentle listeners of these sites of tension in a collective sense too: in the same way a heart gets sick from not being able to tune in to whatever feelings and knowledge that lays below, so too will our communities become sick from not listening to the feelings and knowledge that lay hidden, quietly, beneath whatever is loudest on the surface too – hiding God knows what else beneath what has become an unnaturally uniform in shape and tune, community of sameness.

I know from the counselling room that it does us good to be able to share what we’ve somehow learned is better to hide – but what makes it good in the counselling context particularly is how that story, no matter what it is, is received.

How our stories are received – matters.

What if, in our communities, the dominant noise is inadvertently drowning out, and consequently, shaming whatever experiences/knowledges that hold a different tune? And what is that doing to our collective sense of genuine unity?

There is a lot of cultural noise out there at the moment and to this I would question: are we fostering the kind of environment where there’s space for the other voice to be heard? Or are we, as Donald Miller quotes, “too busy scaring people from the territory we feel compelled to defend?”

I think often what each territory represents is important and that it has become loud for good reason

– but unless there is some sort of grace and space for whatever is unusual amidst our various and familiar territories, our connections with each other will only ever run surface deep, and the shame of what it is to be different, will have our communities filled with people who have conformed their shape to ‘fit,’ and in doing so – drive our hearts further apart, rather than closer together, and keep hidden beneath the surface, much of the raw material required to bring about some genuine growth, connection and unity.

I think it’s probably a messier, less safe way of going about things – but worth it, maybe?

The Author

30. Counsellor + Post Grad Theology Student + Ponderer + Writer + Do-er of hair.

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