It’s Sikh heritage month and I saw a post on facebook about the story of our Minister of National Defense, Harjit Sajjan. When he was younger he was friends with a gangster and subsequently turned his life around, became baptized, joined the Vancouver Police department and then served in the Canadian Forces (1). It was inspiring to read about the work he has done. It also made me think about the image of perfection, and what we expect from other people. Maybe some people would label his past as a skeleton in his closet, but he is quite open about how it has actually shaped him. Without his background from when he was younger, maybe he would not be as passionate today about speaking to youth about staying away from gang life.
There’s a lot of effort that we spent towards building the perfect image and reputation. A large part of that goes into not appearing to have any difficulties and coasting easily through life. Somehow you have to be successful without the hardship. I think it is unrealistic for us to put people on pedestals and not expect them to make mistakes. It is unrealistic to expect people not to have weaknesses, and insecurities. It’s simply being human.
When we look past “perfect” and actually get to know people, their stories are amazing. I think in this sense of striving to look perfect, we lose real opportunities to connect with people and we lose authenticity. Yesterday I had this really great conversation with a pharmacist and we were talking about the culture of medicine. I’ve talked about medicine many times with colleagues but it usually ends up with people just piling on complaints and it’s a negative space. Instead, he listened, then asked questions and really tried to understand what it was like in my shoes, and shared his own experiences about his training. Instead of being a list of complaints, this was a meaningful conversation about how our experiences shape us, how we learn from what doesn’t work and how we change things for the future. I think the key to that whole conversation was that instead of pretending his job was perfect and he enjoyed every minute of his training, he was honest, and I did the same. We can accomplish something far more important when we actually just relate our experiences. After all, isolation and feeling like you are alone in your experiences is quite possibly one of the worst things we can do to a person and connection does the opposite of that. I think in general, the people in our life that don’t judge us when we are honest about our struggles and mistakes, and that support us in our growth and learning are the ones to keep close. In order to do that of course, we have to be willing to let go of our desired image. It’s different when you say “of course I understand Gurbani” and you don’t, versus saying “I have a hard time understanding Gurbani” and working on it together. I know I’d much rather be in the second situation of having that opportunity to work on it rather than just pretending but we have to be willing to actually be seen. I’ve learned the hard way that not everyone has the ability to learn to put themselves in your shoes, or relate, and some people simply don’t even care, but every once we meet someone who reminds us of how important it is to let go of showing people what we think we are supposed to be, and be willing to share and be seen for who we are. In each interaction we also have the opportunity to also sit as the listener, let go of judgement, and place ourselves in someone else's shoes and try to understand and relate our own experiences as well.