Thinking more about Meg Wheatley and Chris Corrigan’s “Big Question“:
From Meg: How do you call yourself? How do you identify yourself? And have you chosen a name for yourself that is big enough to hold your life’s work? I have a colleague who first suggested this to me. And he said, “So many of us choose names that are too small for a whole life.” So, we call ourselves, ‘cancer survivors;’ that seems to be a very bold name, but is it big enough to hold a life? Or, ‘children of abuse.’ Or, we call ourselves ‘orphans,’ or ‘widows,’ or ‘martyrs’…. are these names big enough to hold your life?
From Chris: What is the name that is big enough to hold your life? This is a name beyond who we are and who we have been – it is a name that we tremble to live into.
This is not our job description, our given name, our title, or our position in our family or society. It is about who we really are and what we really do, something that is important to the rest of the world (after all, we have a ‘name’ so others can identify us, understand us, and connect with us — we don’t need one to describe what’s just important to us).
It’s interesting to me that we are so hesitant to name ourselves until and unless we have some kind of external acknowledgement that we have ‘earned’ that name. Calling ourselves something different from what our parents called us is considered by many self-indulgent. Many ‘professions’ prohibit you from calling yourself ‘their’ name (doctor, lawyer, etc.) unless it has been officially conferred on you after some kind of test or other initiation rite. I was hesitant to call myself a writer or author until I had actually been published. This is all unfortunate — we are cowed from naming ourselves who we know (or think) we really are without sanction. How can others expect to know who we are if we don’t declare it, if we wait for them to tell us?
This comes back, I think, to this idea of identity that pervaded this weekend’s Northern Voice conference. We have different identities within each of the communities (real and virtual) to which we belong: mother, neighbour, teacher, blogger, tweeter, committee chair, coordinator, avatar. Often these names don’t ‘talk’ to each other: each community identifies us, ‘knows’ us, only in the context of what we are called (or call ourselves) in that community. No wonder it is so difficult to move between communities, and bring others along with us, introduce them to all that we are!
What I think Meg and Chris are saying is that if we give ourselves a meta-name, a name big enough to hold all that we do, then connecting our communities and networks, bridging them, and broadening understanding between these communities, and between us as individuals, all-that-we-are, would be much easier.
What this meta-name is as well, perhaps, is a means of establishing boundaries for ourselves, telling others not only who (all) we are, but also who we are not. It’s also a way of embracing both who we ‘are’ and what we ‘do’.
William Tozier’s wonderful post last year (“I do… this“) on the virtues of being a generalist might make us think that this ‘meta-name’ would have to be so broad as to be meaningless (calling yourself “a human” comes to mind). But Meg and Chris are also urging us to describe ourselves not by the outcomes we aspire to but the activities we engage in, alone and with others, to move forward. When Patti Digh said her (and perhaps our) job is to “just help them get started”, that’s the kind of name we’re talking about. “What do you do?” “I just help people get started“. Now that’s a big name.
I write about things that help people imagine possibilities. In my blog, in my book Finding the Sweet Spot, in my novel-in-progress The Only Life We Know, in my work. That’s what I do, and will always do, that matters to others. Too long a name, perhaps, but I think that’s my ‘big enough’ name.
What’s yours? What is the name that is big enough to hold your life? What name do you tremble to live into?
Category: Being Human