Kara Gordon

Returnings

A fortnightly letter to the people going at 100 miles an hour. We all have the things that keep us grounded: to-do lists, morning routines, communities, and rituals to keep us sane. But when things get tough, they often fall to the wayside. Here's a reminder to refuel.

Can I be honest with you?

I am blunt. Other words I’ve heard to describe me: tenacious, assertive, aggressive. Not that I’m incapable of delicacy or tact, but I like to think that there is a certain straight-forwardness that you get with me that people either love or hate. It’s not everyone’s cup of tea, but I’m just being myself right? You can take it or leave it.

But. I would like to direct your attention to this thread (also shown below).

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A little anecdote from my Drawing 101 class during my first semester of college: I had a wonderful teacher, Mary. One morning, we were working on a still-life in charcoal, and about 45 minutes in, she came up behind me, and told me that my perspective was wrong (it was). She pointed where, and how, and I agreed, and then I proceeded to work on my drawing.

Another 45 minutes later, she came up behind me again, shook her head, and said, “No, still wrong.” She took her hand and swiped it down the paper. (I was using vine charcoal and this came off relatively easily). “Start over.” After I stopped laughing, I started over (and got it right).

It sounds brutal right? In a way it was, and I know Mary’s made a few students cry during her tenure. But this is the kind of feedback I thrive on. It’s a lesson that all creatives need to learn at some point if they want to make it: you are not your work and your work is not precious.

Even with—perhaps even because of—the tough feedback, Mary was one of the most compassionate professors I had during my time at Wash U. She always could tell when I seemed particularly tired or stressed, and asked if I was okay and if I was getting enough sleep. She expressed concern over how much I was juggling but never as judgment. She stressed the importance of taking breaks during her class. She gave just as much praise as criticism, if not more. She always met the student where they were. Mary was able to give me the kind of feedback she gave me because I trusted her to guide me and she trusted that I would follow.

I've been thinking about this a lot lately: what makes a good teacher/mentor/boss/coach/partner is that they push you further than you think you can go, but to a place where they already know you can go. Sometimes they will underestimate you, and it’s your job to prove them wrong. Sometimes they will ask too much, and it’s their job to recognize that and apologize. But ideally, they know who you are, where you are, what you’re capable of, and when you’re capable of it. They know why it’s important that you do the thing, and how you're going to do the thing, even if they don’t share that information with you.

It’s a lot to ask of anyone, which is why we so often revert to brutal honesty or, worse, aren’t honest at all. It's easier. Compassionate honesty is difficult, especially when it feels like the person on the receiving end isn’t worth the effort. Brutal honesty is exactly that: efficient, but like burning down a forest to cut down a few dead trees.

There is a concept in yoga called satya, or truthfulness. It’s the second of five yamas, or ethical commandments that make up the first limb of yoga. Satya follows the first yamaahimsa, or non-violence. Speaking the truth, therefore, must be done with compassion and with the intention to benefit all others. One must take care to not injure others psychologically or emotionally through our words, our expressions, and our own negativity. Truthfulness, in the yogic tradition, must be compassionate in order to count.

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While I love Thumper, I want to recognize the difference between being nice and being kind. Niceness is rooted in politeness. It is not necessarily genuine, or honest. It is sterile. Kindness is rooted in love and compassion. It is rooted in the recognition that, despite our differences, we have our humanity in common.

I am not a nice person. I have rough edges, and sometimes I am lazy and resort to brutal honesty. I am working on softening those edges, delivering the truth that I believe is valuable in a way that is thoughtful and polished. I want my words to be insightful and nuanced and loving. I want them to have grace.

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What about you?

Love always,
Kara

Kara GordonComment