Please welcome Ashley Fuchs to #BeReal.
Be Real, No Buts About It
by Ashley Fuchs, The Malleable Mom
“The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposing ideas in mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function.” – F. Scott Fitzgerald
“She’s beautiful, but she’s also incredibly intelligent.”
“She’s very religious, but she’s actually really cool.”
“He’s super successful, but he’s also a great dad.”
“We are best friends, but sometimes we get on each others nerves.”
“I love my husband, but sometimes, I like to fantasize about having sex with other people.”
These sentiments, or similar ones, are probably familiar to you. I hear them all the time; we describe someone, and then we qualify that description. For the first 40 years of my life, I didn’t think twice about hearing or using this formula to describe myself or the people around me.
After I hit mid-life, I found myself in friendship with a new mentor. In the wise words of Woody the Cowboy, “If you don’t have one, get one!” Mentors are essential for continuing to reflect and grow throughout the course of one’s life. I will always have one, and I will always strive to be one to others. This particular mentor caught me “butting” myself and asked me a question I did not expect: “Why do you think you are only the one thing or the other? You are both. You are all the things.” He repeated what I had said to him, but he amended one small word that changed the entire sentiment.
“She’s beautiful, and she’s also incredibly intelligent.”
“She’s very religious, and she’s really cool.”
“He’s super successful, and he’s a great Dad.”
“We are best friends, and sometimes we get on each others nerves.”
“I love my husband, and sometimes, I like to fantasize about having sex with other people.”
Since when did we become so myopic, that we can only fit each other and ourselves in teeny, tiny check boxes? The casualty of this behavior is that learning one new thing about a person can potentially negate every other quality they possess.
We are human. We are complex. We are multi-dimensional. We are full of ands.
I am a woman and a wife and a mother and a daughter and a friend and a feminist and a bitch and sexual and a prude and slutty and a potty mouth and kind and dignified and judgmental and tolerant and intelligent and ignorant and spiritual and Atheist and a Sunday School teacher and chronically ill and funny and rude and thoughtful and creative and lazy and pragmatic and determined and mean and strong and vulnerable.
And the list goes on and on.
Moving forward, when I encounter new experiences with the people in my world, I look at it like I am adding a puzzle piece to the complex jigsaw that tells their whole story. Just as a single piece is not indicative of the whole puzzle’s picture, a lone trait is not necessarily characteristic of the entire person. Occasionally, we should weigh certain pieces more heavily, as when a person’s list of qualities includes terms like abuser or compulsive liar. In those cases, after weighing those qualities, we might intelligently determine that those people are toxic and that we don’t wish to stay in relationship with them. Using judgment is good. But we need to make sure we are judging appropriately.
I no longer wish to surround myself with people who only think like me. When that happens, we stop growing; there is no cultural breach. If we think that being tolerant to other people means only befriending people from other races, sexualities or countries, we’re fooling ourselves. It means opening up our minds and hearts to the people in our own backyard who have different values than us. It means tolerating uncomfortable conversations or questions, because we are placing a higher value on dialogue and discussion than perceived differences in order to promote understanding. We are all complex beings, and I assure you, there is always a point of connection between two people if we look hard enough.
What has happened to dialogue? We have been given this magical gift of the Internet where we can connect with people all over the world 24/7, and all we do is clump up with like-minded people, unfriend, block, and then pat ourselves on the back for this behavior, because we are staying “true to our values.” I observe way more conversation-stopping behavior, word shaming, insults and “political circle-jerking” than any attempts to thoughtfully discuss issues with people who have a different point of view.
Why? What is so scary about asking questions? If we could see a person for all of their ands, (father and business owner and son and friend and Conservative/Liberal and funny and sad and generous and introverted and whimsical) then maybe we would think twice about dismissing a comment that conflicts with our own belief system. We would want to ask this complex person what it is about this perspective that appeals to them. Once I began doing this, my world opened up in ways I couldn’t have imagined before, and I met truly incredible people with whom I probably wouldn’t have associated otherwise.
When we can be real with each other, with no buts about it, then one aspect of a person’s personality or actions will not shut off all of their accomplishments like a light switch. The more I embrace all of the ands about the people around me, the less judgmental I have become, the more interested I am in staying in relationship with others—even when we disagree on certain points—and the more quickly I have been able to move into forgiveness when momentary hurts arise.
I have also learned to extend that grace to myself. I am not one action, one characteristic, one mistake—I am a dynamic and interesting person full of conflicting and competing traits. It is the opposition of conflicting traits within me that make up the uniqueness of me – the REAL me. And the people who I hold the closest are the ones who know that.
Ashley is an award-winning health activist and humor blogger, and was named WEGO Health Network’s Rookie of the Year in 2015. She is a hyper-flexible mother of two bouncing (literally) kids, as they have all been diagnosed with Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome. A lack of collagen has left them the world’s worst superheroes (but don’t tell them that). She writes about the wacky things that their syndrome has taught her family with a dash of wisdom and a shot of vodka at The Incredible Adventures of Malleable Mom (www.themalleablemom.com). Her work is published in the NY Times bestseller I Just Want to be Perfect. You can find her online at Scary Mommy, Club Mid, The Bangor Daily News, I Just Want to Pee Alone, Mamapedia, and BLUNTmoms, and she was in the 2015 DC cast of Listen to Your Mother. Follow her on Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest.