Sunday, May 27, 2012

In Defense of
Occasional Worry

Bobby McFerrin's catchy 1988 song notwithstanding, sometimes it's downright difficult to "Don't Worry, Be Happy". But I would argue that you're probably in much better shape if you can occasionally "Be Happy Because You Can Still Worry". Of course, as Desi would intone to Lucy, I "have some es-plainin' to do".

Years ago, John Bradshaw made an important and helpful distinction between "healthy shame" and "toxic shame". Sometimes when you do (or fail to do) something that hurts others or even yourself, the ability and willingness to allow for healthy shame is actually productive. Sometimes it might do us a bit of good to feel bad about something, maybe bad enough to do something different if there's a next time. Whereas toxic shame is, as advertised, freaking toxic. Some of the loveliest people drawing breath are too locked up to know just how wonderful they truly are … or can be. Whenever I'm able to affirm and encourage someone whose mirror is broken, my heart beats a little faster.

If you have a functioning sense of right and wrong and instinctively, sometimes-involuntarily troubleshoot, congratulations! You've just signed up for the greater burden of humanity. You see something that needs fixing, you sleeplessly stare at the ceiling, you're faced with a heavily armed brigade of "we're all in our places with sun-shiny faces" see-no-evils and you think, "Man, I wish I could bliss out with those guys." 

On top of that, the people who throw litter out the window, are turn-signal phobic, lie with a straight face, etc., these folks sleep the deep sleep of the clueless. Not knowing any better or not caring is a luxury they can afford.  Sometimes I worry, sometimes I'm troubled. I try not to inflict this on others in unhelpful ways, but I expect those who love me enough to be close to me on a regular basis might have a less highfalutin' characterization of my worrisome behavior.

Over a lifetime, the late Dr. Paul Brand worked with lepers and co-authored a book called The Gift of Pain. He found that many of the degenerative symptoms of leprosy were caused, at the root, by a lack of feeling, by numbness. Now I'm certainly no fan of pain, especially the self-inflicted variety. If I have a choice between the character-building properties of pain and not having pain in the first place, I'm a coward every day of the week. But feeling pain (and circling back around to the issue of "worry") is a necessity. With apologies to Dr. Bradshaw for the thought-theft, maybe we can helpfully distinguish between "toxic worry" and "healthy worry" … and give ourselves and others the room to occasionally wrestle with things outside the lockstep of the Sunshine Patrol.  

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Growth begins with a contrite heart ~ thanks for sharing.