From David Whyte's "Crossing the Unknown Sea"
July 28, 2008
We've been gearing up for this year's author pow-wow. For me, that means going through all of my old notes. In doing that, I ran across this piece from last year.
We have the strange idea, unsupported by any evidence, that we are loved and admired only for our superb strength, our far-reaching powers, and our all-knowing competency. Yet in the real world, no matter how many relationships may have been initiated by strength and power, no marriage or friendship has ever been deepened by those qualities. After a short, erotic honeymoon, power and omnipotence expose their shadow underbellies and threaten real intimacy, which is based on mutual vulnerability. After the bows have been made to the brass god of power, we find in the privacy of relationship that same god suddenly immobile and inimicable to conversation. As brass gods ourselves, we wonder why we are no longer loved in the same way we were at our first appearance. Our partners have begun to find our infallibility boring and, after long months or years, to find us false, frightening, and imprisoning. We have the same strange idea in work as we do in love: that we will engender love, loyalty, and admiration of others by exhibiting a great sense of power and competency. We are surprised to find that we garner fear and respect but forgo the other, more intimate magic. Real, undying loyalty in work can never be legislated or coerced; it is based on a courageous vulnerability that invites others by our example to a frontier conversation whose outcome is yet in doubt. We have an even stranger idea: that we will finally fall in love with ourselves only when we have become the totally efficient organizational organism we have always wanted to be and left all of our bumbling ineptness behind. Yet in exactly the way we come to find love and intimacy in others through vulnerability, we come to those same qualities in ourselves through living out the awkwardness of not knowing, of not being in charge. We try to construct a life in which we will be perfect, in which we will eliminate awkwardness, pass by vulnerability, ignore ineptness, only to pass through the gate of our lives and find, strangely, that the gateway is vulnerability itself. The very place we are open to the world whether we like it or not.