by Miriam Hall
I am thrilled to host my dear friend, colleague, and companion in practice, Miriam Hall. Miriam is a long-time practitioner and teacher of contemplative writing and Miksang photography. Her message to take credit for our moments of brilliance resonates deeply with the Creative Mix message for women to stand up in their lives and their work. Please shower her with internet love in the comments section of the blog.
I am often in situations where students reflect back to one another their experience of each other’s work. Usually it’s writing, and most often the kind of feedback that points to powerful or touching content or form. The most common response people give to positive comments, even when well-moderated or presented in a non-excessive way, is to downplay it. This is especially true when writing reveals moments of clear wisdom, when as Natalie Goldberg notes, our writing mind shoots light years ahead of our daily mind. When this happens, it can reveal incredible wisdom we already carry but can’t seem to catch up to without a pen in hand.
This is also true when someone spontaneously creates a beautiful passage of poetry, that they will insist it wasn’t that good. And when it comes to insights, which arise out of muck like lotuses, excuses bubble up in response, usually along the lines of, “I don’t actually understand what I just wrote, I just wrote it…”
Recently I was in a group when a friend had a moment of strong insight. Speaking aloud to a dozen of us, she spontaneously realized that though she wishes she could go back to change what’s happened in the last month, she cannot. All she has is now and she needs to be present for that. As insights go, this is the kind of thing we read in magazines or books a lot nowadays. However, it was important that it wasn’t something she read in a book. It was a truth she felt deeply and sincerely in that moment. As listeners in a shared situation, we felt it, too. It was palpable.
Someone thanked her for the insight, noting how real and wise it was, and we all nodded in agreement. I knew what was coming before she opened her mouth. “I am not normally so clear about this, though,” she said.
I am a fierce defender of taking credit, which I’ve learned from years of my own work, as well as the Creative Behavior teachings of Juanita and Eugene Sagan. I said to my friend: “We know that, sweetie. This was a glimpse of wisdom you had. But you can take credit for this moment. That’s how wisdom happens – it comes and goes.” She smiled and agreed.
I posted this on Facebook afterwards:
Just for today, just this once, or next time it happens, take credit when someone praises you. We all know you aren’t perfect, we don’t think you are brilliant all the time. But for now, in this moment, you are. Say thank you. Feel it.
In case you are worried that taking credit for something will make you seem arrogant or worse, make you actually arrogant, I have a newsflash. Just being aware of that possibility makes it likely that you aren’t arrogant.
Fear of pride or arrogance are not the only reasons we don’t take credit. There are as many reasons as there are people on the planet. Humility has its place – I am certainly not insisting that we take credit when it isn’t due, or in lieu of giving it to the person who actually deserves it. However, most of us default to turning it down dismissing it, downplaying it, or ignoring it.
Most of us don’t see rejecting credit as a defense mechanism, but it is.
If we turn praise down, others can’t hold something over us. Most of us don’t even notice we do it. However, when we start turning our awareness towards our own rejections and others’, we notice it happening all the time. Tell a cashier you like her blouse? She’ll shake her head and puff out, “This old thing?” Mention to your mom that you had fried chicken last week but it didn’t measure up to hers, and she’ll rebuke: “I just got that recipe from a magazine ages ago.” A friend tells you she really likes the vase you got her for her birthday? You reply: “It was nothing.”
Like most things, once you start to notice this habit, it’s painfully pervasive. Personally, I’d rather be aware and try to advocate for something else than ignore it all together.
When we don’t take credit for what we do, we are left with a feeling that we cannot do enough. This is unsustainable. It is also ungenerous to the giver. They want to give you a gift and now you have turned it down. In any other situation this would be considered rude.
Try noticing this trend in our society. How does it feel to dismiss someone’s compliment towards you? Once you catch yourself, you can change how you respond. What happens when you say, “Thanks.” Does it shift how you feel? Does it change the other person’s interaction with you in any way? Then take it a step further and say, “I actually tried very hard at this and I appreciate your noticing,” or “This is my favorite skirt, too.”
And the ultimate challenge: kindly encouraging your friends and colleagues to take credit, too. The next time someone turns down a compliment or praise from you, notice how that makes you feel. If you can, encourage them to say, “Thank you,” instead.
How are you not taking credit? Are there habitual ways you deny or discredit compliments? Gently turn your attention toward this phenomenon and be curious about how you could shift it.
Miriam Hall is an internationally-renowned contemplative arts teacher. She presents Miksang photography, contemplative writing and Shambhala Arts in North America, France and the UK. You can find her online at her website: www.herspiral.com and blogs: inside space and www.memoirmind.blogspot.com. Her latest book, Looking and Seeing, is available at www.miksangwayofseeing.com.