When my twins were little, we attracted a fair amount of attention wherever we went. It turns out, people are fascinated with twins, even when the sleep deprived parents look like they are near death. This was not a big deal when they were babies, but as soon as they were old enough to walk and talk, the parental level of alertness increased, for the people who would interact with our girls. We met some really nice people this way. However, I will never forget the eerily calm request to “back away”, coming from my husband, when he observed a strange man offering our girls candy and stroking one of our daughter’s hair, in an airport. Who would imagine that someone would be so brazen with parents so close? It could have been that we didn’t look like we had the energy for any kind of fight. Regardless, so began the conversations with our children about strangers being “the enemy.”
I have been struck lately, both as I counsel and as I live life, that those who we are familiar with are not necessarily any safer or more of a beneficiary, than those who we have never seen in our life. In fact, sometimes those who we have known or those who feel like they know us, are more dangerous to us, than those who do not. They can be dangerous because when we feel safe, we often don’t acknowledge that someone we trust could knowingly or unknowingly hurt us. As statistics prove, sexual abuse of children more often occurs between a trusted adult and child, than between strangers. This is also statistically true with home invasion. Yet, as adults we live with an expectation that those we are familiar with, those who have known us a long time and those who we interact with on a regular basis, hold more standing, and we don’t always keep our internal antenna on the alert for those who may not always have our best interest at heart. While we might not be in danger of overt abuse, we may through our negligence, get stuck in a less than productive or even hurtful dynamic. More importantly, we often hide from strangers who actually might be exactly what we need for our personal or career growth.
Most people who come for counseling have a team of people speaking into their life. Often, much of what I do in counseling, involves weeding through these voices, to unleash the client’s own voice in their life. I am honored to be the “stranger” who isn’t influenced by a shared history. As a stranger to their everyday life, I can often see dynamic that has become blurry and harmful for them. I also have a fresh view of my client, allowing them to speak and react without being burdened by the expectations that come from being in relationship a long time. I have to be very careful when my observations uncover that those they count as loved ones or trusted friends are actually not acting on their behalf. Be assured, those long time allies may not be aware that they are less than encouraging, but their words and actions, or lack thereof, might not be what my client needs for personal progress.
Having a shared history with someone can be a huge blessing and it can also, if one is not paying attention, hinder our potential for change. A shared history can cause us to revert to old habits or act with a level of maturity we bypassed long ago. It is the reason that when I am with my family, I find myself acting and being treated as the youngest, even though we are all now, just plain old. It takes purposeful awareness to be who we are in the present with people from the past.
New folks entering our life are oftentimes better able to see us through a clear lens. They aren’t as likely to replay their memory of an attitude, opinion or skill set, held in days gone by, or worse, expressed under the influence of hunger, fatigue or alcohol. They might even be willing to risk a bit more in the relationship because they are open to one’s potential, rather than working with cemented bias. When this openness is experienced, it can be exhilarating and motivating enough to break old cycles.
When I was a kid in Sunday school, I loved the story of Zachias, the height-challenged tax collector who climbed a tree to get a better glimpse of Christ as he walked by. Jesus saw Zachias with fresh eyes and called out the potential for generosity. My guess is, a man of that social stature had a few voices speaking into his life, but clearly he was yearning for more. He climbed that tree because he wanted out of his current life. We are all yearning for more, in one way or another. We might be seeking deeper relationships, a career change or simply a change in routine. We might just feel that we were created for more. Is it possible we need to climb a tree and be open to new relationships, so that we can unleash our potential?