My eight year old daughter and I love to philosophize.
In our living room is a fish tank, containing four goldfish and two algae eating snails. I brought the snails home separately and, afraid they would be eaten by the fish, gave them names that inspire feelings of hospitality: Martin Luther Snail, and Hypatia of Alexandria. Martin Luther was the first to arrive. He was slow, non-communicative and we admired his participation in the family. Steady, consistent, meticulous, non-complaining. Everyone liked him.
Next, I brought home Hypatia. She’s a different type of snail; about the same size but with a distinct shell. Hypatia was much faster and acquired new skills as time went by. She learned how to detach herself from the top of the walls and “wing-suit” down to the bottom by spreading herself out. She also learned how to ride the bubbler from the bottom of the tank onto a fish tank structure. Sometimes she did this in rapid succession: fly down, bubble up, fly down.
We began to make up stories about the snails and became fond of them. For instance, as Hypatia became more acrobatic, Martin Luther became reclusive, and we worried he was feeling self-conscious. Then one day Martin Luther disappeared and didn’t reappear the next day or the next. We suspected the fish and looked for an empty shell. There was none. We thought maybe he was deep beneath the pebbles or had left the tank. Several days later, still no Martin Luther. “He’s either dead or hiding” I said to Ivy, as we stood in front of the tank. “No! Martin Luther can’t die,” she said. “All living things die,” I said, “It’s part of the cycle of life, death, life.”
Ivy hears this all the time, but still wonders:
Ivy: “Will you be sad if Martin Luther’s dead?”
Me: “Because I’m choosing not to be sad. Instead I’m choosing to be happy.”
Me: “Because I’m impressed at how well Martin Luther met his end.”
Ivy: “What do you mean?”
Me: “He was a snail with a deep sense of calm and humility. The end was so peaceful, quiet. I admire him. I really do.”
Ivy: “Would you be sad if I died?”
Me: “I would be terribly sad. I don’t think I could go on living.”
Ivy: “But you’re not sad about Marin Luther?”
Me: “Well, that raises a philosophical question. Do you want to philosophize?”
(We sit on the sofa)
Me: “Let’s talk about Love.”
Me: “We love Martin Luther, but does Martin Luther love us? Is he even aware of us?”
Ivy: “No. Probably not.”
Me: “So our feelings are coming just from us?”
Me: “Why do you think we love Martin Luther?”
Ivy: “I don’t know. We feel it.”
Me: “Yes we do, but why? Maybe it’s because we told ourselves stories about him and talked about him to each other. The stories made us feel love.”
Ivy: “Yes. I see what you mean.”
Me: “So the question is: Is love real or something we imagine?”
Ivy: “I don’t know. I feel it. It’s real.”
Me. “I feel it too. But is it love that’s real or the feeling of love that’s real?”
Ivy: “I don’t know.”
Me: “I don’t know either.”
Me: “Okay. What about our dog, Scout?”
Ivy: “What do you mean?”
Me: “Scout seems to love us and we love Scout, but are our feelings for Scout the same as our feelings for Marin Luther, or the fish?”
Ivy: “We can’t pet the fish and our relationships are different because we don’t actually know them. And with the snails we spent more time talking about them. Mostly Hypatia because she has more personality. And even more with Scout because we can pet them and hug them and kind of speak the same language but in a different way of communicating. We can feel that she loves us.”
Me: “So we love Scout because of stories, thoughts and ideas in our minds that we made up, and being able to hug her and communicate a little helps too. But is there anything else that makes us love?”
Ivy: “I don’t know. I sure love Scout.”
Me: “Me too…What about us? We love each other.”
Ivy: “Of course.”
Me: “Is our love something that only happened in our minds as a feeling, because we think of each other and tell ourselves stories about each other and talk with each other and hug, or is it something that exists outside of us?”
Ivy: “I don’t know.”
Me: “I’m not sure. …but I wonder if it’s a feeling we created in our minds. We gave birth to the feeling and then it became real but only inside us. But because we can hug and talk, we share the feeling of love with each other and that makes it bigger inside each of us.”
Me: “Someday you’re going to meet people who you have a lot in common with. And you’ll find yourselves saying things like ‘That’s exactly what I was thinking!’ and ‘I feel the exact same way!’ . When that happens, you’ll feel love.”
Ivy: “That’s how I feel with Caroline!”
Me: “That’s right! That’s exactly right!”
(Then, I had an insight.)
Me: “Aha! I just had an idea!”
Me: “I think the extent to which we love other people is linked to the extent we love ourselves.”
Ivy: “What does extent mean?”
Me: “How much. How much we love ourselves is connected to how much we can love other people.”
Me: “Love makes room inside us. Room for new thoughts and ideas. It makes room for other people too. If we love ourselves more, we have more room. If we love ourselves less, we have less. And how can we love ourselves more? By telling ourselves stories about ourselves and imagining our own lives as we live them. Imaginings and stories that will take care of us. If we can do that, the feeling of love will grow inside us and we’ll have more love for others.”
We felt so happy. Not just because of the talk, but because the very act of being together and exchanging ideas had drawn us closer. I didn’t think there was more room for love but there is and it fills me with optimism.
You might be wondering why I’ve written this here, in a space devoted to on-camera performance.
The answer is connected to the nature of good performance. A performance is not about one person doing something to another. It’s about opening oneself to the other.
The audience and performer are two halves of one whole. Without each other, there is no performance.
If you are closed to yourself, you’ll be closed to the audience. If you are open and loving of yourself, you will be open and loving of others.
All of us, audience and performers, are seeking the same connection and transcendence. Love is a key to getting there.
Thanks for this. It makes me think of how much it relates to my world of customer experiences. It has always occurred to me that if we can come to know and love our customers even through story, like you did with Martin Luther, that it creates a level of love we would not have found otherwise. And then, we are in a better place to create experiences and develop employees that care, and that makes a difference. Ivy is a lucky girl!
Thank you so much Monica. I agree entirely. Stories and Myths help us connect with ourselves and others. They’re a little like a torch light we can use to find our way. Lovely to think about in those terms.
Dan, this resonates for me. Example, I fell in love with my boyfriend after 15 years together. Finally, I could see him and not my stories about him. That happened after I Learned to differentiate Self from ego…. a lifelong practice.
Thank you so much Susan.
This is very sweet Dan. Monica is right. Ivy is a lucky girl. It’s inspiring to me as a dad that you would have such a lovely conversation with your daughter.
Believing that we can only love and accept others as much as we do that for ourselves is a very hopeful thought. ‘Cause it’s something we can grow. Our relationships win, and we win.
You have such a warm and engaging presence when you teach, that draws people to you – and I’m thinking that it comes from being so comfortable in your own skin, accepting of yourself – foibles and all. I think all of us long for that kind of self-acceptance. The relief of just being who we are. Nothing to prove. Nothing to change.
One of the great things we learned from you and Michael and Amy was not to hide our vulnerability, but to let people see that stuff – and offer it as a gift. Interestingly, for me, it’s the piece that makes the speaking gigs even more powerful than doing concerts, much as I love sharing my songs – When the level of vulnerability is even higher, without armour, we are able to connect much more deeply. Be seen for who we really are. The essence of love.
Thank you Lowry. That’s so kind of you.