What It Means to Show Up

It means different things to different people to “show up.” One doesn’t need to look hard to find the disparities. The mother “playing with her kids” while she’s frantically typing out emails on her phone. The father who’s at the soccer game but can’t remove the phone from his ear. The friend who makes it to your dinner party but takes no interest in your other guests. It goes on forever.

So what does it mean to show up? Does it require talking to everyone at every social gathering? That you never ever check your cell phone while your kids entertain themselves with Legos?

Surely, there’s a case to be made that that is what it means. It means being there as well as anyone could imagine. And for some people to not be a bubbly social butterfly who is 100% on just doesn’t cut it.

But even at my best I’m not able to be a bubbly social butterfly half as well as some are without any visible show of effort. Maybe for you, giving anything your undivided attention just doesn’t feel possible. So I think there’s something to be said for realism.

Whether or not you’ve “shown up” adequately is always a judgment call. You’ve got to make it for yourself, and others will also make it about you. The times when you think you’re being there for your daughter and she feels different are where the rubber of this whole thing meets the metaphorical road.

For me, showing up means making the best effort I know how, and hopefully to the satisfaction of the person or people I feel I’m showing up for. If I don’t feel I’m really making a strong effort but they feel I have, that’s nice but not sufficient. And if my best is not good enough to people in my life, I pray for their patience. And I’m open to making changes based on their advice.

What it comes to is that what it means to show up isn’t one thing. And this leads to a lot of heartache. But the solution to that heartache isn’t to define it down into some Platonic ideal. It’s to be honest, forthright, and ready to listen if someone asks to reconcile a disparity. And it means being willing to start that conversation, too.

What we need are frank discussions about what showing up means to everyone involved. To be honest and thorough and empathetic as we work through the difference of opinion. And showing up for that conversation is the most important thing in the world.


Meandering Thoughts about How to Encounter the World

One of the things about knowing the ultimate question is that you may ask it everywhere. And in asking it everywhere you run the risk of becoming an insolent grade-schooler new in the knowledge that they can ask the question “Why?” of anything. This gives rise to the risk that you use it to endlessly interrogate the world but never engage with it.

The phrase “strong opinions, weakly held” is just common enough that it entered my head when I thought of this situation. But I couldn’t comprehend it without some looking. In my looking, I came to understand the idea to mean that you should hold you’re opinions weakly because it allows you to find their flaws and drop them, but you should make them strong so that they’re interesting and worthy of discussion (and thus flaw-finding).

There’s a part of me that recoils from this idea. It seems like a magazine-cover personality: one week X is evil, next week Y’s the best thing ever, finally Z is found severely lacking but makes us aware that X is most excellent. It strikes me as more than a little schizophrenic.

People value some sense of consistency. Cries of hypocrisy come from a feeling that people who change opinions regularly can’t be trusted. And indeed someone telling me I’m still their friend while no other things they say seem internally consistent is, at best, worthy of doubt.

Those things said, it does seem true to my experience that tightly guarding your opinions — which is pretty much my default operational method — can drive people completely bananas. So if it’s true that strong opinions are necessary to interact with people productively, I can definitely support the idea of holding them weakly.

Nothing is worse than a strong opinion strongly held. Strong opinions strongly held are the reasons so many people are sanely turned off by discussions of politics and religion. When neither side is interested in a frank discussion of facts and opinions, the discourse almost necessarily degrades into an adversarial yelling match.

I’ve had an idea for an essay sitting around for a while: “Dancing with Disagreement”. The idea was exploring the “how” of the classic phrase “disagreeing without being disagreeable”. We know people can have opposing views about politics or religion but still like each other, spend time together, and get along well. But it’s very rarely seen in the culture.

It does seem to me that the secret to disagreeing well is, in some sense, “strong opinions weakly held”. If you view it as fundamentally and unmistakably true, for example, that man-made global warming is real and the most pressing issue facing the planet, you’re unlikely to be able to take seriously the idea that you should sit down and talk about your children with a man who believes that whole opinion is “so much liberal horsesh*t”. But hold that weakly, don’t let it derail a conversation, strive for a finding common interests, and you may just start to understand each other. And that may just be the best way to face the world.