Consider the Source

“So and so said that I’m crazy, that I should do ______ instead.”

“Well, I don’t know that I’d follow their advice. I mean, consider the source!”

Have you ever had a version of this conversation, maybe a lot more than once? I know I have. I’ve been on both sides, I’ve been told to consider the source and I’ve told others to do the same. When this little gem of wisdom is given it’s usually meant to deter you from following the advice doled out by someone that is lacking something, like experience or credibility. Prime examples would be: financial advisement from a person that’s irresponsible with money, child rearing counsel from a person who doesn’t have kids or whose kids are jerks or cooking suggestions from a person whose culinary skills are sub-par to say the least. People often feel the need to advise us and give us guidance in all manner of things whether we ask for it or not and when we receive these suggestions, we have to discern whether the person giving it is someone we should listen to or ignore. I’ve always used “consider the source” in exactly this way, as a kind of reminder to myself and others that not all advice is worth taking. Recently though I’ve started to wonder if it’s actually something that should be used more broadly, in all areas of my life. Let me explain.

When it comes to the totality of who you are, you should consider the sources that made you that way. We like to think that our values, belief systems, goals and personalities are of our own making, but is that really true? More often than not we are products of the sources that surround us and we either embrace and follow the experiences we’ve enjoyed or we do the exact opposite because we disliked our experience. Whichever path we take though, we’re still products of our environment and that means that we don’t choose for ourselves at all. The influences that surround us starting from childhood and continuing every single day are many – our parents and grandparents, the caregivers entrusted to watch over us, friends, church leaders, schoolteachers, extended family, bosses and co-workers. Beyond the people in our immediate circle, our sources are also those that have our attention in the world at large – movies and TV we watch, music we listen to, the news and media, those whose lives look appealing and entice us to follow their path like celebrities and athletes, and the entire world of social media influencing us to believe that everyone else’s life is beautiful and glamorous and therefore ours is lacking. It’s so normal to be surrounded by these myriad sources of information that we don’t even realize the effect that they have on us, that quite literally they are constantly shaping who and what we are. Good, bad and in between, we become what we experience. So if we can understand and agree on that point, our logical next step is to ask some questions about the source of our experiences. About how we got here and whether where we are is the place we really want and CHOOSE to be. So let’s ask some questions.

  1. What is your definition of a good romantic relationship? Whose relationship meets that criteria and why? What example do you follow? Are you modeling your interactions after your parents’ marriage? Are you modeling it in the exact opposite of your parents? Are you using fictional movies and books or a glossy, filtered Instagram account as the gauge for your relationships? Reality is never the same as the movies and it certainly isn’t like what we see on social media. But I wonder how often we project our issues and expectations on our partner without realizing it. I know I’m guilty of it, we all are. We surround ourselves with idealized versions of love and marriage but that’s not reality. And if we witnessed a particularly toxic or ugly model in our lives, we tend to see shadows of that in our own relationships whether they’re true and warranted or not. Whether we’re fighting with or against the current of our experience, the truth is that all we’re really fighting is ourselves, the source of our expectation.
  2. What does a good parent look like? If you’re a parent now or hope to be in the future, this is a crucial question. Was your mother/father a wonderful parent that you intend to emulate or will you do anything to do the exact opposite? Are there bits and pieces that you liked and disliked so you plan to pick and choose which pieces to follow and which to discard? Were your parents overly strict or lenient? How did that shape you now and who you are as a parent? Did your parents drink too much? Did they abuse you? Did they smother you with too much attention? Did they force their ideas on you or allow you too many options and confuse you?
  3. What are your beliefs about race? About sex? About God? These are hugely important questions and while we like to think we’ve decided for ourselves, most of the time we haven’t. We are only as smart and empathetic as our experiences and surroundings. I had a friend in high school that was raised in a tiny town with only white people and she had no idea that derogatory terms she’d heard her entire life about “other” people like blacks or homosexuals was bad. This wasn’t because she was a horrible, racist person – she quite literally did not know any better. When she learned more, she understood and she did better. My mom went to catholic school as a child and hated her experience so she made sure to keep religion far from my upbringing, allowing me to decide for myself. But the lack of guidance in that aspect made me seek it out and crave it. I vacillated between thinking God and religion was all fake nonsense to seeking truth in any and every belief system out there. I eventually found my own way, but it’s easy to see how my mom’s experience directly influenced mine in ways that I’m sure she never meant or intended. Whether we’re talking about race, sex, religion, politics or any other heated topic that’s subject to furious debate we should all take care to understand that we’re each a product of our experience. Rather than call names and assign blame or offence or to push our ideas on someone else, we should seek to listen and understand each others’ experience. Just because I don’t understand how you could possible have your belief system doesn’t mean that you’re wrong and I’m right or vice versa. We just don’t have the same experience and so our values and beliefs were shaped differently.

In any circumstance, we should first seek to understand why and how we came into our own belief systems. Without self awareness we are like little children, constantly pointing fingers at others and taking offence at every bad look or word that we feel is aimed at us. Really examine your ideas and values, consider why you feel the way you do and whether it’s something you’ve learned or something you’ve developed on your own. Then step outside your comfort zone and listen to someone you find to be an adversary, listen to their ideas and experiences. Instead of running their words through your filter, just LISTEN. In a perfect world, we would all take the time to really look inside ourselves and pursue self-awareness. But for now, I’m just asking you to examine your ideas and opinions to see where exactly they come from: you or your environment.

Now before you get upset, please know that I’m not excusing or sympathizing with any assholes.  What I’m suggesting is that we always have a choice. Just because someone was abused doesn’t mean that they will in turn abuse others.  They might, or because that’s their experience they might NEVER. Just because you had a bad experience with a person of a particular race, gender, religious affiliation or anything else doesn’t mean that every other member of that particular group is bad.  Just because you were told that your skin color or genetic makeup or ideas made you less than or better than someone else, doesn’t make it the truth. Just because someone decides to take offence at something I’ve said doesn’t mean that I meant any offence by it.   We’re all just working from our own frame of reference, the sources available so us. My experience is different from yours and everyone else’s is different from both of ours. Yet it seems like we’re all so eager to wrap our arms around and hold firm to our ideas and beliefs without really examining them, so eager to fight someone else to prove our superiority.  

I’m not attempting to offer a solution here to the world’s abundance of problems.  I’m simply asserting that perhaps we would all do well to take a step back and examine the “why” behind ourselves.  Is what I believe something that I hold dear because it rings true in my heart of hearts or is it something that I’ve grasped onto because of my past experience and then spewed out on every interaction since?  Why do I think the way I do? Why do I believe my ideas are the right ones? Is it because my parents said so, or my peers, or the groups I spend my time with or society at large? Am I bucking against the ideas I was brought up with? Or is it because of that still, small voice inside that tells me that we’re all here together, doing our best with the hand we’ve been dealt and the knowledge that we have?  Whatever your beliefs and thoughts and values, all I’m asking is that today and from here on you take a moment to consider the source of them.

Copyright 2019, all rights reserved.  All images taken by me unless otherwise stated.

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