Since sharing my September 11 experience on the podcast, I lost $10 million on September 11, 2001. Here is what I learned from those who sacrificed and served, I’ve shared my story of loss with friends and family.
As I have for twenty years, I hedged describing that loss with the context of those who died, those who volunteered to put themselves in harm’s way with the intent to defend freedom (even if thwarted by their leaders), and their families.
I shared that I was saved from dwelling on my sorrow by my need to pay my mortgage and eat. I had foregone most of my salary. Before Submedia, I lived on a graduate student stipend in Manhattan, meaning nearly no savings. I got a job and moved on.
People have pointed out that my loss was nothing to put aside, even if not life and death. A few suggested seriously exploring it. Here’s the episode, if you want to hear me cry. I also develop how what I learned led me to devote myself to stewardship and sustainability leadership.
Why didn’t I explore the loss?
Why didn’t I explore the loss? The superficial reason is that my loss seemed small and incomparable relative to life-and-death losses. Still, that’s tens to hundreds of thousands of people. Compared to the other 7.8 billion, I don’t know anyone who lost as much.
While meditation and internal reflection help, I find talking to others unearths suppressed memories and feelings. I haven’t felt I could talk about it. Why not, despite having loads of friends, family, and other supportive people in my life?
Chip number one
I can talk to people about many things, but in my experience, when I share about my deepest vulnerabilities, where I’ve suffered most, I get a consistent response:
I can see why you’d think you’re suffering, but you have to get perspective. Other people are suffering more. You just don’t know and really can’t know what life is like for people who really suffer. It’s not your fault, being white, male, and straight, living in Greenwich Village, with your Ivy League education, but when you really understand the situation, you’ll see you’re actually causing others to suffer. You may not mean it, but you can’t help it.
I hope I’ve conveyed the self-righteous condescension they speak with, the ignorance and stupidity they assign me, and the lack of curiosity of my situation. Sharing personal suffering seems to remove from them perception of individuality, feeling, or awareness in me.
Imagine every time you share a big problem, you get told 1. you don’t have it, you only think you do, 2. you’re actually causing the problem in others, and 3. you’re stupid. The bigger the problem, the stronger that response. I’m not suggesting you imagine it rhetorically. Actually imagine it. You’d learn to stop wasting your time sharing.
Hence, chip number one: the more I share deeper vulnerabilities, the more people punish me for what I reveal.
Chip number two
People describe my avoiding flying, doof, and pollution as “extreme.” “Extremely fun,” I reply. I couldn’t express myself more genuinely and authentically than to describe the joy, fun, freedom, and other rewarding emotions that stewardship based on personal responsibility and the Golden Rule bring.
Nearly everyone, after enough talking, get that I’m not making something up, trying to put lipstick on a pig to cajole people into depriving themselves. They may not join me, but they seem to appreciate there might be something to gain from not flying. But two people I’ve known the longest utterly resist understanding my experience and goals. I’ve tried to explain myself every way I can, what has worked with everyone else I can think of.
Those two people: my dad and mom. I don’t doubt that they love me and want to support me. I also don’t doubt that they have worked hard to understand and do understand someone they think is me, at least regarding my life’s main focus. But they don’t show understanding me.
Hence chip number two: my parents misunderstand my greatest life’s purpose.
Not the worst problems in life
I’m not saying these problems are my life’s worst, nor that they’re particularly bad. I’m saying they are chips on my shoulder. I take on more serious problems. See, I have to say that because otherwise someone will say, “if that’s your worst problem, you should consider yourself lucky,” or something like chip number one.
informal : to have an angry or unpleasant attitude or way of behaving caused by a belief that one has been treated unfairly in the past
// He has had a chip on his shoulder ever since he didn’t get the promotion he was expecting.
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