From a great deal of pondering over all my previous negative behavior, I began to see some mottos I had adopted early in my life. It was easy to find the ‘Be Strong’ that I decided would protect me from punishments like that I received from the crying incident. And my ‘Be Strong’ also kept me from shedding tears over much sadness that warranted them.
It took a while before I saw the other mottos. ‘Be Right’ was surely the one that had kept me from ever apologizing to my family. ‘Be Powerful’ fed my need to be in control of everything possible.
I had no idea, however, that my mottos were so evident to others outside my family. After my Humpty Dumpty transformation experience, I had an opportunity to visit with an elderly gentleman who had been a member of the Worship Committee at my church when I had been the chair. When I told him I felt like I was a completely different person from the one I had been for decades, he replied, “Well, I hope so. I decided in that committee that I didn’t want to be on your train or in the way of it!.” We both laughed at his insight and I appreciated his revelation.
My conviction is that no matter how we are perceived to the contrary, the mottos we choose for ourselves are our best attempts to improve on ourselves–make ourselves into good people–the best we can be.
My mother gave me a motto at a young age–‘Don’t Embarrass the Family.’ It is only just now obvious to me that her embarrassment at my three-year-old crying incident was the deciding factor. Throughout my growing up, she often reminded me of this directive. There must be something in my personality that continued to make my family fear I would do something that reflected badly on them because one of my sons seemed at an early age to give me the same motto. Or maybe the mottos we give others are merely projections of facets of our personality we haven’t adequately dealt with.
Paradoxically, our mottos need to be given up in order for them to be authentically incorporated into our personality. The ‘giving up’ manifests itself in the opposite of the motto. In my three-day crisis, there was nothing strong or powerful about me. I experienced just the opposite. And in my Great Confession I admitted all the ‘not rightness’ (unrighteousness?!) about myself. Only after the crisis did I emerge with a genuine strength and sense of power that I never had before.
My motto now is simply ‘Be.’ And I think the same is intended for everyone. Out of the essence of our authentic Being emerges a wholeness that needs no other mottos.