Recently I saw an Oprah rerun in which she was interviewing Maya Angelou. They were reflecting on Maya’s great words of wisdom and Oprah remarked on a somewhat rhetorical question Maya had apparently posed to her many years before: “Why don’t you believe people when they tell you who they are?” I honestly don’t remember anything else about the interview, but that question struck a nerve with me – my “OMG” nerve to be exact, and I’ve been thinking about it for several weeks.
First of all, I immediately imagined myself, Maya, Oprah (Gayle was there too of course) along with many other highly successful, eloquent women (yeah – I’m not sure why I was there either, but for the sake of my story just believe I was there) having a lovely book club gathering. A wonderful discussion was dancing around an elegant menu of finger sandwiches, stuffed figs and tuna tartar when clumsily, I spilled my tangorita all over the carefully set buffet. Well, in my embarrassment, I blurted out “I’m such an idiot”. My sudden outburst was a clear warning to all those present – I was not at all suited to be in their midst. Needless to say, I was immediately escorted out the door – all hope of future invitations followed close behind. How could these refined ladies be associated with such a self-proclaimed idiot as myself? What would it do to their polished reputations?
So, it was at that very moment I realized the importance of speaking the truth about who I am. I will no longer say negative, untrue things about myself. Sure, I’m Crazy, I think we all are, just a little. I don’t think that’s a negative statement, being a little crazy gives (some of) us wonderfully fun and creative personalities. But just because I might find my “misplaced” book in the refrigerator, forget to unplug the flat-iron, boil away the water from a pot of maccaroni noodles, forget to put the parking break on, or leave my ATM card in the ATM (as it desperately beeps out to me not to forget) does that really make me an idiot? No, of course not. Absent minded, preoccupied, a menace to society maybe, but an idiot? No.
We deny the negative things our friends, and even acquaintances, say about themselves. We meet their self-deprecating statements with “No you’re not”, “Don’t talk like that”, “That’s not true!”. Isn’t that the natural, kind, correct way to respond? Sure it is, but after pondering this question for a while, I think about how I wish I had listened more carefully to people when they told me who they were. I’ve also learned to be more mindful and honest in speaking about myself to others.
Many self-help gurus teach the importance of positive affirmations, avoiding negative self talk and creating our own destiny with positive visualization. But I also feel we should treat ourselves how we treat others. I would never treat anyone or talk to anyone the way I talk to myself. And from now on, I am going to treat myself the way I feel I should, and do, treat others.
I realize Maya’s question was not intended to stir such introspection as much as it was intended to help us avoid poisonous relationships; however if we are advised to believe others when they tell us who they are, then wouldn’t it also be true that we should expect others to believe what we say about ourselves?