My mom’s life mission was to rescue those left out. If you were marginalized, ignored, mistreated, in crisis, new to the area, lost, lonely or in any other way an outsider, she wanted to help. She would find you in a crowd, at an event, walking the neighborhood, while shopping, at the park or wherever. I think you get the idea.
At first meeting, she would invite you to over for a meal or a chat or, better yet, to some gathering, usually one she was hosting. And she would keep inviting. And if you didn’t show up, she’d find you and be with you on your own turf. The stories of my mom’s caring are legendary and the grateful recipients of her kindness are many.
My Dad relished being an outsider and wondered why anyone would want to “join that stupid club” or organization. From his perspective, joining in was the same as giving yourself over to the system. And the system was bad. Leadership was almost always corrupt and who would want to trust their future to people who were empty-headed, arrogant, evil or foolish — and in many cases, all four of the above? In any situation, he knew what the games were, but refused to play, a straight shooter all the way. His attitude may have been rooted in deep distrust that grew during a childhood now clouded in memories long forgotten.
My Dad has been gone almost seventeen years, but the better part of his reputation still holds. He was trusted and respected by friends and business associates. Others knew his word was gold. If he promised it would happen, no extensions or excuses would be forthcoming — the deal was as good as done. He made agreements with individuals, not companies or organizations. Plans were set, and commitments fulfilled.
And me, I’ve spent much of my life living this tension in my own way. I resonate with my mother’s desire to help those who are, for whatever reason, overlooked or abused. And with my dad, I am quick to see the flaws in systems and leaders — a big stew of nature and nurture.
Much of my adult life has found me in roles where I have been able to open doors for inadvertently overlooked or intentionally excluded people, and I sense this is a reflection of the best of my mom in me. I have helped people gain access to new ways to further careers or shape life paths. There is deep satisfaction in seeing someone beat the odds or prove others wrong. I believe I have been gifted with insight or intuition that helps me see deeper potential and encourage it to surface.
I have also lived in a love-hate relationship with organizations. Organizations have given me the opportunity to live my deeper convictions and commitments. But I often find myself hitting my head against the wall. I can’t tolerate perfunctory rules. I am mostly unable to ignore incompetence. I shut down when encountering self-serving, egotistical leadership.
For things to happen, people must somehow become a team, tribe, club, business, non-profit or other form of organization. And as soon as that system is established, it will show the signs of becoming self-serving and, possibly, corrupt. Some are simply gifted with an ability to overlook situations that step up my race toward some future heart health incident.
Another perplexing piece of this puzzle is the contradiction of my values and experiences. At times I must admit I am helping people gain access to or be elevated within systems that I distrust. Yes, you might want to read that again. At times I have helped people gain ground in settings within which I question the health of the organization.
In all honesty, I think my Dad was more of an institutional joiner than my Mom. Mom could take or leave the structure, cared very little for politics and was truly focused on helping people. If the organization helped people, she’d go along with it in spite of internal imperfections. Dad worked in and with systems of business, associations and government. He may have more accurately been seen as one who felt ostracized, but wanted to find a way in. The only problem was that no organization lived up to his standards.
Belonging is deeply rooted within. The desire to be accepted, included, valued and ultimately loved is human. The realities of belonging are complicated. Think of the stories you have heard, or lived, in relation to the complexities of being a part of an extended family.
I do not blame my parents for the ways in which I have struggled with being a part of organizations, systems and groupings. I appreciate what I learned from them along the way. I imagine I will continue to struggle with the tension of belonging in both my current context and new opportunities that I will discover in the future.
I need others. The mess we create in trying to do this life stuff together frustrates me. But I have yet to find a better option.