Yourself OR Others // Which Will It Be?
Here’s the question: Is your highest duty to yourself or to others?
As a writer, as a mother, as a woman, as a follower of The Way, as a neighbor, as a sister, my answer is usually the same.
Answering as a writer: myself or my audience?
As a writer I am not just holed up in a corner of a hut journaling in a book I plan to burn before the ink dries–I’m out there, I’m blogging, I’m submitting articles, I’m pitching books to literary agents, I’m guest posting, I’m thinking about who might come across my words (another mother, an angsty teen, a curious fellow writer, my aunt, my neighbor, my favorite college professor). There is always this question, though, about audience and who it might be and whether you should go after an established audience, create space for a new one or forget audience all together and just write for the love of writing with a feather quill on parchment paper after eating bonbons and hiring someone else to raise your children until they’re old enough to stop interrupting your every thought.
So I am writing for myself…and for others. My business is writing content to market brands and businesses so while it is tapping into my gifts as a whip smart copywriter, I am technically writing for myself (for income), and others (for their brands to get and maintain exposure).
But as I write this very blog post I feel deeply that my highest duty as a writer is to myself. I can’t worry about who might be on the receiving end of this post…because then I’d never write this, or that other article I have or that one post I shared or that other piece I’ve edited. Is there a perfect audience for whom I can safely say is my DUTY to write to?
Answering as a mother: My highest duty as a mother: myself or my kids?
Allow me to expose some of my crazy mama brain for a moment: I generally organize my sleeping and working and showering and fitness regime and grocery shopping and phone conversations and dates with my husband completely dependent on my children’s schedules.
- My daughter has an hour-long guitar lesson? Great, I’ll plan to finish my copy proofing job then.
- My son is in preschool for 3 hours every morning? Great, I’ll plan all my conference calls during that window.
- Two hours of free childcare at the Y everyday? Perfect, I’ll attend seminary webinars, finish blog posts and respond to emails after I workout and while my son plays for two hours.
It would appear as though my answer to my highest duty as a mother is for others (my kids) and yet…
Goodness knows I’m in love with my kids (you can read about my essay in Brain, Child about choosing to keep my daughter instead of placing her for adoption), and two weeks ago when a car accident had me speechless with fury at the texting driver who ran a red light and t-boned me and my three-year-old son in an intersection caused me to cherish all over again his tiny, beautiful life, I’d still say my highest duty is to myself.
When I was a singlemama I distinctly remember the challenge of being the sole parent who would disappoint my daughter and yet the only person there to also comfort her in that disappointment. There was one day where she was just unruly and stubborn and brilliantly rude and totally four so I sat her little fierce four-year-old body in her Uncooperative Chair and had a frank conversation with her:
“Look, it is just you and me in this family. You have to be great. You just have got to be great because I can’t have a maniac–I cannot deal. I love you. Just be great, okay?”
And she was great. I mean really great. It is like a miracle that she took what I said deep into her little being and spun up a kind soul from then on. Yes, of course she and I still had our moments but honestly my request was heard. Life became calmer, smoother, less dramatic, more delicious. All I had to do was ask her little person to do something for me for a change. And I think when we ask our children to consider our humanity their big, open hearts can take it. They’re not yet socialized to reject our depth.
My duty was to myself and it still is in the beautiful labyrinth which is daily momming. If I don’t rest well or hang with my writing group or run a lake or say no to endless requests, I kind of suck as a mom. And yet, taking care of myself so I can be a good mom still has kids as the endpoint and focal point but what about the plain old duty to myself just for….myself?
Answering as a follower of The Way: What is “The Way?” Good question.
I connect with this terminology in a deeper way than calling myself a Christian. The early followers of Jesus did not call themselves Christians–that was a created term. “The Way” is meant to be instructive, to guide people in the ways of Jesus of Nazareth. Oh, okay, (I ask myself) well what was the Big JC all about when he was hanging out in ancient Israel? From the Bible we learn Jesus was eccentric (I mean he talked to unpopular women) and he was passionate (he was straight up ticked off about the money changers doing their thang in the temple) and he was welcoming (he let the kiddos hang around him instead of allowing their parents to shoo them and their snot-nosed, dirty urchin selves away) and he was sad (he cried when his friend died) and Jesus was a listener (he listened to the people he sat with and ate with and spoke to and he shaped stories they’d connect with and really get).
What I love about following The Way is that I learn again and again to go off by myself and leave the things that want my attention (for Jesus it was the pressing crowds or the fumbling disciples he needed to escape for a time and for me it is the noise of social media and The World’s Longest Checklist which I create for myself every morning). When I get away and get perspective on my purpose and my gifts and my passions I rock at being in this life. And I know that when I start to get sick and say yes to too many things and yell at my kids and haven’t touched the piano in months and haven’t read The New Yorker yet again, that I need to steal away and hook up with myself.
Following The Way has me coming to terms with who I am and what my gifts are so I can be a better neighbor. It actually has me loving myself so I can love my neighbor. “Love your neighbor as yourself.” You guys, Jesus said that. And he said it is one of the greatest commandments. Whaaaaat? I mean he could have been like, “Don’t be rude or dishonest or unsavory.” Or he could have been like, “Always be happy.” Or: “Give all your money to poor people.” But nooooOOOoooo, Jesus was like, “LOVE YOURSELF. LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR.” That was not an exact quote. He really did say love your neighbor as yourself, so I’m compelled to answer that my highest duty is: self.
You have to love yourself first so you know what that feels like, so you know how to put into practice that same kind of love for that neighbor kid who thinks you run a bandaid business out your front door and comes to you when he’s hurt (and sometimes when he’s not) for comfort and bandages and genuine concern…or that motorcyclist who is pushing his bike up a hill in the rain who you need to stop for even though you’re wearing stilettos and will be late for a client meeting…BUT (and that’s a big but) following The Way has me stocking my first aid kit and making u-turns in the rain because I know what loving myself looks like and feels like, and I know what it can breed and I’m equipped to share that with my neighbors.
My highest duty? Myself.
How would you respond to that question? Is your highest duty to yourself or to others?