A blog isn’t fact. Facts don’t require anyone’s belief in them to be true and they stand alone without emotion. News used to be the reporting of facts, but that kind of reporting has been eclipsed by talking (screaming) heads that cherry-pick facts to support a pre-existing ideology. I never set out to tell an objective story, I can only tell my story. Like the talking head on TV, my story contains facts that support whatever emotional truth I’m trying to convey or sort out. That story won’t always gel with what others perceive and has and will cause trouble. It’s gotten me in trouble before and it will again.
There is also the difficulty of protecting other people’s anonymity, privacy, and their own personal stories. How many memoirs have been written that start as personal stories of overcoming hardships and become outright character assassinations? I’ve promised a few key people that I would not share their personal stories in my blog because their struggles are their struggles. And yet, their struggles have directly influenced my own journey. A blog, or memoir, is incomplete if key pieces of that narrative are left out. The reason for transformation is as important as the process itself.
The Ironman race was one of the highest achievements of my life to date, including the year leading up to the event. If I were forced to make a short list of greatest life moments thus far, that race would be among the top three. In that list I would also place courting and marrying my wife and escaping high school to enter college early. None of these achievements were done in a vacuum and other people were critical parts of their success. Each of those people has their own version of events and interpretations of the facts. Their own role in those parts is their own, private story.
I release deep emotional truths about myself publicly because it is part of my process of taking control over my emotional life. Things that I reveal publicly that appear shocking to some are often old news to me. Releasing them to the world means that they cannot hurt me anymore. In the past I’ve held secrets for so long they become emotional cancers, eating away at healthy tissue. Sharing them is a way of excising them from my body. You cannot hold something over me if it is already exposed in broad daylight. I’d rather be judged for something I have done than for something I haven’t.
But there are times that this process also exposes things about other people they aren’t comfortable sharing. For whatever their reasons, the facts of a particular instance may not be in dispute but the emotional response to those facts may still be in play for those other people. The dangerous moment in a blog comes when the writer begins speculation on the emotional experience of someone else. Then it becomes a judgment, a criticism, and it invades the emotional privacy of that person because it makes assumptions about knowing their emotional truth.
I do not use “truth” and “fact” interchangeably. I believe that truth is subjective and facts are not. We can have emotional truths, things that sound and feel right now, but change later with the introduction of new facts.
People must be allowed to change their emotional truths when they change as people. Imagine a world where we held people accountable for the emotions they felt were true as children. We’ve seen enough Facebook relationship status changes to know that what people felt a week ago may not be true today. Emotions change second to second and we must be open to those changes to be open to our feelings. Acting upon those emotions is something else entirely, thus the distrust of someone whose relationship status changes week by week, but we must be free to believe our emotions because that is how we make sense of the world.
I believe in the power of a blog in the same way I believe in the power of a diary. Some of us choose to share this diary with the public, and with that comes a responsibility to edit ourselves. We must be sensitive to the boundary between our story and someone else’s story.
My friend Eric is a documentary filmmaker, having traveled the world and documented everything from war crime perpetrators and their victims, to drug dealers and addicts, to the untouchable castes of India. He described my Ironman race as akin to a religious experience. The people around me shared in that experience and my personal reality was elevated and reinforced by my friends and family.
What I hate about certain religious people is their insistent need to proselytize. It’s presumptuous because it assumes that their epiphany will then be your epiphany. They may be surrounded with like-minded people who reinforce their experience so when they approach a non-believer they feel that all they have to do is “witness” them and the stranger will be converted by the power of their story.
This is arrogance at its highest. It is the epitome of sanctimony.
I want my personal journey to inspire others towards their own personal change. I don’t expect every reader of this blog to want to become an Ironman. (Though if you do, please contact us at www.tnstraining.com for a customized training plan.)
What I want is for people who want to change and can’t to find new ways and tools to make it happen. I think many of us fear change, even while we know and want it. I think some of us believe we have changed a lot, when in reality we are stuck in the same negative patterns. It’s no surprise that the Mensa genius test is one of pattern recognition. But I take it one step further: genius is the ability to identify and transcend our own personal patterns. Real, fundamental change is a mammoth undertaking and in many cases changing one small part of ourselves is deeply connected to many other pieces. Or as John Muir wrote, “When one tugs at a single thing in nature, he finds it attached to the rest of the world.”
Am I being sanctimonious? Perhaps. I have high standards for people. My friends are people who have met this standard by showing that they are capable of change. They set goals and take steps to reach those goals. Sometimes goals change and they adapt their plan to accommodate the new goal. Sometimes we fail to reach our goal but learn something new about ourselves in the process. Without goals we are adrift and transformative moments never just fall in our lap. (“I found Jesus!” Yes, that’s because Jesus wasn’t looking for you.) I know what it feels like to change and I want others to experience growth. That is my arrogance: I believe in every person’s innate ability to change. And yes, I judge those who reject the challenges of personal growth. I don’t even need to enjoy what those people change into, as long as it brings them joy and satisfaction.
To those that have inspired me, I will be forever grateful for their example. To those that I have inspired in my personal journey, I am flattered and amazed by your dedication and action. I will continue to be cautious of the boundaries of my personal experience and will need reminding that it is a precarious line when distinguishing truth from fact.