Recently a businesswomen’s group considered me as a speaker on anxiety. I heard from my contact that they had decided not to invite me after checking out my website because at least one woman was offended by my faith. I had a tangle of reactions upon hearing this. Disappointment: I love speaking. I’m probably a better speaker than I am a therapist! Indignation: What? I’m not a qualified speaker on anxiety because of my religious views? What worldview would be acceptable? Anger: What are they thinking rejecting me! Resignation: I am who I am and I’ve made that pretty public. Sort of a sad world in which we live.
People like me don’t win the contest of persecution or personal prejudices—I don’t want to start that dialogue. What I do want to open up is a question that this situation raised in me. Who am I unwilling to listen to? This group that didn’t want me speaking on anxiety….maybe they thought I’d turn a lecture on anxiety into an opportunity for a “Come to Jesus” meeting. I can see it now, so you’re avoiding flying in airplanes because of your anxiety?….how about avoiding HELL???? Maybe that’s exactly what has happened to them in the past. I remember being invited to a seminar on rock music in high school that was actually a play-the-music-backwards-and-it-says-worship-satan infomercial. It was a bait and switch and I was burned by it! Or how about those half-hour buy-a-condo pitches that wind up sucking half your day while you’re on vacation? We’ve all had experiences like this and, truth be told, it isn’t easy to recover! And if I’m honest, am I willing to listen to members of a certain political party, professional affiliation, ethnicity, or religion talk about social justice, anxiety treatment, privilege, or equality? Who have I disqualified to teach me and on what subjects?
I’ve had lots of surprises in my life that merit remembering:
- I learned a lot about sex from an author who is a celibate priest.
- I learned about what it means to deeply contemplate uncertainty from someone with OCD.
- I learned about how I want to honor my clients from my teacher who comes from an entirely different faith background than me.
In my counseling practice, some of my clients have no idea of my faith, while others specifically seek me out because of it. I hope to honor them by resisting disqualification in my own heart. What does it look like to live well in a world where we are all impacted by predispositions and attitudes that bother us? How do we bring our expertise into situations with our whole selves and our whole stories while respecting the autonomy of others? These are questions not easily answered but the only true starting place I see is with each individual.
How do we become people who are willing to look closely at the temptation to disqualify folks? What surprises do you remember that can help us stave off the temptation?