477. Human Beings and Human Doings

“I expected more of you,” says the disappointed adult. And the child learns that what she/he has done is less than what the adult had expected and hoped for. The child may think, I’m not as good as this adult thought I was. This adult has misjudged me. Or maybe the child thinks, I’ve disappointed myself, too. Next time I’ll do better. Children don’t like to disappoint adults who are important to them. Even a child with a well-developed sense of self and a healthy supply of self-esteem still likes acceptance and approval from the people who count.
I remember the conscious reaction I tended to have when I was told that I wasn’t living up to someone’s image of me: someone had an inaccurate image of me, and it was being corrected by reality. But I’m sure there was usually more going on than that; if someone told me that he/she had expected more of me than I’d delivered, I’m sure I usually picked up some of that disappointment and carried it around with me. If someone thought I was better than I thought I was, maybe that someone had a point, and maybe I should try harder.
Peter Alsop, in some of his workshops, compares the phrases “human being” and “human doing.” He says we’re human beings, not human doings, and we owe it to ourselves to get rid of a lot of the “shoulds” we carry around with us – accept, appreciate, and celebrate who we already are, and stop blaming ourselves for not being who other people want us to be – who we’ve been taught to want ourselves to be. I’ve internalized a big chunk of his message, but I’ve also internalized expectations I’ve absorbed from other people. It’s not enough for me to just “be;” I feel great pressure, from other people and from myself, to “do.”
We get our self-images from many sources. Sometimes we have mentors and models we emulate, and we rate ourselves according to how closely we resemble our mentors and models. Sometimes we feel as if we are doing the best we can do, and being the best we can be. We expect ourselves to keep being and doing what we know we can be and do. I have good friends who assure me that they
love me for who I am, but I can’t help thinking that some of that love has to do with what I do. And that thought makes me want to do more, and do it better. There are times when I can just sit around and “be,” but sooner or later, I feel pressure to “do.”
Having internalized both kinds of messages – the one Mr. Rogers, Peter Alsop, and Billy Joel have given me (they like me just the way I am) and the one I’ve gotten from other sources (I can do better) – I don’t quite know what to think. So I’ll walk the line, and when I work with children, I’ll try to help them walk the line – to fully accept and love who they already are, and yet to try to be the best they can be and do the best they can do. I hope that doesn’t confuse them too much. And I hope I figure it out myself.

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