Embracing life lessons
From an article in Sorted magazine
The last few months have taught Miles Protter some valuable things – and one of the biggest has been recognising the value and importance of relationships:
About a year ago when, like so many others, my work dried up, I went from being productive, busy and ‘out there’ to someone who was unable to do very much at all.
My sense of my own value and identity has always been wrapped up in success and what I do, so with only that measure to define my self-worth, I felt useless and unwanted. The Western-achieving culture we live in only reinforces that message. And even though so many others were in the same boat as me, it didn’t make me feel any better.
Then something remarkable happened.
To my surprise and delight, friends and relatives I hadn’t spoken to for months, if not years, started talking to each other and inviting me along. Video calls sprang up all over the world. I started communicating regularly with my brothers in Canada, on a family history project to find out more about our parents. Our adult children joined us, bringing a delightful energy and enthusiasm to the conversation. In addition, neighbours we hardly knew began gathering for weekly drinks around a fire pit in our cul-de-sac. And to my surprise, all of these calls and gatherings continue in some form to this day.
It’s often nothing more than having a laugh with friends but occasionally we allow other conversations to go much deeper.
One Zoom call began ostensibly to discuss the logistics of a canoe trip in Canada, but (since that isn’t happening anytime soon) it’s become a forum for six men to share what we’re going through in life, ranging from the joy of a daughter’s wedding to the tragedies of illness, bereavement and loss. Over the past year, some of us have ended our careers and are wondering what to do next; others worry about their kids, or long to see loved ones living far away.
I’ve realised I’m included in all these groups simply for being me rather than for anything I’ve done. That’s certainly the reason I want the others to be there. It’s a very different scale on which to determine one’s sense of worth in the world. I feel reassured and safe, not having to pretend or put on the ‘success face’.
It’s not the first time I’ve learned this lesson.
Years ago, my father showed me the importance of valuing people for their intrinsic worth. Amid a full-blown blizzard one Christmas Eve, he asked me to drive him to dozens of homes all over Toronto on a gift-giving mission.
“Who lives here?” I’d ask as we arrived at each stop.
“This is Audrey, my old secretary,” came back the response as we pulled up at one of the houses.
At other locations, the answer was ‘Ming-Lee, the bank teller', and ‘Alberto, my site foreman,’ to name but a couple of names mentioned that notable day.
He’d select a gift and haul himself out of the car, half paralysed by Parkinson’s, to hobble through drifting snow to the surprised but delighted recipient’s front door, where he’d warmly thank them for kindnesses rendered years before. Back in the car he’d dust himself off and direct me to the next person, who could be any race, nationality or social position.
We can show people they matter to us for who they are by making the effort to connect, listen, be authentic – and wait through awkward silences as they try to figure out what they want to say. We all need role models to remind us of the intrinsic value of connection and resist the aspects of our culture that destroy relationships.
Who can you speak to today?
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From an article in Sorted magazine, 29/03/2021