expertise vs. vulnerability

Related to the issue of being considered crazy is the opposite state, being considered an expert or especially skillful or intelligent. Most of us feel that in order to help someone — ourself or another — we must use our expertise, our skills, and our intelligence to do so. Often, we also feel we must hide our faults.

But what if we aren’t in touch with our abilities or strengths? Perhaps we’re depressed or out of work — we think at the moment that we have a profound lack of skills or strength. We usually aren’t feeling like we have anything to offer anyone else at times like these.


In actuality, though, this may be among the best “modes” to be in if we want to be helpful. Being at a loss, so to speak, may be a gain for us and others in several ways.

First, it can make us more human and more like others in our fallibility. As an example, back in the 1980’s, I participated in a self-managed (ie fee-free) men’s group with 6 to 8 other guys, back east where I lived at the time. They would tell me often that it was when things were most falling apart for me — divorce, unemployment, health issues — that I was most accessible, open, honest, humble, and, to be honest, likeable…at least in their view. And these were people who’d meet with me for two hours each week, almost without interruption, for 7 to 8 years.

So that’s one way that being “down on our luck” may help us to help others…we present a more accessible image to others. It’s harder, after all, to empathize with or see the need to support the person who seems to have it all together. Others can feel more like being someone’s friend if they don’t always know it all.

CRESTWALK SIGN c. 2008 mjmmft

Also, we may have more empathy for others’ errors and shortfalls if we see in ourselves imperfections or blemishes. If I’m not perfect, and I’m learning to live with that, then perhaps I can live with other fallible beings…perhaps even be less judgemental in general, not be so impressed by the great as well as less worried by the so-called “negatives” in life.

And “not knowing” is a state of mind that is valued by artists and Zen masters, among others, for the innocence and openness it can assist them in developing. “Beginner’s mind” is a state to cultivate when the preconceptions that come with experience get in the way of seeing with the fresh eyes of someone new to any activity. Perhaps this is related to “beginner’s luck”.

In short, as we develop expertise, we may want to keep an open mind about mistakes. Not only can patience with our own errors help us to forgive and move on, thereby getting less stuck in the past, but it can also help us to empathize and be more charitable towards others, thus making us a potential ally instead of potential critic.

Be well!


~ by mjmmft on October 26, 2008.

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