Not Just the Elephant in the Room

The need to be honest with ourselves inevitably instills fear. Because it strips us from all our baggage of what has moulded us. It tears away the trappings – primarily self-pride – and leaves us trembling, perhaps even floundering in stark naked vulnerability.

‘Not for the faint of heart,’ asserted John Dunia who shared his experience of marital breakdown in his article “Seeing from a bird’s eye point of view brings a whole new perspective.”  Yet necessary if we want to grow. By growth, I mean changing what needs to be changed to soothe the most searing, gnawing ache in body, mind, and soul.  Which is why Dunia’s insights struck a deep chord.

Admitting what we would rather not demands all stones turned self-assessment. But how does one rev up the inner critic inside us?

Willingness to scrutinize our innards is crucial because it marks the point of acknowledgment that we are in a rut. Seeking help through therapy is what most of us do when we are stonewalled. Yet while I respect such a route and the work that therapists do, I still believe that acting when one is in pieces precludes foresight which would spare a great deal of pain. Please do not run away with the idea that I am scoffing at the help we need to pick up those pieces. But just as we cannot do it alone, neither should our integrity be on the back burner or worse still, not even on the hob.

Which is why I would like to share my take on how to nurture self-appraisal throughout our lives.

Instilling empathy from childhood comes first since it is in healing others that we heal ourselves. Empathy also pulls on the brakes on egoism as well as egotism meaning dumping all notions of entitlement and constant barrage to love oneself. Bringing up children to be kind to others and not having everything on a silver platter is not old hat, but fundamental to a good upbringing.

So is the prerequisite of constant communication. In this super techy age that has shed so many taboos, I wonder how many families communicate in a truly meaningful, personal way and strive to understand and reach out to each other. Has it never struck you how so many husbands and wives (or partners) together with parents and children feel stumped when wanting to buy each other a gift because they do not really know each other despite having lived under the same roof for years?

Is it not strange that so many couples find it hard to discuss the nitty-gritty of everyday life impacting their relationship which is so necessary to staying in love and moreover, reenkindle the spark of falling in love as the years roll by – years in which we change and/ or bring out our true colours especially in times of crisis and upheaval?

Years in which the dynamic of ‘we’ needs to be constantly fed while also allowing regeneration of personal space.

And while I am all for encouraging children’s potential, I also firmly believe that it is wrong to inculcate in them that they can achieve anything and everything. Or that freedom and children’s rights do away with any shred of responsibility and discipline. Or that ongoing self-orbiting is the only path to self-criticism.

I wonder how many parents ever think of taking their children to a hospital to get a glimpse of what it means to be seriously or terminally ill? I wonder how many families are blessed with feeling part of a community in a world where we often look upon crossing the road to greet a neighbour as time going down the drain? I wonder how much empathy fires up friendships especially when the buzz is to stick exclusively around successful people? I wonder how much empathy is encouraged in work cultures? The corporate world has a great deal to learn from Richard Branson’s mantra that “Clients do not come first. Employees come first. If you take care of your employees, they will take care of the clients.”

Given that it takes integrity to admit what needs changing in our lives, it is worth pondering on the root meaning of the word. Integrity comes from the Latin ‘integer’ which means wholeness derived from honesty and steadfastness.

This brings me to my belief in embracing humanities infused with critical thinking as the bedrock of our education systems which should not be merely based on a utilitarian ethos. Incidentally, my type of critical thinking makes no distinction between head and heart. As a lover of literature, I am obviously biased. In fact, when I read Dunia’s article the storm scene in Shakespeare’s King Lear immediately came to mind.

This is the climactic scene in the play where Lear is thrown out in the middle of a terrifying storm you would not allow a stray dog to go through. Yet egged on by his faithful court jester, he strips off everything that makes him a king and a man in order to regain humanity and see the world “feelingly”. You will not find a more powerful rendition of self-assessment than in this tragedy.

Reading literature and thinking over it does not automatically make us steadfast and honest with ourselves. But it does give us an incredible insight into why we do what we do, including the power games we play with love. As Julian Barnes says: ‘Literature is a process of producing grand, beautiful, well-ordered lies that tell more truth than any assemblage of facts.” Reading literature also makes us realise that we are not alone on our earthly pilgrimage. Discussing it at certain depth also shows how our response to it demands a work-in-progress that compels us to question all that we believe in and hold dear. Meaning a stock-taking exercise of our essential selves – warts and all

Finally, seeking and nurturing spirituality is the ultimate cohesive driving force of self-assessment. This is not just a question of religion (a very private matter) but rather living a moral code that values kindness, gratitude honesty, and integrity over above success – whatever success is supposed to be. Also, a spirituality that has us in tune with the rhythms of nature which so many of us urbanites have little clue of. Also, a spirituality that is enriched by guidance from someone whose pearls of wisdom are shared in a totally disinterested manner because it is fired by love and respect. In a litigation-based society manic to put the blame on someone or something else, such a guide is a treasure.

Melding all this hones the courage it takes to see ourselves from different perspectives, admit where, when and why we are/were in the wrong, plus allow a sense of shame to enable us to see much more than the elephant in the room. Such a composite shows us two interlinked needs. One, how cleansing demands vulnerability that is actually a hunger for love. The other how our fragility is what ultimately makes us stand tall to honestly face the mirror; no matter how much we have stumbled and sunk in the mire.

Noemi Zarb
Noemi Zarb
Writing, teaching, marketing. I have pursued three totally different career paths with the power of words serving both as link and lynchpin. Now I dedicate most of my time to writing - a never-ending romance. Typical of content writing I have been and am still responsible for scripting webs, advertorials as well as full-length articles. As a feature/opinion writer, I have over 600 articles published in Malta's leading newspapers and magazines (and still counting) - an experience which honed my interviewing skills when I interviewed countless painters and people involved in the performance arts. I also have over two decades of teaching English Literature and Critical Thinking via Textual Analysis under my belt having prepared students for the IB Diploma in English Language and Literature as well as MATSEC, IGCSE and SEC examinations in English language and English Literature. TEFL sometimes punctuated my summer holidays. Dealing with young people keeps you young and I have truckloads of cherished memories of my past students My current writing continues to be inspired by what life throws at me together with my critical thinking of what goes on (or doesn’t) around me firing my sense perception and vice versa. Being immersed in the corporate world gives me endless opportunities to observe facets of human behavior which invariably have me brood over. Learning and thinking over what I learn is still my way forward.

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  1. Grazie per questa riflessione profonda ma allo stesso tempo dinamica, che suscita interrogativi e dà spunti per una propria revisione, un controllo… L’introspezione io penso sia un’esigenza vitale per dialogare con noi stessi, per un nostro equilibrio, nella sincerità che ci può fare male, graffiante e che non è così semplice da affrontare, tante volte… Ma può arrivare anche il momento in cui si ha la necessità di guardarsi bene (mi è successo) per disfare il proprio muro e gettare via i mattoni rotti che non servono, utilizzando quelli buoni per ricostruirlo in modo che torni nuovo e più solido. La verità con se stessi, nella propria fragilità, per me è struttura portante della spiritualità (non religiosa come dici anche te, perché strettamente personale) da nutrire, accudire e lasciare vivere…che io credo soggettiva, propria, ma anche comune a tutti, per questa necessità, fame di amore, che tutto ci fa mettere in discussione… fragile nella sua forza…

    • Courtesy Translation for our readers:

      Thank you for this profound but at the same time dynamic reflection, which raises questions and gives hints for its own revision, a control … I think introspection is a vital need to dialogue with ourselves, for our balance, in our sincerity it can hurt, scratchy and that it is not so simple to face, so many times … But it can also arrive the moment in which it is necessary to look good (it happened to me) to undo its own wall and throw away the broken bricks that do not serve, using the good ones to rebuild it so that it gets new and more solid. The truth with oneself, in one’s fragility, is for me the backbone of spirituality (not religious as you also say, because it is strictly personal) to nourish, care for and let live … which I believe is subjective, its own, but also common to all, for this need, hunger for love, that makes us question … fragile in its strength …

    • Grazie mille, Claudio, per le tue riflessioni molto sentite.

      Il tuo riferimento alla soggettività /universalità delle nostre percezioni sensoriali mi fa pensare a quanto sia importante per il nostro meglio puntare in alto e sforzarci di eccellere senza danneggiare le altre persone. Percio’ l’integrita di affrontare la verita’ e’ fondamentale.

      Many thanks, Claudio, for your heartfelt reflections.

      Your reference to the subjectivity/universality of our sensory perceptions makes me think of how important it is for our best to aim high and strive to excel without harming other people. Which is why integrity to confront the truth is fundamental.

  2. Noemi Zarb, your article is engaging and thought-provoking. The last line about how our fragility is ultimately what makes us stand tall and honestly face the mirror is such a powerful statement. It resonates with me as I’ve been the fragile person in front of the mirror more than once. Often in our weakest, darkest, and ugliest moments is when we find our truth – and most of all, our strength.

    Thank you for sharing this piece with us.

    • Thank you so much Laura for your heartfelt comments. Though you are not alone in having been the fragile person looking straight in the mirror many times in your life, you are blessed with the strength to pick up the pieces – each time with integrity.

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