Normalizing Character Development


One of the problems with Harvey Weinstein and the myth of binaries is that we’re let off the hook.

If there are only 1% of “bad” people, and all the rest of us are “good,” the world of injustice continues without a hitch.

A few seconds ago, I typed “Me too” into my Facebook status–acknowledging with many others that I have been violated by sexual advances in some of the most vulnerable of my life stages and career formation moments.

The saddest of those for me was when one of my favorite professors crossed the line by making a physical move on me when I was traveling on scholarship to a faculty research conference. Ironically, that was also the day I decided not to pursue academia more formally (at that time I had wanted to pursue becoming tenured faculty). Yes, the misconduct didn’t influence solely but had impact. The faculty at that conference as a whole were overweight, under-slept, wearing atrocious clothes, creatively uninspired, and looked miserable. For all of the above, that’s why I decided that day to pursue other interests in my own career pathway. Interestingly enough, I’m currently revisiting PhD programs, though with 15 years of learning and career experience having transpired since that I wouldn’t trade for the world.

One of the arguments that comes up trying to put a damper on the fight against injustice is: “well, you’re just biased. It has happened to you maybe some people in your network, so you’re just disproportionately conscious of it–it’s not really an issue on a global / wider scale.” That’s what I love about the “Me too” shares on Facebook today (a campaign started and continuing forward). That’s what I loved about the #CrimingWhileWhite hashtag, particularly in the timeliness of when / why it emerged.

If we really believed that we all are characters in development, capable of atrocious, damaging interior and exterior expression–how would that evaporate dismissal

Especially if we knew that we were capable of the very same things we rate as most horrific?

Screen Shot 2017-10-16 at 6.04.19 AM.pngI spent the last 3 years walking “110 Walks in Seattle,” many of them with Cindy Tran. Cindy and I took a class together in grad school, and didn’t really chat. Then, the last night of the quarter (and her last night in grad school no less), we bonded. A week later we hung out for the first time, which also happened to be the first walk in the book. Our conversation that day was really our second ever, and the themes were tough. Tough on us. Tough on character. We both talked about our own character development in the context of our romantic partnerships. I was in a committed relationship at the time and though it was holistically unhealthy and far gone, I was determined to learn–to put in the work, and to evolve. Though the relationship ended and I have a lot of sadness, guilt and shame (increasingly, as I continue to mature and have insight in retrospect) around how deeply I wounded the other in that story, I am grateful for the development that only that specific experience could have wrought in me.

Cindy and I just walked the last walk in that book last weekend–#110. (As an aside, my friend Greg encouraged me to tell the author, and upon doing so, she informed me that the 4th edition is now out and there are 10 more–totaling 120! I laughed, joked about how insensitive her bringing that up was, and bought the book. I’m committed to walking the 10 more, though it cramps my hashtag style! #110walksinSeattle.)

escherichia-coli-1441194On that last walk, #110, I told Cindy something that I didn’t realize I hadn’t ever told her. It’s actually not that surprising though, as I don’t talk about it much with anyone. For the first 11 years of my life, I was raised in what could be described as a commune, a church community with onsite residences, or probably more accurately–a cult. I have done a lot of work over the years unpacking what those experiences and the petri dish of that environment instilled in me.

This last week, I was horrified to recall a memory that I had blocked out–where I was the only child that accompanied a group of adults to convince another adult that they should return to the community after they left it for good (no pun intended). The scariest thought of them all, was that I was one of the people that spoke the most. I was 10 years old.

One irony of how I was raised in that environment–and its worldview that I continue to unpack–was that I was raised with a tremendous prioritization on character development–virtue, reflection, acknowledgement of weakness and mistakes. The scary thing is that some of the people that are the most vocal about virtue are those that are the most unvirtuous.

MPW-10297I remember when the M. Night Shyamalan film “The Village” came out. (Pictured left, source) Ironically, “the village” is what we called the part of the 800-acre piece of land that me and my family and a few others lived on. The brilliance of that film, well–a piece of its brilliance!, is that the community of focus was made up of everyday, regular, intelligent, thoughtful individuals that were well-meaning.

That was the story of the community I grew up in. And, that is the story of our humanity.

Yes, there is die-hard, true, thorough evil in this world. It lives in us though.

Specs of evil are alongside all of our bones. All it takes is formulaic activation of those vices for us to spin out.

StCyrRustyI went to my favorite neighborhood coffee shop today–thanks to Rusty St. Cyr! When he and some of his college students stayed at my house years ago, they left a gift card to “Bird on a Wire Espresso” as a thank you. I had no idea I lived a stone’s throw from it. I’m grateful for gifts of learning, big and little, that are the direct result of my personal relationships.

Screen Shot 2017-10-16 at 6.13.28 AM.pngAt Bird on a Wire Espresso, they take a million years making your food because it’s small and local. While I waited as patiently as I could for my breakfast burrito, I looked over The Seattle Times. My Instagram post documenting that moment is as follows:

Everyday, normalized racism before my eyes as I drink my morning coffee in the “progressive, liberal” Northwest. Images & stories of white women (& some men) as dog owners, sweet old ladies & talking about choice with the only images & stories of black or brown faces being of black men in combative sport positions & incarceration / carrying allegations of violence (one of them a celebrity, in a LOCAL news section of the paper no less). The story is reinforced consistently & everywhere; we’re blind to it & its impact. & no, continued economic & social segregation is not a “choice” without losing our conscience & our very souls, DeVos. #ourhumanityisatstake#firedup#allonasaturdaymorning#seattle

What I found across the pages of that newspaper (pictured below for enlargement) are all too normal. The reinforcement of “who people are” with the most deceptive of paint brushes. Sneaky, pervasive racism and white supremacy. I would bet all the money in my bank account to wager that 100% of the people having a part of this Seattle Times storytelling have no idea what they are perpetuating, what their blind spots are, and what petri dish we all are sitting in–particularly in America.

(I have a blog post coming soon about that reflection.)

Every morning at 8:00am, a passage of sacred text comes up on my phone as a reminder. Even if I don’t have time to read it then, I take time later to read it slowly, meditate and chew on it.

(As a communications nerd, I love that this specific English translation does the hermeneutic for you–using words that communicate what the passage was meant to mean to the people then. Direct English translations / transliterations butcher the beauty of the ancient Greek language and its historical context / intention. Yes, I was a hermeneutics major in college <insert winky-eyed emoji here>.)

The passage reads:

“Make a careful exploration of who you are and the work you have been given, and then sink yourself into that. Don’t be impressed with yourself. Don’t compare yourself with others. Each of you must take responsibility for doing the creative best you can with your own life.”

I’ve talked here in this post about my own “exploration” of “who I am.” Some days I need to be reminded to “carefully explore.” Other days, I need to marinate on what “the creative best” looks like. But, if I’m honest, most days, it’s the “Don’t be impressed with yourself. Don’t compare yourself with others.” part that has me rocked. Especially the first part.

The note that I want to end on is one of acknowledgement. I acknowledge that in the mask of my own good intentions / well-meaning + self-righteousness, I have hurt individuals (some of you reading this post) in significant ways with lasting impact. My heart breaks in that acknowledgement.

In forgiving ourselves and others, how do we move forward with intentional humility?

How do we stop “pointing out the speck in someone else’s eye when we have a log in our own(to use that old adage / sacred text reference)?

Instead of letting ourselves off the hook with a sigh of relief and “good riddance” to those folks that are now “caught”–can we acknowledge our lack of being called out and caught? Can we own and move away from our own patterns of vice?

This is what relationships are for! Well, one of their many functions for sure. To serve as a mirror–to put us on blast–to call us out. All of the relationships I’ve ever had–particularly dating relationships, have served to show me my flaws. Relationships force us to engage the reality of our own lives–our stagnant character development and its impact.

Rats! I was trying to end this on a strengths-based lens! …well…maybe this is the strength–a reminder that we’re not alone. I want a life partner, friendships and family relationships that are also committed to character development. But let it start with me.

4 Comments Add yours

  1. I read every bit of this. I was truly at a loss for words. I am grateful for your transparency during this writing. From your personal experiences to the binary you so adequately explained. Upon these reflections you made I can see how we normalize so many behaviors. I too, agree, character development is a life process and one of the most important things in any relationships is the constant desire to improve upon them. Looking forward to all your new posts!


  2. drdick2014 says:

    Hannah, this is a great article [blog]. I believe you. Deeply appreciate your insights and personal statement. Keep up the reflective writing. Well done


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