Monday, June 25, 2007

Chicken Wire Theory

Far too many people seem to live according to the "chicken wire theory." By this I mean they only can feel good if they are putting others down. In its most benign form are the people who always want to be first, best, out in front - taking their pleasure in having things bigger, better, shinier, newer, more abundant, more "cutting edge" than anyone else. They are so ruled by the law of comparing themselves to others that it seems only in outdoing someone else can they ever be satisfied. In its more malevolent form are those people who are habitually critical or condescending, forever finding fault with other people's choices, opinions or ideas.

I call this "chicken wire theory" because if you take a piece of wire mesh commonly used in chicken pens and stretch one of the hexagon segments as large as you can get it, the way it grows is by smashing all the segments around it down flat. Sadly, far too many people have fallen into the trap of thinking that it is primrily by making others small they will get to shine big.

Sometimes it's done in jest - belittling or disrespecting in such an "aw shucks" joking manner with a wink of the eye and a slap on the back that it doesn't seem outright mean. But like a wolf in sheep's clothing, those mocking comments at someone else's expense still have sharp teeth that can bite deep.

Other times it is more blatant - in the way individuals justify climbing over others to get to the top. From exploitive business practices to manipulative interpersonal relations, it has become far too acceptable to look out for number one at the expense of someone else.

I think there is a far better way. Getting back to the chicken wire analogy, if I take a pair of wire cutters and snip out the dividing lines between two or more segment they ALL get bigger into one huge gaping hole in the mesh. NOT a good idea if your goal is to fence in chickens! But when it comes to human relationships, if we can break down the barriers that separate us we can ALL grow together, enlarging our understanding in significant ways without ever being at the expense of someone else.

When I become willing to be more authentic with others - fully listening and sharing at a deeper, more honest level rather than falling back on prescribed social roles, it does this. That's my way of cutting out the walls that divide us.

I hurt both myself and others any time I allow my words or conduct to imply that someone else is less worthy or important than me. By the same token, I hurt both myself and others any time I fall into the trap of thinking I am less worthy or important than those I come in contact with.

Eleanor Roosevelt once said: "No one can make you feel inferior without your permission."

I want to be more mindful of this intricate dance of how we honor or dishonor one another with our speech, our willingness to listen, our gift or non-gift of eye-contact. It's so easy to not notice small, seemingly insignificant habits that can take me too close to playing the chicken wire game.

My time and attention have limits. I can't always be available to every single person who may want something from me. Beyond that, I do have the right to choose to associate with people whose company I enjoy and to avoid those I don't. But that doesn't mean I have to be dismissive, arrogant or rude in choosing to re-direct my focus someplace else.

I do not have to ever make others feel small. I do not have to take it personally when someone else disregards me. I can keep reaching for those emotional wire cutters to do all I can to reach out in ways that will allow us ALL to get big together with unity and mutual support. And when there are others in my path who do want to play the chicken wire game I can recognize that pattern and remove myself. I do not have to play.


Mom not Mum said...

Beautiful theory. I think we all get trapped in the chicken wire every now and then.

Jen said...

This is a great theory, and so true!

As a kid I always heard it said that "Don't blow out my candle to make yours appear brighter."

I believe that people who truly feel good about themselves feel no need to put others down.

People who belittle others may think their barbs are masked, but it comes through loud & clear what they really think, and it certainly doesn't make them shine brighter, the entire room is left with less light.

Amazed said...

I especially like your comment to not take it personally when someone doesn't give you the attention or says something....I can't think of just how you said it but I know it was towards the end. Having going through half of my life, being easily offended but not brave enough to stand up to real abuse, I also learned that most people aren't out there trying to be rude or say unkind things and are not trying to ignore you. I went to a fabulous class at BYU Women's conference about Not Being Quick to Take Offence...and the presenter asked those who have ever said something to offend someone else to raise their hands. Hundreds of hands. And then she said, "How many of you meant to offend?" and most hands went down. I choose to believe most people don't mean to offend....and I agree, we can choose to limit the association with those who use rudeness or unkindness as a power tool. You are always thought provoking! And Jen, I liked your candle quote.

Josi said...

Great analogy and so very true. I think putting other's down can become a habit, so that we dont' even realize it until we try and start. but what a scary habit to find ourselves in. Great post.