Building Your Spiritual Home
To Hell with Dignity
At fifty two, I took up the tuba. I had played trumpet as
a child, so the finger placements were not new. I had never
particularly liked the trumpet but had always loved the deep
rich tones of the tuba. And sure enough, I found it very exciting
to play. Soon I had mastered “Happy Birthday”
which I inflicted on my extended family on all occasions.
I wasn’t very good, but no one seemed to mind. When
a dear and quirky friend, William, from Vermont died, at his
wife’s request, I played at his funeral. He and I had
struggled with some of his home made instruments, and I knew
that competence was not one of his requirements. By then I
played a beat up sousaphone I’d found at a yard sale.
I learned “So long, it’s been good to know you”,
and my wife was good enough to lead us in singing along. William’s
wife, and I’m sure his spirit, enjoyed the resulting
din. And people laughed. I was delighted with the result.
My musical adventure has continued. I played at both my
daughters weddings- “When Irish Eyes are Smiling”
and “Carolina on my Mind” - and at several friends
weddings-including “Pachabel’s Canon”, and
a few graduation celebrations- “Pomp and Circumstance”.
Occasionally at church services. I have even auctioned myself
off at the church auction. I would say I have had a very successful
career in music. The problem is that I have never gotten past
my early level of incompetence, and am only loved for how
awfully I play and how earnestly I try. Audiences roar, and
even ask for encores.
I think dignity is the enemy of freedom. Saving “face”
limits our capacity to have fun, to be real and to be at home
in our flawed selves. From my tuba I have come to see that
playing well is not necessary in order to provide pleasure
to others. Making a spectacle of myself is quite okay as long
as it makes people happy and doesn’t offend anyone.
Whether I “look good” or not doesn’t seem
to matter. Playing tuba badly has been good for me.
Another example of not trying to put on a good face occurred
when I was one of three family therapists invited to interview
a couple for a Harvard Medical School conference on couples
therapy. I was both honored and nervous at the opportunity.
All three of us were videotaped interviewing the same “couple”,
role played by an actor and actress. After the interviews
we had time to review the tapes and plan our presentations.
When I reviewed mine, I became aware that parts of the interview
were badly flawed because of my tendency to side with a beleaguered
husband against his hostile, aggressive wife. I wouldn’t
give her enough space, and I protected him. I failed to notice
or deal with his provocative passivity. I made my presentation
about these mistakes, showing each one and then discussing
what in my own history predisposed me to make these errors.
The other two therapists presented their extremely skillful
interviews, each one a work of art.
My behavior was not typical for Harvard presenters. I got
a big ovation for my presentation and so many grateful comments
afterward from therapists who loved seeing an “expert”
make the kind of mistakes we all make. I felt as triumphant
after this conference as I had felt nervous before it.
Not having to look good gives me freedom to try new things.
When someone has to do a role play and be interviewed in public,
or to try anything new, I generally volunteer. Most of my
friends worry about looking stupid. Playing the tuba has moved
me past that concern. I have little trouble talking about
or showing my faults. I am unusually open about who I am,
because I don’t have to hold myself up to any particular
standard. Good is fine, okay is fine, lousy is fine. My wife
has a framed statement, “Don’t criticize me for
my faults. It’s what makes me human”. I do think
that leading with my worst foot is a good way to put myself
and my friend at ease.
1) How important is “looking good” to you?
2) What price do you pay for “looking good”?
3) Do you have ways of letting down your guard?
4) Are there things you’d like to do if dignity weren’t
GET A LIFE
THE JOY OF A DEPRESSED
OPENING MANY DOORS
THE PATH OF MEDITATION
GIVING UP CONTROL
MARRIAGE AS A CHANGE
STRUCTURES THAT SUPPORT
VERMONT AND NATURE
TO HELL WITH DIGNITY
COMPANIONS ON THE ROAD
WHAT SHAPES LIFE
MAKING FRIENDS WITH GOD