This period seems to be one of recognising the toxicity of projection. I have stumbled into several of my own projections. This has happened in different ways at least three times in the last month or so.
Each time the metaphorical scales have been torn from my eyes and I am left observing the person beneath my projection.
Each time I have been humbled.
I am beginning to recognise that few people in life can be cast in absolute roles. The person I have cast as ‘villain’ turns out to be kind and generous too. The person I have cast as ‘saviour’ turns out to have a significant weakness.
If I need to see someone in absolute terms it is more likely to be about me than about them. I am reminded of that great quote:
‘The beginning of love is the will to let those we love be perfectly themselves, the resolution not to twist them to fit our own image’ – Thomas Merton
Whenever I have a strong reaction to someone either positively or negatively I need to ask for the grace to see this person for who they really are.
This post is perhaps more confessional than most. I’m choosing to write this post because I think what has surprised me is not that I can behave badly or have destructive thoughts, but rather that I never realised that this particular train of thought was problematic.
I have just returned from a conference. Whilst the people I encountered were all very friendly, it is quite a critical environment (not in a constructive way). For example after the talk on the first evening, I was standing with two people who felt very comfortable criticising the content of the talk. I was not surprised by this, as this kind of analysis is not uncommon.
This particular conference is held every two years, and the community is largely the same each time – at least the academics are the same, the students rotate in and out. There is a person I encounter in this environment whom I have been quite comfortable to be judgemental about. Not only have I felt quite comfortable being critical of their work, I have allowed that to leak into the way I view them as a person.
I am not proud of this at all. I don’t know their story at all really (I still don’t). The work this person does is not earth shattering but it is solid. And they care about what they do. My judgement is neither fair nor just. I am judging them based on my particular criteria for what it means to ‘succeed’ in this environment. But who they are is so much more than this.
The environment does have a judgemental element which no doubt fosters my own. But even so this particular judgement has been my own and I am not proud of it. But again the reason I write this post is not to say I am a terrible person. It is to highlight the fact that up until a few days ago, I wasn’t at all troubled that I sat in judgement of this person.
We all have negative and destructive thought patterns and sometimes our ideas of who others are gets folded into that. The problem comes when we are comfortable with those judgements. I can see this operational in others, but the last few days have taught me that I am far more blind to that pattern in myself.
I’m at a chemistry conference this week. This one has got me reminiscing. This is the first chemistry conference I have been invited to speak at. Professionally, that is a bit of milestone.
It just so happens this this particular milestone happening in this place at this time has some resonances.
This picture was taken just over twenty years ago – sometime in mid-November 1996. This is me with two of my third year chemistry buddies. This is minutes after we had walked out of our final chemistry exam. This is us celebrating the fact that none us would ever study for another chemistry exam again. We were all shaking the dust from our feet and moving on to other things.
This picture was also taken about a mile from where I am now sitting!
There is something deeply poignant for me about having this particular invitation in this place at this time.
Those who know my story know that it has been a series of leavings and returnings. Chemistry is appears to be my long suffering life partner. It allows me to walk purposely away, or to meander gently down an alternative path. But always welcomes me back. It is the part of my being I value less than I might, but it is always forgiving, and always willing to give me another chance.
I’m not sure I will ever fully grasp quite why I need chemistry, all I know is that I cannot seem to let it go. It is appears to be a strong part of who I am. And I am deeply grateful that have had such incredible opportunities.