Wednesday, May 22, 2013

I know what you tell me to know.

There is a category of women that is labeled 'received knowers.' Received knowers is an academic term for people who only know what they've been told to know. They receive what they know by listening to others.There are PLENTY of 'experts' - well intentioned leaders and fool-hearty loudmouths, both - who are happy to declare what other people's thoughts should be. Women who are received knowers are present at every level in our society. And a lot of them are found in the church.

To be a received knower is to submit your life to others in such a way that you can't really acknowledge your own thoughts or find your own opinions (or you discount your own opinions as being stupid or invalid.) Bright capable women, surprisingly, are sometimes received knowers. I have a friend who was busting out of a lifetime of pleasing - her dad, her church, her husband, her authorities - and at 40-ish she said to me, "I don't even know what colors I like."

To be a received knower is to carefully scan the room and detect the opinion that is acceptable, and then take on that opinion. A woman who has had her tender ventures at self expression crushed like a fly under a swatter may have learned that opinions are not safe. And she is not safe when she has them.

To be a received knower is to feel unsafe and unsure. It is a posture of living that is careful and small. To protect oneself the voice is silenced and the heart is shut down. And in the process of thinking only what is allowed, the skills of appraisal, evaluation and reflection remain undeveloped. There comes a day when a woman desperately needs to be wise in appraisal skills to detect physical danger, seduction (of many kinds) or the cunning of evil minds. What will her defense be then? What has been used to make her feel safe renders her susceptible to social assault and inclined toward inner defenselessness.

We must think - even if we sometimes think wrong. There is risk in becoming a learner on one's own terms. Becoming a learner involves "trying on" ideas like we try on a new dress, and seeing if the thing fits our unique self. Sometimes a mistake will be made, and people might move their chair away from our table and toward a safer group. Don't worry, the space they create will be filled by someone who sees you risking and identifies with you.

Here is my advice if you find yourself in this description of received knowing. Read something new. Read "The Gift of Being Yourself" or "Surrender to Love", two little books by David Benner.  If you are daring, read Anne Lamont or Kathleen Norris, both solid women who speak from their own journey with honesty. Then talk about what you are reading. (I was friends with a woman in her sixties who wanted to start to express ideas of her own. She would make notes and tuck them in her sweater pocket and then pull them out and peek at them and make her comment. Eventually she didn't need the notes.)

Buy a pretty book with empty spaces and make a journal by writing. Even if you have to hide it in the bushes behind your house. Somewhere, somehow, let your ideas get out of your head and onto paper. ( If you are a little stuck in received learning you already are thinking, "I have nothing to write. I have nothing to say that is worth saying." Lies, all of it.)

If you are asked a question, and you start the process of thinking your idea, then worrying if it is smart enough or right, go back to your idea and actually say it. Say it in a whisper if you need to. If opinions are being tossed around don't blank out your mind and go into an inner hum of disengagement, but listen and then if you don't agree, simply say, "uh, I don't actually agree... " If you have never said that before, everyone in the room might look at you dumbfounded. Even if you can't say why you don't agree... just acknowledge that you have thoughts.

Risk it. You are going to love the vitality that comes from being fully awake and alive.


Mary Loeppky said...

I love that, Marilyn! My problem seems to be more in the direction of blurting a bit prematurely what I think I might be knowing and then needing to make adjustments to my 'truth' as I keep listening to and observing life, or reading the writings of those wiser and more experienced than I am. In my bumbling way I still seem to keep learning and hopefully growing! And sometimes amazing things happen in spite of me!

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