The Social Contract

How can I trust that you are who you say you are?
How can you know I am who I represent myself to be?
Don’t we all have several selves that we show to the world?
Aren’t we allowed a few secrets?

Sometimes in my life I have felt the burden of social expectation, the claustrophobia of sitting in a box not of my own making, because people expect certain behavior from my particular subsets.  I carry so many labels, as you do, and they can become burdensome.  There are expectations for the Mennonite Girl, the Missionary Kid, the Wife, the Mother, the Teacher, the Organic Farmer.  In some of my earlier decades, as I was wrangling my own vision of myownself from all these labels, I deliberately set out to break the rules, to be an iconoclast about the boxes that threatened to silence me.  I think I’ve been a late bloomer, only really starting to realize somewhere in my 40s that I don’t need to be the box and I don’t need to explain the box, and I don’t need to break the box.  I just need to live who I am and let people figure it out the best they can.

But there’s another side to this idea of the social contract, a good side, a really redeeming side.  While I don’t want you to assume that I am a certain person based on the many labels that mark me, I DO want you and I to both be able to make certain assumptions about each other, to be able to trust that unwritten social contract.  I want us to believe that the other one will do her best to keep her promises.  I want us to be able to assume that each other’s children are cared for as lovingly in private as they are in public, that we’re true to our spouses and partners, that we’re not playing fast and loose with people’s hearts, that we’re people of honor and faithfulness.

Yes, you need your personal private space, and I need some secrets of my own.  Yes, I am a slightly meaner parent in private than in public–sometimes.  Yes, I may hope that you think of me as an adventurous spirit even though my adventures are mostly vicarious, through the medium of novels that I read.  Yes, I sometimes feel like I am enacting some sort of con when I call myself a poet.

If you are a pious and thoughtful spiritual person, I promise not to be shocked by the tattoo of a dragon on your back.  If you are someone who speaks kindly and lovingly in public settings, I promise not to gasp when you get a little snarky in a moment of rant. Let’s give each other a little leeway.

Still.  I hope we can balance that kind of looseness in our social contract with some higher ideals.  Let’s expect of each other that we will be kind to our children and the other people and animals who share our space.  Let’s expect fidelity of each other, in friendship, in love and marriage and partnership, in our work.  Let’s expect each other to be honorable.  I know that I will likely fail your trust in some of the little things, as you may fail mine.  But holding each other to the basic principles of honor and fidelity and kindness seems to be the heart of the social contract.

If we want our words to have power and meaning, then I think that actions and aspect, words and behavior, need to rhyme in some way.  If I can’t keep true to who I say I am, I let all my personal power leak away.  If we lie to each other, we decrease our ability to be effective in the world.

Gratitude List:
1.  Good friends.  True and wise and faithful friends.
2.  Boundaries
3.  Iron ore and magnets
4.  Concentric circles
5.  Trust

May we walk in Beauty.


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