Today we had the opportunity to listen to a conversation with our Interim Director Amy Miller and local author and yoga teacher Becky Vollmer about feeling stuck and living as our authentic selves. Even though Ethical Humanism wasn’t explicitly mentioned in the conversation, it was certainly present.
You can watch the video of our 4-9-23 Platform above, if you missed it. The official program starts at around the 27-minute mark.
Vollmer is the author of You Are Not Stuck: How Soul-Guided Choices Transform Fear into Freedom, and the conversation began with exploring the idea of a soul. She said you could call your essence or soul whatever you want, and she thinks of it as our inner stardust, qualities that make us magical and unique.
Ethical Culture founder Felix Adler wrote in An Ethical Philosophy of Life, “In order to advance toward uniqueness, in order to achieve what in a word may be called my own truth, to build myself into the truth, to become essentially real, I must seek to elicit the consciousness of the uniqueness and the interrelation in others. I must help others in order to save myself; I must look upon the other as an ethical unit or moral being in order to become a moral being myself.”
Adler is saying the only way to find yourself is to be in community with others. The only way you find your truth – the only way to know yourself – is to be human, together. He believed an ethical life is spent in community with one another, inspiring the best and learning from the differences.
I am a religious Humanist. I am also a congregational Humanist, but I don’t think they are one and the same. I wouldn’t say my Humanism is of a secular variety, because I do think of Ethical Humanism as a nontheistic religion of relationships. But, I believe in big-tent Humanism, and I don’t look down my nose at anyone, no matter what they believe. I know how we treat each other is what really matters.
While all flavors of Humanism affirm that human beings have inherent worth and autonomy – that we all have the right and responsibility to cultivate meaning in our lives – Ethical Humanism is clear about the essential role that ethical principles play in human relationships and actions.
During our Planform today, Vollmer said, “We don’t make choices because we are afraid. We get afraid of other people’s opinions… We become afraid of outcomes that we can’t anticipate. We’re afraid of the unknown. But the opposite of fear isn’t just courage. The opposite of fear is choice. And I really do believe that we all have choices. We just have to be brave enough to make them… Not the choices we make from our thinking brain. The choices we make when we can drop down into our essence, into our spirit, into that part of us that makes us special and unique.”
She encouraged us to make “soul-guided” decisions from that place where our wants and shoulds collide, from our inner stardust. She described the following Venn diagram that I created from her description and challenged us to live authentically in that middle space – from the place of how we want to live. She said to forget the shoulds and concentrate on who we are and who we want to be. She talked about quieting the inner critic and finding our “seat of empowerment.”
Adler may have called this place our “unique unlikeness” or “our truth.” I call it our “islands of competency,” a phrase coined by Dr. Robert B. Brooks, an excellent public speaker I saw at Lewis and Clark Community College years ago. (I am a full-time faculty member and program coordinator at the college.) Brooks developed the metaphor for parents of children affected by ADHD to help their kids develop the ability to bounce back and recover from difficulties.
He also spoke of a “charismatic adult” who can help a student recognize and develop their island of competence. Doing so can foster a sense of success that is carried over into other areas of life, ultimately leading to happiness and resiliency. I strive to be that charismatic adult for my students and others. I want to help people build their islands. I encourage them to find that sweet spot where their personalities, skills and values align. My Humanist values empower me to empower others.
As Humanists, our values are evolving with us personally and our movement as a whole. Rethinking and abandoning tradition is a Humanist tradition. Take the Humanist Manifestos, for example. The ideas in the manifestos encompass the core values of Humanism, but they are very different from religious scriptures. The authors recognize that the passages are written by fallible human beings, and the documents will need to change over time. Humanism is flexible that way. We are a bunch of people doing our best to figure out the big picture of life, hopefully, while assuming and bringing out the best in one another.
Vollmer touched on the importance of the evolution of our values and the importance of truly determining the choices we want to make. When I feel torn by societal or professional conduct or even my personal options and behaviors – I can rely on my Humanist values (which are re-examined often and perpetually hanging out on my island of competence, unless I evict them) to guide me.
When I need to make tough decisions, ones with ethical edges – when I don’t see a clear path forward – when I feel stuck – I draw from the strength our congregation gives me. I feel the love and support of my fellow Humanists, and it allows me to see my choices and gives me the bravery to make the best ones for me and others.
Our movement inspires me to speak out and remain committed to ethical action. Because like Adler, I believe it is in these places of community that we can build our personal truths and navigate our individual journeys. As Vollmer said, we don’t need to be afraid of making mistakes as long as we are learning from them, and knowing that my congregation has my back – knowing that I am actively trying to elicit the best even when I fall short – knowing these truths lessens the blow when I do fail. I strive to do the best I can, and that is good enough. But, I won’t always succeed. Being human is messy, and that is ok.
There is no singular, right way to live. My Humanism shows up differently than yours, and how I live our shared values is different than how anyone else lives them. Vollmer said that living authentically is an “act of rebellion that paves the way for others to do the same.” She argues that just being who we are can “create the space and the example for somebody else to do the same.” This is just one way we can honor the humanity and inherent worth in one another, and if that ain’t Ethical Humanism, I don’t know what is.
I’d love to hear your thoughts on today’s Platform address. Please share them in the comments below.