Thursday, September 27, 2012

Redefining Cinderella

An Excerpt from Once Upon A Child: Empowering Our Children, Transforming Ourselves, Healing Our World

Decades ago when I read the story of Cinderella, I was captivated.  I did not picture her with long, flowing blonde hair, wearing a blue dress as she is often depicted.  I saw a portrait of myself in this classic story as a descendent of kings and queens.  I would be the one to overcome all the naysayers and injustices of the world.  One day, I would transform into a beautiful woman and marry the man of my dreams.  No one told me that this wasn’t real life.  I had no doubt that my wishes cleverly disguised as prayer requests would be granted.  I grew to expect that all of my dreams would come true.  And as life would have it, they are coming true just as I believed.  
           
I was so excited to share this world of fantasy with my daughter.  I bought every book of fairy tales that I came across and read to her since she was an infant.  And now that she is older, I love hearing her and other children’s reactions to these stories.  I love the glimpses into how they perceive the world around them. 

“What do you like most about Cinderella?” I asked my daughter. 
“That she was kind to everyone, even the mice.” 
“And she wasn’t mean back when her stepmother and stepsisters were mean to her,” my niece chimed in.
“Yeah, and she sang while she worked,” my daughter added. 
            “What would you change about the story?”  That was my next question.
            “I would make the stepmother nicer,” was my daughter’s reply. 
           
I was not surprised by any of these answers as this is what we aim to teach.  But hearing these reactions further opened my inquiring mind.  Why did Cinderella stay in a situation where she was bullied and ill-treated?  Why didn’t she just run away?  Was she afraid to leave?  Why didn’t Cinderella realize that her feelings mattered just as much?
             
 Like so many of us, Cinderella did not immediately connect to the power that existed inside of her.  She had learned to do whatever was asked of her and to do so willingly and politely.  In many versions of the story, she sings while she cleans the floors.  She cries quietly so no one could see or hear.  She never complained.  Deep inside, she must have known that it was all unfair.  And yet, she continued to live this way.  Why? Was it simply because this was the only home she knew?  Could it be that she so desperately wanted to be loved by her stepmother that she was willing to do anything to earn that love?  It seems that she also wanted to win her stepsisters approval.  It didn’t matter that they were slightly older than she was.  If she was “good” and always did as she was told, just maybe they would all grow to love her.  She wanted to fit in and be accepted.  Don’t we all?

We all thirst for connection and communion with others.  It is a part of our nature as human beings to want to experience a sense of belonging and acceptance. But we often spend our whole lives wanting other people to approve of us.  We are taught to conform as opposed to creating our own unique style.  We fail to see our own beauty that comes from knowing our own mind and living from our own sense of truth.  We attempt to hide anything that separates us from the norm.  We tell ourselves that no one else has secrets or insecurities.                   

So, why was Cinderella’s stepmother so deeply wounded?  How could anyone be that blatantly insensitive to the needs of a child within their care?  What did Cinderella ever do to deserve such harsh treatment?  I know this might sound a bit silly to some, but stay with me.  I now understand that it was not about Cinderella.  It is never about the person who is bullied or treated unfairly.  Well adjusted people have no need to make others look or feel badly about themselves.  It is always about the unmet needs of the person who is doing the “bullying.”  It is their underlying insecurities and frustrations with themselves and with their lives.  It is their choices and behaviors that bring about harm and discomfort to others.  People who are hurting tend to want to hurt others.  They are highly inflammable and the slightest misstep can set them off.  No matter what we do, we cannot change who they are.  We can’t make them “nicer.”  We can only work on ourselves.   
           
 A memory arises from a few years ago.  I was “flipped off” by another driver one afternoon.  What did I do to deserve such a gesture?  I still have no idea.  I consider myself to be a pretty attentive driver, but his reaction definitely implied some mistake on my part.  But the only thing I can recall is his hand gesture and the way I felt in that moment.  I kept looking into the rearview mirror.  Each time I did, he did the same thing.  I was so upset by this.  Why is he doing this to me?  Even as adults, it is easy to make other people’s anger and inconsiderate behavior strictly about us.  We try to get into their heads, thinking what did I do to deserve this?  This can cause a tremendous amount of undue suffering.  Unless that person behaves rationally and offers a reasonable explanation, we can never be sure of what they are thinking or feeling.  And why did I continue to look back? 
           
I suspect we all look back much longer than we really need to.  We give so much weight to what other people think of us.  We want to be recognized.  We want them to know how great we are.  We want them to see all the good that is in us.  And, when they fail to see the real us, this bothers us.  Then, we continue to replay their hurtful words and actions and hold on to the painful situation for much longer than we have to.  It’s not like I was using a cell phone or driving irresponsibly.  I would have apologized had I been given the opportunity to.  I pleaded my case to myself the rest of the way home.  How do we truly let go and move on?  How do we let go of other people’s opinions and not lose important aspects of ourselves in the process? 

It begins with a decision to care more about who we really are rather than what others think of us.  We all want to live a life that matters.  But whose life is this?  How you live your life should matter most to you.  This is not a call to be more self-absorbed.  It is to be real and authentic to all that is good within you.  It is to know that you are a beautiful creation in your own right.  It is to walk with deliberate confidence and share your life in the manner that feels right for you.  It is to decide what your unique contribution will be in this big, beautiful world and then take the steps that are within your control to make it happen.   When you care about yourself, you naturally care about others.  When your own needs are being met, you don’t harbor feelings of resentment for anything that you give to others.

As the great philosopher Ralph Waldo Emerson once wrote, “To be yourself in a world that is constantly trying to make you something else is the greatest accomplishment.”  We are each born with an inner compass.  This compass is our guiding light.  It speaks to us through our feelings and sensations.  It gives us the ability to look inside ourselves and know what is true for us.  It is that twinge you feel when you say something and immediately wish you hadn’t.  It is that indescribable feeling you just can’t seem to shake.  Even a young child has the ability to feel when they have made the right choice or not. 
           
As we grow in experience, so does our ability to make decisions that are aligned with our deepest self.  We do have to learn to quiet the mind in order to truly listen to what is in our heart.  The insights come when we are open to them.  We are most open when we are silent and still.  When we empty ourselves of all the loud noise and idle chatter, it is then that we become truly filled. 

Love and blessings to you,

Kathleen

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