In the book I am reading, Deep Change, by Robert Quinn, the author talks about taking voluntarily taking risks. He refers to it as “Walking Naked into the Land of Uncertainty.” The examples are inspirational, but I am coming from a different place: involuntarily taking risks or, rather, living in the land of uncertainty without ever having been clothed in the first place.
The example the author first uses is that of an executive that is put in the position of having to “downsize” and lay-off people repeatedly. The man did some soul searching, asked himself a lot of questions, and eventually became empowering to others. “He felt personally empowered. He stopped worrying about the dangers of change and how he was seen by the organization.” (Pages 7-8)
This man’s situation strikes me as a quite high-class problem. He has a very well-paying position, with a great deal of power over others’ fates. He eventually develops a conscience. Good for him.
None of this applies to me.
Even in high school, I saw what it would take to have friends and be “popular”: ignore being lied to, act stupidly in front of boys (to make certain they did not feel threatened by a mind possibly sharper than theirs), etc. I made horrendous choices in friends because I had older siblings that were wretched role models, because they used drugs and alcohol in great quantities. I learned that doing without (friends, for example) was way better and easier than feeling used and abused. It is tough to manipulate someone who is willing to walk away from the situation entirely.
I entered into adulthood with few coping skills. I had tried marijuana a couple times. After all, people seemed to really like it. It did nothing for me. I had many unmet needs driving my behavior, some of which I have only recently emotionally detoxed from. Financial survival and moving away from my parents were my only concerns.
Some of my “nakedness” comes from being at the bottom of the food chain and some of it comes from not finding adequate distractions to keep myself from examining the situations I was in. I grew up in a working-class family, full of uneducated (but often well-meaning members). I have never found a chemical escape that made me feel better, unless you include caffeine. Whatever emotional distress I have experienced has had to be dealt with stone cold sober.
I went through life, taking care of my husband, who has a heart of gold and Huntington’s. He worked for GM for 32 years. Life was tough at times, but not necessarily more difficult than for anyone else in my circle. I was knitting myself some emotional clothing, even if from tattered materials at times. Then he got cancer.
I always knew I would have to support myself one day, but he was diagnosed with stage 4 cancer. The necessity for self-support became imminent. Any emotional clothing I may have had was torched by the cancer diagnosis.
Once again, I am walking through the land of uncertainty naked. My priorities were instantly clarified. I am like Joshua Fields Milburn and Ryan Nicodemus: when your security blanket gets stripped away, the value of what remains gets carefully examined. Stuff simply stops being important. Making baklava is replaced with taking my husband to radiation. Submitting to the “authority” of the church is eschewed in favor of relationships that actually serve both people’s needs. Organizations that serve a few are abandoned in favor of seeking organizations that work for the common good. Other people’s expectations of me are tempered by my expectation of mutuality. Life becomes simpler. Being naked is simple.
For people high up on the food chain, walking through the land of uncertainty naked is a deliberate and frightening choice. For many people, however, no clothes were inherited in the first place. Walking naked can be an act of solidarity with those who never had any clothes to begin with. That’s where the real change can occur. Those of us who have been naked for years are the hope of the future. We’ve been dealing with ever-changing reality for a long time now. When life has fallen apart (or was never built up from the start), all the stuff others have to “put on the line” to try to be “change leaders” just doesn’t matter anymore. You can’t “risk” something that you no longer (or perhaps never did) have or care about.