Thursday, October 11, 2012

Community Night Gone Right AKA Kara's Owner's Manual

I may have explained this before, but each Wednesday evening in our program is designated as a  Community Night.  This is a night set apart each week for us to gather as a community for engagement, discussion, education, or just plain fellowship and fun.  We all leave work about an hour earlier than usual to get the ball rolling by 5pm blunt (we could be a little more punctual, eh, LV?).  Each community night includes a business meeting (scheduling for the next week or weeks to come, updates on house budget and transportation, reflection on the status of community life, etc.)  Following the business meeting, we have dinner as usual (though perhaps more rushed and chaotic). 

After dinner, the night’s theme begins.  Some weeks we travel into the city to hear a speaker.  Some weeks we do service together as an Amate community within the larger Chicago community.  Some weeks we gather with the other two houses to learn more and delve deeper into the five tenets of our program.  Some weeks we, as a house, design our own community night.  And some weeks our community nights are more community-specific and are held in the quirkiness of our own home.

Last week’s was one of those.

I have to admit that when we first cozied up in our second floor community room after dinner, I could sense that very few of us were excited to reorient our brains to focus on whatever we were going to be presented with.  I definitely was not. 

Just the same, our house coordinator, Ali, began explaining our task for the night.  She held up a mostly-blank white sheet of 8½x11 printer paper with the typed heading “_____’s Owner’s Manual.”  I think I actually felt the group’s internal groan, but I might be projecting.  I tend to do that. ;)

“What you’re going to do,” Ali said, “is create an owner’s manual for yourself.  You’ll write it in the third person, outlining the highlights of your personality, warning signs for moods, bad habits, joys, reactions to conflict, pet peeves, areas of improvement, and so on.  You’re going to take half an hour to write up your manual, and then return to the group and share it.  I’ll collect them and make copies to redistribute to all of you.” (She probably said this in a much peppier, cuter, and Ali-esque way, but 1) it’s been a week, so sue me if I don’t remember verbatim 2) I’m paraphrasing and 3) this is my blog so I can misquote and misappropriate as I please. Kidding.  I think.)

We each solemnly collected our blank owner’s manual from her with all of the enthusiasm of someone reporting to jury duty.  Per Ali’s suggestion, we each retreated to different corners of the house where we felt most comfortable writing.  I returned to my Blog Headquarters aka my bed, and started writing.

I shouldn’t, but will, speak for my housemates when I say that we were entirely wrong to not want to put in the effort for that night’s assignment.  Forty-five minutes later, Ali tapped on my bedroom door and informed me that she was giving us another half hour to work on our manuals because most of us had become so involved in the project that we hadn’t finished even the first of the three prompts.  Even after all of that time, when we reconvened on the second floor, some of us, myself included, were still scrambling to squeeze in a few more bullet points.  (I may have also been totally disrespectful to some of my roommates and added a few when they were sharing their manual aloud and I thought nobody would notice.  I willfully cede a heaping handful of community life points for that one.)

It was humbling, exciting, nerve-wracking, and entertaining to share all of our manuals with one another.  I am always exceedingly impressed with and awed by my roommates’ sense of self-awareness.  It may be true of the other two houses, too, but I feel as if my community is made up of a group of really extraordinary 20-somethings.  My roommates were all so honest and forthcoming with their misgivings and so hopeful and willingly vulnerable about their dreams and areas of self-improvement.  I was the last to share that night, and I remember feeling as if I had no right to speak after hearing such accurate portraits of each of my roommates from their very own mouths. 
I ended the evening with a sense of being honored to share a year of each of these peoples’ lives.  I may not always understand them or agree with them or want to be around them (the same could be said of me, I’m absolutely sure), but I feel privileged to be learning what it truly means to love alongside and from them.

Below, for your reading pleasure, is my very own Owner’s Manual. I hope those of you who know me well find it to be an accurate snapshot of me.  Feel free to propose bullet points that I missed if you have any, especially as regards my uglier qualities—I’m human so I might’ve sugarcoated mine a little.  I also hope that those of you who don’t know me as well—or at all!—may find this manual enlightening as you continue to read my blog this year (if you so choose!).

Kara’s Owner’s Manual
Becoming Familiar With Me  This section describes the highlights of your personality.  Think about what drives you, both at work and at home.  If you wish, borrow words or phrases from your Strengths report.  Include your greatest talents, as well as your blind spots and failures.
+  WARNING:  Kara is a sensitive introvert and is likely to react to her own and others’ emotions/feelings with extremes (read:  tears). 
+  Kara finds comfort in silence and does not need to talk to enjoy your company.
+  Kara loves to feel busy and must accomplish something measurable each day to feel at peace.  That said, Kara is also always in a constant state of self-evaluation and is never fully satisfied with her personal development; this is true of all aspects of her life:  self-perception, physical, emotional, vocational, spiritual, relational, etc. 
+  Kara loves to learn new things and will often start up new and involved projects; however, Kara is also a perfectionist, and will quickly lose interest in a project when she realizes she’s not naturally gifted at it. 
+  Kara works best under pressure, though she constantly seeks quiet and stability. 
+  Kara tends to be very concerned with meeting expectations—her own and those of others.
+  Kara is perpetually concerned with inclusivity and will go out of her way to achieve it for anyone but herself.
+  Kara is terrified of her ability to hurt other people, but is comfortable standing up for her values and beliefs, even if it makes her feel isolated.
+  Kara thinks very hard about just about anything she wants to say before she says it, which is one reason for why she often prefers writing to talking.

Cautions  This section shares insights on your reaction to stressful situations and confrontations, as well as pet peeves and red flags that would be helpful for your housemates to know.
+  Kara tends to feel other people’s stress acutely, but often fails to recognize her own until she’s overwhelmed.  When this threshold is reached, she will likely have a short meltdown.  Give her some space to commiserate and think for a moment, and soon she’ll be back on her feet, tackling the problem one step at a time.
+  Kara finds group interactions emotionally taxing but rewarding.  She will likely insert one or two comments when she feels comfortable, but otherwise will be quiet and observant, feeling out the room.  If Kara chooses to share a story or thought that requires a whole group’s attention on her, you can be certain she feels she’s sharing something important to her.
+  Kara tends to work through most of her problems on her own, but may come to you if she’s seeking a new way to be challenged or to be held accountable for a decision.  If she asks for your opinion on a situation in her life, it means she’s looking for someone she respects to help her pin down a new goal, especially as regards her relationships with others.
+  While Kara loves to write and appreciates all things of the written word, Kara detests holding conversations via text message or instant messengers like facebook chat.  She feels as though these media, while useful, do not do the least bit of justice to a conversation that can be held in person or to the experience of sharing time and space with another person face-to-face.  She prefers to use these methods of communication only for quick hello’s, silly updates, or to let you know she’s thinking of you.  She will, however, use both text and facebook chat if no other option is readily available. (Be warned that this is one of Kara’s soapbox issues.)
+  Caution:  do not interrupt Kara when you see her reading or writing.  If you need her help or need to speak with her at these moments, it’s best not to just start talking to her.  It takes her a moment to switch gears (especially emotionally).  Simply ask if you can have her attention for a moment.  Once she has closed her book or put down her pen or looked away from her computer, feel free to share what you need to share or ask what you need to ask.

Final Note  This section declares the areas that you are actively working to improve.  Think about your personal goals for the year, and also look at the “Ideas for Action” in your Strengths report for helpful suggestions.
+  Kara is working on her ability to combat her restlessness and constant need for forward motion in her personal and spiritual development.
+  Kara views everything as a work in progress—even you!—and is learning how to appreciate things and people for what and who they are at the present moment while still finding opportunities to (hopefully) graciously share ways she thinks you could grow.
+  In her pursuit of perfection, Kara tends to be very hard on herself.  She is working on being less self-deprecating.  However, Kara also really struggles with pridefulness, and can also have ugly moments of self-righteousness.  She actually would appreciate someone having the guts to call her out—gently but firmly—on these moments because it will lend to her conviction surrounding personal development.  As a result of the aforementioned, Kara struggles with compliments and is learning to accept them graciously.
+  Kara can be impatient with people who don’t know how to or refuse to express their thoughts and feelings.  She is learning how not to put words in others’ mouths and/or force them to share before they would have done on their own.
+  Kara values honesty above all else and will answer any question you ask in sincerity.  She’s not a private person just because she’s quieter than most.  She just refuses to demand attention in the event that you might need that time more than she.  She is learning how to advocate for herself.
+  Kara is always worried about imposing on other peoples’ time and emotions and is slowly coming to believe that her thoughts, feelings, and ideas are deserving of time, respect, and acknowledgement, too.

Hope you survived all of that!  Thanks for reading. :)  Your support and the time you take to read my musings mean more than you could possibly imagine.  Until next time!