I recently took a long road trip with my daughter and my partner. We were constantly climbing mountains, digging in caves and swimming in uncommon rivers, but we also faced occasional emotional hurdles, as thirty days in a tent or car are apt to bring up.
At one point, while my daughter was sleeping, my partner expressed her tendency to feel left out, but that she didn't want to make a thing of it because she felt stupid complaining that a six-year-old got all my attention. I understood her reticence, but gave this response. I call it the Mountain Ethic.
A group of hikers deep in the wilderness can't afford to lose even one person. If someone is getting a blister or is beginning to feel dehydrated, it's that person's responsibility to speak up so that he and the other members of the group can care for him. Otherwise, if the situation grows worse and the person becomes disabled, now miles from home, it suddenly becomes everyone's problem. In other words, being tough isn't helpful. It's dangerous and puts everyone at risk. In fact, you owe it to your friends to speak up.
Emotional hurdles are similar. Don't we all feel things, regardless of whether we think they're good or right, then try to stuff them down so that no one notices? Has that ever worked? Was it right for my partner to feel a little lonely, even if she felt guilty about it? I certainly think so, but it's not even the point. Fact is, she DID feel lonely and if she hadn't spoken up I may have continued being such a blockhead as to not take notice, and she may have felt compelled to keep stuffing it down. That's an emotional time bomb, no? Who wants to be with those two at the top of a mountain?
Now, that didn't mean I was ready to throw my daughter to the wind, but it did mean that I was able to listen and adjust, giving the three of us, or the two of us, the chance to look at the situation head on and do our best. It gave us a chance to trust each other, to acknowledge one another, and remove the obstacles of ignorance and isolation. But here's the best part -
A few days later, we had joined up with several other family and friends. I was exhausted, spending day after day, morning till night, trying to accommodate everyone and make good plans for what amounted to twelve people and five different nuclear families. It was me that had invited them there, so I felt responsible. I put on a good face, but I was burned out, stressed out, and it was no surprise when I began to get sick. Laying in the car one afternoon, while the rest of my family was out visiting a lake, I received this photo on my phone from my partner, who had chosen to spend the day resting at the campsite. So brilliant.
The Mountain Ethic - You owe it to yourself AND EVERYONE ELSE to speak up about your physical, emotional and intellectual discomfort. Otherwise, we're all in danger.