Most of us hate the thought of being pitiful, or being pitied. We would rather buck up and be strong, fearless, and cool.
But sometimes our false ideas of what it means to be powerful, and not pitiful, can actually work against us.
So for today’s New Moon musing let’s explore what power really is, and what it is not.
And why sometimes pitiful is powerful.
I just finished re-reading Amanda Palmer’s book The Art of Asking. She intimately shares her story of being a living statue busker (the eight-foot bride, to be exact) in Harvard Square for many years and her journey as an artist and musician. (It’s a deeply moving book, read it!)
At the end of the book Amanda is out late one night when she comes across a living statue busker dressed as a purple gargoyle being harassed by a drunken youngsters. Once they leave she approaches the busker, leans down, looks into his eyes, and then wraps her arms around him. He leans into her and sobs silently, back shaking. She holds him tenderly and when the sobs quiet down whispers in his ear, “Now get back to work.”
This story brings tears to my eyes every time I think about it: a stranger holding space for a stranger, witnessing the tears and holding them close.
And then reminding them of their power. The power to keep going.
There are times when we feel vulnerable, tender, awkward, teary. There are times when we feel weak, unsettled, scared, broken. This does not make us less-than or diminish our power. Power comes from feeling our feelings, being raw and real.
We actually diminish our power when we pretend we are “fine” or push our emotions and our fears down.
We are not on this planet to be super-human, or to be emotionless or perfect. We are here to be pitiful, and powerful.
Why be pitiful?
Here are a few reasons.
First, the word pitiful comes from pity + ful which in the 1300’s meant “merciful, compassionate.”
So to pity someone meant to be full of mercy and compassion.
This is the kind of pity I’m interested in: the feeling of being tender with ourselves and others around our hurts.
Each of us has an inner victim and an inner judge. The inner judge often hates the inner victim and torments it with hatred and negativity; the inner victim often feels misunderstood and helpless. The judge can claim that it is powerful and the victim is just pitiful (in the worst sense of the word: wretched, contemptible). They seem like opposites, and enemies at that.
What I’ve found creates the most healing is when we are compassionate towards both our judge-self and our victim-self without letting either of them take over. When we learn to witness their “I am powerful judge” and “I am a pitiful victim” posturing we step out of the endless dance of false power and helpless pity and reclaim the best of both.
The judge, without an attitude, teaches us to discern, make boundaries, and name our preferences and desires. The victim, freed of its bottomless fear, teaches us the power of our vulnerability and tenderness.
So today, be pity + full. Be merciful. Be powerful. Claim your discernment and your vulnerability, embrace your strength and your fears. Because powerful and pitiful are both your superpowers when harnessed the right way.