My Shameless Love Affair

Meredith Kaknevicius
Posted February 14, 2021 from Canada

https://www.bookinterrupted.com/post/my-shameless-love-affair

The impact books have on our lives is not limited to the words written between the covers. Some books inspire new thoughts and send us to unexpected places. Follow me down the rabbit hole in this recurring segment.

I was sitting in a salon chair facing the mirror, talking to the stylist’s reflection. I had just shown her a number of pictures on my phone, trying explain the ‘look’ I was hoping she would accomplish. I was finally doing it – cutting my long hair into a very short and, possibly chic cut. There was an electricity in the room, every stylist and patron piqued by my imminent transformation, a combination of excitement, apprehension, and curiosity lingered in the air, as I took them all along for the ride.

How many of them had, like me, fantasized about a big change and had yet to take the plunge?

For most of my life I had worn my hair long, often down to my waist, and had been toying with the idea of shaving it off completely since I was 17 years old. Now, about to turn 40, I had yet to do it. For two decades I was too scared to cut my hair, something that would grow back, just in case it didn’t look good. It felt like a metaphor; for what I did not yet know.

I was ultimately inspired by my daughter. At two years old she started asking for a buzz cut, eventually asking for even shorter. For two whole years I gently nudged her toward choosing slightly more feminine, slightly longer haircuts, under the guise of protection. I reasoned that she lacked experience, and ultimately would be unhappy until she grew it out again. This didn’t sway her. Through her persistence and relentless certainty, it finally hit me: this had nothing to do with her and everything to do with me. She knew what she wanted, asked for it loud and clear, and only my own fear was getting in the way. We finally went to the hairdresser and ordered the buzz cut. I’m embarrassed to say, that even then I deceived her. I showed her hairdresser a slightly longer buzz cut picture. Within the week, she took matters and scissors into her own hands and cut her hair down to the scalp. She emerged from the bathroom triumphant, proud of her handiwork, and finally donning the haircut she’d long pined for. She knew what she liked and didn’t care what anyone else thought. She was an inspiration. So, after hesitating for over 20 years, I shared with my hairdresser something personal about myself that I hoped would convince her of my sincerity in awarding her creative license. It is a truth about myself that explains many fashion, pastime, and friendship decisions throughout the years: I’d rather feel cool than look good.

I was immensely pleased with my cut. Five months later, I went one step further. Together with delighted children, helpful husband, hair clippers, and a #8 attachment, we (yes, the two- and four-year-old helped) buzzed it off. Turns out I had nothing to fear but fear itself. I had finally freed myself from my self-constructed prison, looked my vanity in the eye and refused to be controlled by it. A small victory, sure, but exhilarating none-the-less.

The head shaving was captured in a fun family video, and circulated to bring a smile to loved ones amid the stress of pandemic. There is where I left it. That is, until Untamed by Glennon Doyle, a book of stories and metaphors, brought me back to it.

Early in the book, Doyle reveals a deep, dark secret she’s been keeping since high school. She lays her shame out, exposing not only a bygone fraud but also the deepest, desperate desires of her youth. Her candid and public confession produced in me a strong, empathetic reaction. My heart pounded, my shoulders tensed, there was a lump in my throat. As I took an exaggerated inhale, I realized that I had been holding my breath. My awareness moved inside in me.

Her story was uncomfortably human. If you’re up to it, I ask you to explore your humanity with me. Take a moment to think back. Think of a time when you, yourself, felt shame. Did if arise from something you did or didn’t do, say or didn’t say? Or perhaps it started from outside you? Perhaps another projected their insecurities onto you, transforming them into shame? Did you act? Did you tell someone? Did you hold your breath?

Shame is not merely a feeling. It is a spotlight. It shines a light into our dark corners, revealing parts of ourselves that even we don’t approve of. It is also the canary in a coal mine. It alerts us to something toxic. Maybe that’s why secret shame feels so suffocating.

And yet, many hold on to secrets such as these. They hold on to them out of fear. Fear of judgment, fear of loss, fear of consequences, fear of exile. Ultimately, I think it all comes down the need to feel loved. Over time that fear can fester into self-loathing, a self-fulfilling prophecy, because it’s hard to love someone who doesn’t love themselves.

Why is that? Let’s consider one scenario. A person discards their uniqueness striving for a glorified ideal. This is the common Rom-Com scenario where the nerdy/artsy/quirky/opinionated character throws away their glasses and is given a painstakingly thorough make-over, resulting in the eventual conquering of the love interest. They finally hear the words they’ve been dreaming about: I love you.

This is an example of conditional love. It stifles two key ingredients of intimate connection, namely honesty and a safe place to be vulnerable. It may come with affection, but it also comes with the threat of punishment. It’s called behaviourism. Do this, and receive a reward. Do that, and receive a punishment. In the short term, this strategy is a great manipulator. Unfortunately, it separates self-worth from the self, and puts it in the hands of another. Eventually, it can erode away the sense of who we are and why we do things. In North America behaviourism is so engrained it is assumed effective independent results. If you don’t believe me, start paying attention to the number of times you hear someone exclaim “good job!” for something trivial. It has roots in the self-esteem movement, and is mainly done to kids. Ironically, it robs the child of experiencing pride independently, and sends the message that they are constantly being judged. The next time you hear this, imagine how you’d feel if another adult said the same thing to you in the same situation. I find it particularly cringe worthy when a kid is playing, motivated purely by fun, only to have their joy one-upped by another. Good job! Good job, you went down the slide! Down the slide? It comes off as patronizing, especially since gravity did most of the work. The intention is good, but unfortunately has the opposite effect. For a more in-depth discussion check out Five Reasons to Stop Saying "Good Job!" by Alfie Kohn.

Ok, let’s all take a breath, because things are getting heated. I’ve basically just lumped unconditional praise in with conditional love, and a statement like this can illicit an explosive defense from a parent. Most parents truly love their kids unconditionally. It’s what we’re wired to do. This is not a parenting blog, and I’m not telling people how to raise their kids. This is merely one stop on my way back to the salon, a stream of thoughts that progressed as I read Untamed. I hope you’ll hang on for the rest of the journey.

The point I’m getting at is, regardless of the intention, outside judgement can be interpreted as a stipulation on affection. Imagine this: a child is praised for her beautiful hair, showered with affection. She cuts it off in the name of science (childhood is just one long experiment, isn’t it?). She is scorned and maybe even punished. What has she learned? She may have learned not to cut her own hair, but also that her body isn’t her own to make decisions about, and she must be beautiful to be loved. It’s like I said a couple weeks ago in A Small Spark Can Light The Way– Just Don’t Over Think It, any content we subject ourselves to can have an influence on our perception of what is normal and acceptable. Behaviourism normalizes the idea that we must bury our individuality in order to be loved. The mystery of love is distilled down to a list of rules that, if followed, promises happiness. Perhaps that’s one of the reasons transformative Rom-Com movies are so popular.

Having a rule book to life is quite enticing. Unfortunately, individuality and standardization are not compatible. Throwing away the rule book seems like a paradigm shift, except for that nagging voice deep inside us all that loathes being manipulated and wants to be treated with respect. Luckily, there are lots of other books out there that invite the reader to be introspective, and unearth what’s been buried. Untamed by Glennon Doyle is a memoir documenting one woman’s journey. In Dark Horse, Todd Rose and Ogi Ogas offer an alternative mind set that focusses on individuality, introducing the idea of micro-motivations as the keys to fulfillment. In Punished by Rewards Alfie Kohn exposes the damaging effects of behaviourism in parenting, education, and the workplace, and offers an alternative. Kohn’s book Unconditional Parenting is even more in-depth, and challenges parents to take the long view of parenting, moving away from manipulation and toward reason and love.

To see this in action, look no further than Fred Rogers, known best for his children’s program Mister Rogers' NeighborhoodHe understood that each of us needs love, and told us,” People can like you exactly as you are”. Powerful words.  Strangely, I didn’t fully appreciate Fred Rogers until I was a parent, and not just for my kids’ sake. The spin-off program Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood really helped me with making mistakes. Perfectionism is a form of self-loathing. The inability to accept mistakes is a way of expressing that same fear that we aren’t good enough and can’t be loved. Sometimes all we really need is someone to say (or sing), it’s okay to make a mistake. Mister Rogers deeply understood children and in doing so, really understood humans on a fundamental level. Because we all need the same things. The difference is that children are not as good at hiding it, not as good at faking it, and not as good at lying to themselves.

Adults, on the other hand, are experts in deceiving themselves. In Untamed, Doyle tells us, “We forgot how to know when we learned how to please.” She’s talking about forgetting how to hear her own voice. In many ways, her memoir is a love story. In it, she relearns how to love and respect herself. Luckily, with bravery and work, this kind of life-long love affair is possible for everyone. It can be a hard journey for some. Trauma has a particularly stubborn and persistent impact. The person who respects themselves enough to be themselves welcomes others to love them genuinely. In order to accept that love in return, we also need to do away with the deification of love. Mister Rogers puts it superbly, saying "Love isn't a state of perfect caring. It is an active noun like struggle. To love someone is to strive to accept that person exactly the way he or she is, right here and now.” That includes ourselves.

Those who know me would be somewhat surprised by me drawing parallels between Doyle’s adolescent experiences and my own. I am a person long in touch with my inner voice and disinclined to bow to the social norms that would have me modify my outward self to be accepted. I learned early that conditional friendships are toxic and end in heartbreak and loneliness. Luckily, by my mid-teens I was fortunate enough to form healthy friendships with people that liked me for what, who, and how I was. We were free to celebrate each other’s differences without the film of anxiety that clouds happiness when fitting-in is prioritized above all. I listened and questioned and trusted myself. I enjoyed my own company, and spent a lot of time with myself. Even so, we all have our little insecurities, and they present themselves unexpectedly sometimes. Like while looking at a bald and beaming four-year-old amid a mess of hair clippings.

Unconditional love means loving someone for who they are deep down, through mistakes, misjudgments, and even bad haircuts. I knew there was a metaphor in there somewhere. The eventual shaving of my head was an assertion to myself, that I could love myself and be loved regardless of how I looked. It was rejecting a lie I had told myself for years.

I know what you’re thinking. Didn’t she say earlier that she’d rather feel cool than look good? Doesn’t that mean that she wants to be cool? Doesn’t that include trying fit it? She’s changing her story here, and I don’t quite like it.

The devil is in the details, or course. What I really mean is that I would prefer to feel comfortable in my own skin than try to fit in that of another. In a small way, I was finally listening to my voice through all the noise of my conditioning. We need others, but we also need ourselves. It is up to us to decide when and how to please without losing ourselves along the way. In this case, I prioritized how I felt over how I looked. In retrospect, it might have had something to do with buying the album It's Such A Good Feeling: The Best of Mister Rogers.  His song It's You I Like is simultaneously an elixir of love and antidote to self-doubt.

We covered a lot of ground today! It’s always gratifying when thinking about the person I was teaches me about the person I am. Join me next week as I take you further down the rabbit hole with Untamed by Glennon Doyle.

How about you? Are you caged by shame or fear? Will you muster the courage to reveal the truth to yourself, and forgive? What holds you back from listening to your inner voice and loving yourself? Can you turn that feeling around and into something you’d be proud of?

Normally, I would invite you to comment below or connect with us by email. That said, putting vulnerabilities into words and sending them out into the world isn’t for everyone, so I won’t push it. Instead, I invite you to connect with yourself.

Book Interrupted is a podcast that follows six women as they talk, rant, cry, laugh, and connect through books. Down the Rabbit Hole is a weekly blog series influenced by the books featured on the podcast. To learn more visit www.bookinterrupted.com, a book club for busy people to connect and one that celebrates life’s interruptions.

Comments 12

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Nini Mappo
Feb 15
Feb 15

Hello, Meredith,
You have indeed covered a lot of ground, in sharing your own betrayal of self to win others' favor. It's like saying "I hate how I look/the style I've chosen but it makes me popular, so I can live with the discomfort". or "I'll deceive myself so that I can deceive others.” It is unfortunately the trap many people find themselves in, especially in the advent of social media, forever on other’s binoculars' view or their biased weighing scales. I imagine it would be tiring! It is good to see that you have healed enough to not transmit that cross-generationally to your children. Good on you!

Your story got me wondering whether it’s worth investigating the probability that it’s impossible for shame to exist without pride, because if we lived in perfect humility there’d be no ‘pride’ to crush, since crushed pride is what shame presents as sometimes…the bar that we or others set up that we missed, or broke. (since people also feel shame or are shamed for being too good at something.)

I think of pride and shame because some people feel shame for failing in their own expectations and letting themselves down, when they haven’t let others down. Your remarks on unconditional love and being afforded the freedom to makes mistakes might reinforce this somewhat, because imperfection allows for our pride to be protected, and shame stopped from speaking into our failures.

Undoubtedly, shame from external triggers is the shame most talked of, because it's unjust, and the shame we feel least in control of. So perhaps different shames need different approaches and pathways to heal.

I agree that parenting predisposes carers to pay brainless compliments to children, and that loving one for features, looks, or personal presentation is both shallow, insincere, and even selfish. Perhaps it shouldn’t even be called love.

What I found confusing, however, is whether you suggest that since conditioning children to feedback will eventually lead to their experiencing shame, the solution would be to do away with standards and expectations altogether, because without them the need for feedback, the mother of shame, is bypassed. But then again, children also have their own expectations. Because they experience things like competitiveness, jealousy, admiration of external factors they aspire to that are wholly unrelated to the home or learning situation, and will still ask carers for feedback on those, and again, going back to pride, they seek feedback in search of a sense of pride, which, like shame is sort of programmed in. (like my toddler who's just learned to walk, and you can see both frustration and pride in the effort, setbacks, mastery, and distance 'toddled' without falling. As you noted, the said toddler can judge themselves fairly and feel pride, but still looks to me to celebrate with or affirm. So that even without understanding of standards and expectations, what feels good evokes pride/celebration and what is not, fear, because with an underdeveloped conscience, toddlers can't feel shame yet. And still inviting family to give feedback or participate in the independent judgements about their skills. So as you can see, many wonderings!

Of course, feedback need not be just positive or negative, there are various kinds of feedback, one of the healing types being one where both entities participate in the feedback, as opposed to the roles of an issuer and a recipient of feedback. But the implications of standards and expectations in the context of shame and individuality are unclear and left me with a question. So I posed it :)

So again, thinking about pride and shame, and the Web they weave, and whether expectations and feedback are portrayed as 'bad guys'.

Well, your article is packed with gems and questions, and impossible to respond to comprehensively. I'm a thinker, so I gravitate to the questions more, but I had better stop here since this is already an essay ha ha.

Thank you for sharing healing and depth, and inviting others into these, through asking reflective questions with courage and integrity!

In solidarity and celebration of the complexity of life,
Nini

Meredith Kaknevicius

Nini,
I love what you said about pride. Shame and pride seem to be two sides of the same coin. I come from a very proud family, and have done a lot of work personally to learn how to swallow my pride. It’s an uphill battle, lol. I suppose both have their place, otherwise they would not be in our arsenal of human emotion. I believe that our emotions, all of them, are important. They inform us, a sign of something inward or outward going on. Not sure quite how to articulate what I mean by that yet; I’m going to have a think about it.
You say, “So perhaps different shames need different approaches and pathways to heal.” Yes, this must be true. And also, different pathways to accommodate individuality, for certainly, shame manifests itself differently due to individual human difference.
Hmm. I guess I do suggest that. And children (none of us) are merely the result of all our external experiences. Individual personalities traits present themselves from the start, as many parents will attest. There is definitely the interaction between nature and nurture, though. I think that pride is a great motivator, and I am pleased when I see it in my daughters. It is incredibly difficult not to overshadow it with my own. Parental pride is such a strange experience for me. I see my daughters doing something, and I feel proud even when the accomplishment is all their own effort. Ultimately, what I want from them is for their own personal pride to be more important to them than that of others. When I want to exclaim “I’m so proud of you” sometimes I instead will say “you must be proud of yourself.” She knows I mean the first, but I try to turn her attention inwards. I also like to make space for others emotions. I spent a lot of my time trying to push away the ‘bad’ emotions, and now I try to listen to them and name them. Hopefully, if I can model that, those around me can also start listening to themselves when their emotions are telling them something. Children naturally want to please their caregivers. This is good because it’s how they can learn to be included in a wider social group, and we are a social species. There is room for that in a respectful relationship. Some will use this need to please as a way to control and manipulate them, even down to telling them how to feel. Since I think our emotions are telling us something, telling someone they don’t feel what they feel can lead to them not trusting their own instincts or experiences. Don’t get me wrong, children need firm boundaries, and I am very strict about certain things. And especially in extreme circumstances such as matters of safety, I will use any thing at my disposal to protect them. But if I spend most of my time trying to control them, then in a dangerous situation it might be harder to express how serious it is to them. For example, if I spend all day yelling “stop” at them, when I need them to actually stop (let’s say a car is speeding down the road they’re about to cross), they might just hear it as white noise.
You say, “feedback need not be just positive or negative, there are various kinds of feedback, one of the healing types being one where both entities participate in the feedback, as opposed to the roles of an issuer and a recipient of feedback.” Certainly, nothing is simple with humans. I think we complicate things further because we do like to categorize things as positive and negative when, as you said, they can be both/neither. They can just be. I guess that’s because we are so good at categorizing! It serves us and sometime it doesn’t lol
Being a parent is immensely fascinating. I’m a wonderer like yourself, and children are so honest and experiencing the world more freshly than adults. It often gets me thinking about human nature, and the role of all our complexities in the context of evolution and survival.
Your comments are always so insightful. I feel like we are kindred spirits. I imagine how fun it would be to sit down and talk with you in person, and see where the conversation leads.

Meredith

Nini Mappo
Feb 18
Feb 18

Hello again Meredith
Yes, it is lovely when we can connect deeply without pretense or barriers, so thank you for making time and investing yourself in the dialogue.

You continue to raise significant points to which I cannot respond sufficiently, which only cements the strength of our connection. But I will say this of parenting: I think the dilemma is that we start off in complete control. We don’t want to hold on to that, obviously, but instead of thinking of the process of raising a child as a transfer of control, perhaps we think of it as relinquishing control, because fears come into play, threatening trust between parents and children. Maybe thinking of it as transfer of control would be more freeing for both parties, and carries a stronger implication for trust and accountability which reduces parental controlling tendencies.

On pride, I would say that one of the most significant realities that inform my parenting, is the baptism of Christ. It is said that on the event, a dove spirit of peace descended on him and a voice accompanied it saying, “This is my son whom I love. With him, I am well pleased. Listen to him.” This is pride or pleasure before any ‘ accomplishment’ or commencement of his mission. In the same vein, we parents felt pride even before our babies accomplished anything. It was natural and spontaneous and distinctive from love. So any pride we feel cannot displace theirs. Our pride consummates theirs, even amplifies it. Just as when they come with pride to be met with criticism, that sense of achievement fizzles out. we tend to wither without affirmation. It is another kind of accountability to know and remain on the right track, and our children and students invite us to feel proud of them. I f we don’t it can reduce their sense of achievement significantly, so I’d say that there is a place for both feelings of pride, or pleasures if you like.

Going back to that pure pride, I think it shortchanges the children when they gain some skills, and we begin to attach verbalized pride only to actions, forgetting how to be proud of them because of the incredible worth as human beings we are privileged to belong with. This conditional pride is an aspect of the conditional love in behaviorism that you referenced. Personally, I think focusing more on the first pride empowers our children more because they learn they have worth apart from our feedback. It releases them to try and fail without fear of being reduced to their performance. (like the love you speak of in the comment below, a love that frees one to imperfection, so that it can reshape them in safety) I’m not sure how to explain it.

But it also, again, in my view, reflected in the standard western goal of parenting to raise ‘well-adjusted’ adults. This to me connotates independence and survival, and therefore the need to learn skills for survival. It is good, but it should be the bare minimum. A broader perspective could be that children are life-givers in training. Parenting is transferring that life in its totality, control, trust, and pride that is unattached to ‘behavior’ included (the other pride is good too), and scaffold the child to learn how to give that life to self and others, even if it is in ways that we didn’t envision. Maybe it would be easier for parents to get out of the way’ then. But even so, we can’t give what we don’t have, and who we are is how we parent, what we are is what we give our children, at least in their early vulnerable years. And, I stop (hand over my mouth ha ha). I think you and I can go on and on, sparking each other's thinking in kindred spirit mode...

p.s. Thank you for reaching out to my blog. I am afraid it is rather neglected, because I have more family here!

Meredith Kaknevicius

I really like that idea of a control transfer. This is critical to building trust. There is a paradox in the concept of earning trust, because in order to have an opportunity to prove themselves, there has to be an initial offering of trust from the person with the most control.
I like what you say about pure pride versus pride associated with actions only. I agree, confirmation from others is an important part of the social and bonding needs of humans. It reminds me of a sad phenomenon in which a lack of touching (holding, hugging) can cause infants to stop growing and even die. It highlights the need for connection that you point out children invite us to share with them, particularly when they are sharing their pride in themselves and their accomplishments. It’s almost a type of group feeling. Might this be part of a biological mechanism for bonding?
When I think about “well-adjusted’ adults I think I take a pretty simplified view. No doubt, there are certain skills that will serve kids in their adulthood, and I think this aligns with your comment about learning skills for survival. If I were to pick one thing that is most important, it would be this: the ability to form and maintain healthy relationships. This includes with the self, with individuals, with a community, and the greater global community. It includes empathy and also perspective taking. If I can equip my children with all the skills that support that, the other things like math and cooking a meal seem pretty straightforward. I think this is what you’re saying, too. It’s the scaffolding part that seems like an ongoing evolution!

Meredith Kaknevicius

Nini, I was also thinking, the challenge becomes communicating unconditional love amid all the others. For example, showing disappointment about actions while still maintaining that safe space of unconditional love. Because things happen in relationships that produce feelings like disappointment, anger, frustration, etc. It’s the difference between “I love you and...” and “I love you but...”
With that safe space if unconditional love, one can be free to come to the relationship in the wake of mistakes without fear of losing it.

maeann
Feb 19
Feb 19

wow Nini, i agree, reading your reply is an essay hahaha :)

Beth Lacey
Feb 16
Feb 16

You are very brave to share this with us

Meredith Kaknevicius

Thank you, Beth.

maeann
Feb 19
Feb 19

Hi Meredith,

I shaved my hair 4 months ago. A first time to decide in life since my hair is my crowning glory. With that experienced, I discover self-respect and self-esteem. I don't need to dress for others. Now, I feel more pretty and beautiful with a short hair (though i miss my long hair), but I am more free. I need to stop here or else, I would also reply like Nini hahaha. Thank you for sharing, you are braved, that makes you unique and wonderful.

Meredith Kaknevicius

Maeann, I find it interesting how hair is such a symbol for so many women. Me included. It's facinating that you, too, found self-respect and self-esteem by shaving it off. That is the opposite of what I feared before I cut mine. And yet it was freeing instead. And, yes, sometimes is do miss my long hair :)
Meredith

Hello, Meredith,

You bore your soul in this writing. How brave you are. I too shaved my hair, but left bangs. But before that, A few days approaching the year 2020, I asked my sister who colors her hair whenever she likes, to dye my hair purple. She had extra purple dye but it wasn't enough so it turned out to be pink. So the first half of 2020 I wear pink hair. It's the first time I felt free from people's opinion. I am nearing 40s, too, so it looked odd for a woman my age to have pink hair. My sister can get away with is since she is 12 years younger (purple hair). The lockdown happened, and my hair got so dry because there were months when we had water shortage.

My husband learned to shave his own hair, and in June last year, I told him to shave mine, too. He thought it would be cool. My two boys were there to watch, and they wanted their hairs to be shaved, too! So that was a memorable moment for our family of four. It's great to be free to decide of what you want without worryng about other people's opinion. One thing that inspired me to shave my hair was our World Pulse sisters from Africa who rock it with their shaved head.

On shame, Brene Brown is an expert on that subject. She holds a PhD in research and focused on the topic of shame. I have ebooks to share if you like. But there's one powerful statement that she said, "If you put shame in a petri dish, it needs three ingredients to grow exponentially: secrecy, silence, and judgment. If you put the same amount of shame in the petri dish and douse it with empathy, it can't survive." In short, shame cannot survive when we expose it and when it is met with empathy.

I don't want this to be an essay.haha. But I have proven it to be true, the more I talk about my shame on World Pulse, and it's constantly met with empathy, I found healing and got to love myself more (and believe me I used to be in a self-loathing cycle for years). Thank you for sharing your story with us.

Meredith Kaknevicius

Thank you for sharing! That sounds like a great memory for you and your family. I think the lockdown did have an impact on my decision to shave it off, too. Perhaps social isolation made space for not worrying about the opinions of others.
Thanks for the recommendation. I'm always interested in reading something new. I'll look into Brene Brown :)
I haven't been with World Pulse long, but I completely understand your sentiment. It's such a powerful community.