When I was growing up in Brooklyn, about the worst thing you could call someone was a “flat leaver.” The word pretty much conveys the idea. If I’m hanging out with my friend Alice and Patty comes along and invites me (but not Alice) to join her and I go, I’m a flat leaver. If Bob and Jim make plans to go to a movie, but Jim backs out after getting a call from Mike inviting him to come hang out, Jim has left Bob flat.
Not being a flat leaver is more than just loyalty; the two are obviously related, but the former somehow feels much more elemental than the latter.
I hadn’t consciously thought about flat leaving for a very long time. We are decades away from my youth and I now live in a part of the country where people have never heard the term. But some things get wired into us when we are very young. They may become buried, but they are still there somewhere. (I sometimes joke with people that if you scratch me deep enough, you find a Brooklyn street kid.) And, while not being a flat leaver is deeper or more elemental than simply being loyal, I note that when we do a values exercise at the vocation retreat weekends we give semi-annual for law students at the University of St. Thomas, loyalty is a value that consistently make the cut of the values most important to me.
I was recently in a situation where I had to choose whether to pursue X or Y. What X and Y were doesn’t really matter; suffice it to say that there were various considerations, some of which leaned in one direction and some in the other. The other night I was sitting in a program unrelated to the two options, not particularly even thinking about them. Yet at some point the thought/feeling/sense arose strongly: “If I choose Y over X, I will feel like a flat leaver. And I’m not a flat leaver.” (I say thought/feeling/sense, because I did hear those words, but I felt it deep in my gut.)
When I sat with the experience the next morning in my prayer, interestingly, I could see examples of other decisions I have made at various times over the years that came from that same place; although that piece was unarticulated at the time, the decisions reflected the sense that I can’t/won’t be a flat leaver. I realized that in praying over X and Y, it was a piece that had to be part of the equation.
We know that all sorts of things affect our decisionmaking. Part of growth in self-understanding is being able to articulate and evaluate the factors that contribute to the choices we make. So I find experiences like this one extraordinarily helpful.
[Thanks to my friend Mark Osler for encouraging me to share these thoughts in a blog post. Actually, he told me if I didn’t write a blog post on it, he would. 🙂 ]