There’s a concept called the “Golden Charge,” which is an expression of admiration for another person usually around a quality that other person has. I’ve also seen it expressed as genuine affection, such as when a man told me he was sincerely happy to see me again after a prolonged absence on my part from our men’s group. Generally, however, it is more often associated with a quality. I have had golden charges around people’s appearances, sense of humor, intelligence, wisdom, kindness, or leadership abilities. Like its opposite, “the charge” (no color), in which I feel less kind about another person, the quality I admire is often something I also have, but it has remained dormant, undiscovered, or underused. Another way of stating it is saying that the golden charge is a positive judgment rather than a negative one that most of us have about others. So what could be wrong with that? What’s wrong with seeing and admiring the good in others? Nothing, if that’s where it ends. But of course, it often doesn’t. At least not in my case.
In the men’s group ManKind Project (MKP) I was taught to “own” my problems, to not only take responsibility for them, but to recognize that it is my problem, not someone else’s and to not project my faults on other people. On the other hand, I’m aware that my failings and foibles are not unique and that maybe sharing my struggles will help others with the same struggles.
My problem with the golden charge has been a life-long one. It comes from a good place, a genuine love for others and a heart that sees the good over the bad. But it also comes from a bad place, a sense of inferiority, a belief that there is a hierarchy, and that most people are better – smarter, wiser, stronger, funnier, better-looking – and in all ways superior to me. A few were my equals and these became my friends. And a few were my inferiors. This led to a bizarre dualistic thinking and behaving that taught me to treat people based on my view of them in the hierarchy. Fortunately, it was tempered with a genuine love and acceptance of most people, but it still colored many of my relationships. The golden charge, as benign as it seems, was especially damaging. First, it put me in an inferior position. Second, and this was worse, it put me in a dependent position. Because I was “inferior” I was dependent on those to whom I had given a golden charge to supply wisdom or guidance to me. Third, it prevented me from seeing these people as what they really were – people. They were neither gods nor gurus. They were not my father or my spiritual guide. (Even my own fathers weren’t my fathers. I never met the first and I often had a very distant and tenuous relationship with the second.)
Because I had burdened them with a golden charge, I could not see (or was unwilling to see) that the same people whom I saw as kind or wise or funny or golden could also be mean or bizarre or boring or indifferent, or wrong, or tarnished. Or human. Their advice wasn’t always good. Sometimes they hurt me, even deeply. Once, when I was 16, one of my golden charges, a clerk who worked in a bookstore I frequented said loudly upon my arrival, “I cannot handle you today!” Devastated, I turned around, walked out, and never saw her again. Another golden charge gave me the worst advice of my life causing me to make one of the worst mistakes of my life. And, around the same time, another golden charge completely ignored my plight, when only a few words of wisdom would have prevented me from making that mistake.
None of this was their fault. It wasn’t even mine. I was too young or too inexperienced to understand, really understand that what I needed to was not burden anyone with a golden charge, but to appreciate what was good in them and forgive the bad. I also was too young and inexperienced to realize that what both they and I needed was not golden charges, based upon skewed perception, but love. By love I mean acceptance of who these people were – imperfect, tarnished human beings with some gold in them, but not completely them. If I had known this I would have established boundaries for them and for me so that I would not be devastated or misled. I would have trusted my own heart more and listened better. I would have been more sensitive, less needy, and stronger.
Here’s one other aspect of charges, golden or otherwise: when I see something in someone else that strikes me, it’s often because I have, or potentially have, that same quality. Focusing on the golden charge, that means I already possess the wisdom, kindness, intelligence, humor, or any other admirable quality I see in others. It’s in me and it’s up to me to bring it out and develop it. I have the ability to Get Started and Keep Going. I have the ability to be golden.