My attempt to interpret this poem

A Ritual to Read to Each Other

By William Stafford

If you don’t know the kind of person I am
and I don’t know the kind of person you are
a pattern that others made may prevail in the world
and following the wrong god home we may miss our star.

We have to get our act together on this self-knowledge thing or else we’re going to get lost chasing someone else’s ideas about who and what we are.

For there is many a small betrayal in the mind,
a shrug that lets the fragile sequence break
sending with shouts the horrible errors of childhood
storming out to play through the broken dike.

All that old stuff we haven’t dealt with, all those old ways we are used to being, aren’t much good for us anymore.

And as elephants parade holding each elephant’s tail,
but if one wanders the circus won’t find the park,
I call it cruel and maybe the root of all cruelty
to know what occurs but not recognize the fact.

We can keep going in the circles of our ignorance or we can finally break the cycle and be brave enough, kind enough to name what is true.

And so I appeal to a voice, to something shadowy,
a remote important region in all who talk:
though we could fool each other, we should consider—
lest the parade of our mutual life get lost in the dark.

Even though I don’t and can’t fully understand it I am asking for help to be real, to be open, so that I have the best chance of being found, of being seen, as I am.

For it is important that awake people be awake,
or a breaking line may discourage them back to sleep;
the signals we give — yes or no, or maybe —
should be clear: the darkness around us is deep.

I desperately want to shut down, to go away, to go to sleep…but I know that if I help you and you help me we can stay awake right until dawn, and maybe even a little after, and that by doing so we can avoid the easy deceptions, the counterfeit connections that keep us from being who we really are, alone and together.

DAVID BERRY is the author of “A More Daring Life: Finding Voice at the Crossroads of Change” and the founder of RULE13 Learning. He speaks and writes about the complexity of leading in a changing world. Connect with him on Twitter at @berrydavid.

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