Last night I was hurt by something that I thought my director had done.
In the morning I wrote to her about this.
She responded by saying that she hadn’t done that.
I double checked and, sure enough, she was innocent.
I felt like a jerk.
The irony is this: Even when I thought she had wronged me,
I decided to think about the things I’m grateful to her for.
Focusing on gratitude was hard work
Due to gratitude, I got a good night’s sleep.
Due to learning the real facts,
The gratitude I feel for my boss
Flows more naturally
The biggest challenge you and I will face today is treating the people around us as full-bodied and complex. This may be harder to do with the people who have a big impact on our lives. Like family or colleagues; people at church or in our clubs and on our teams.
Witnessing everyone fully all the time may in fact be an impossible goal.
This is part of why it is habitual to reduce people to two dimensional cutouts of their full and round selves.
Somebody may offend us, and many of us will likely think they are “jerks” for doing so. Or someone will be very kind to us, and we will decide that they are “saints” and that we are unworthy of their kindness.
Sometimes this will be the same person in the same day.
As the poem above suggests, Carolyn’s actions are so meaningful to my work life (and blog life) that it is hard for me to see her fully, sometimes. I often love her and, periodically, I am hurt by her. This has a great deal to do with me, and varying degrees to do with her.
It takes effort for me to see her as fully human sometimes because our working relationship matters so much to me.
I think we all have people like this in our lives, often they are authority figures like bosses, or parents, or teachers. Sometimes they are siblings, colleagues, or friends. These are the people we feel big things about.
Just as often as we limit others, we fail to see ourselves as complete and complex. As perfectly-imperfect.
Whoever they are, these people happen to be hard to behold in their complexity. Learning to do so takes practice.
So, I spend a lot of time practicing this myself and with others.
I often fail, or sometimes I’m simply wrong headed, but regardless of my success rate or my motivation, learning how to behold people as complex and complete is worth doing.
Here’s how I practice moving from a narrow mindset to a bigger one; this is how I practice seeing people in the round:
- I choose to become aware of the negative thought pattern. – Thinking negative thoughts is kind of like drinking too much coffee: It causes a clearly identifiable stress and gut-ache. When I feel that, I tell myself, “Hey, Linds, you’re over-focusing on this.”
- I swap in Gratitude for Gut-ache. Once I’m wise to my negative thoughts, I switch from fixating on them to focusing on specific attributes, actions, and words that I am grateful for. And I use this sentence pattern: “I’m grateful that _______ said/did ____________.” In this case, I had lots of good Carolyn moments and attributes to meditate on. With people who I don’t have a big stockpile of gratitudes for, I need to start by being grateful for someone else.
Maybe you want to try this right now? Start by imagining one person in your life and think of one thing you are grateful to them for. Make it specific. For example, “I’m grateful to my grandma Lorraine for introducing me to Denis Lee’s poetry when I was young.” It doesn’t have to be a big deal, it just has to be true.
- Plan B: Pets and Apple Pie. If you don’t have another human person who comes to mind right away, maybe start by being grateful for apple pie or your pet – if you have one. Whatever the object is, it doesn’t matter. You simply need to feel genuine gratitude for something about it. I just spent 1 minute reflecting on my gratitude for apple pie (“Apple pie, I’m grateful that you nourish my sweet-tooth. I’m grateful that you are delicious. I’m grateful that I don’t have to eat real fruits and veggies because you exist. [And etc.]”) And then I spent a minute reflecting on my gratitude for my dog, Steve, who’s lying at my feet right now. And suddenly I am very, very happy.
- Be a Realist about Pessimism. There is no instant cure for negative thoughts. Like real-estate agent fliers, they will keep on clogging your mailbox. The key is to be aware of them when they return, and to actively decide if you will give them space or not. If you choose to think negative thoughts, that’s great and can be very useful. Just try to make it a conscious decision and try to find balance.
- Let someone else in. – You cannot see your blindspots on your own. You need other people to point them out for you. In the case above, I felt this was a problem I needed to address with Carolyn. Luckily, because we have a generally excellent working relationship, I had the nerve to let her in. Addressing the issue gave her the opportunity to correct me, and for me to apologize. If I would have kept on being grateful without addressing the issue, I’d still be stuck with my unfair assumption. In short, talk to someone about what’s bugging you. Talk to someone safe-enough to hear you and help you with it.
To sum up:
- Be aware.
- Swap in gratitude for gut-ache.
- Plan B: Pets and apple pie.
- Be a realist about pessimism.
- Let someone else in.
That’s about it: practice gratitude and check your facts.
We are all beautiful and scarred.
We are all imperfectly-imperfect.
What matters is not that we are perfect, but that we try to be as close with the reality of each other and the world around us as we possibly can.
 Still do, kinda. Though I laugh at myself – unfairness is just so unbecoming.
 I often begin gratitude practice by focusing on my grandparents. I can think of specific things I am grateful to them for for very long periods of time. After grandparents, I reflect on my folks, my wife, and my son; then I move to colleagues, co-congregationalists, and Jason who bags my groceries at Sobies.