What to do if your boss criticizes you in front of others (or your defensiveness gets triggered some other way)

Aren’t people in positions of leadership and authority supposed to be more knowledgeable, wiser, more capable, more aware?  When they aren’t (and oh so frequently they just aren’t), it’s disappointing and even confusing.  Especially if they are willing to criticize us from their lofty position.

Over the last few years I’ve been developing a practice of noticing my own defensiveness when it gets triggered (which can be pretty darned often!) and let that be a flag for me to try thinking about the person in authority in a different way.  It’s been slow to develop, but it has started with a practice of mindfulness meditation, which helps me to use my breathing (deep belly breaths) to relax, and helps me to become aware of my thinking.

So now, instead of defending myself, I take a few deep belly breaths and then start becoming aware of my thinking.

I’ve used this a lot with an old friend–let’s call her Darlene–in the last couple of years. We take a vacation together just about every year, but she has these habits that are like fingernails on a chalkboard to me.  She has always driven me crazy, but it’s hard sometimes to describe just what she’s done that has been so nervewracking.  So one year I figured I would just make notes for myself–write down the stories of what Darlene was doing so I could see it and tell people about it.  Makes sense, right?

Ugh!  That was about the worst thing I could have done.  All that got me to do was to really focus all my energies on what she was doing that I hated.  Eventually I just had to call my husband and get him to talk me off the ledge, because I wasn’t going to make it like that.

1. Notice your thinking

Over the next year, I started a mindfulness meditation practice and realized (slowly) that I could use that practice when I was with Darlene.  So, the next year when we met again, any time she did something that triggered a spike in my personal sense of alarm, I just practiced noticing it, taking a deep breath, and letting it go, telling myself, “Huh! Look at that. I really reacted to that. I wonder what she’s doing now?” LOL!  It may sound silly, and sometimes it felt silly, but it made SUCH a difference.  I reacted to a lot of different things Darlene said and did, but I let go of each one and just refocused my attention on the present moment with curiosity and interest.

I can still get hooked–but I’ve been training myself just to notice the “hookedness” and take that as an opportunity to let go of whatever has hooked me.

2. Manage your mood

Sometimes, I really have to do something intentional to get to a point where I can see straight, or otherwise I’m likely to do something that’ll lose me my job or a friend or land me in jail…  This might mean spending some time with Hubby, who really knows how to listen and affirm me, or just thinking about people in my life whom I’m grateful for.  It’s good to have a handful of strategies I can turn to in a pinch that can help me back away from the ledge.

3. Take more into account

image of girl relaxing her head back and breathing in nature

image courtesy of Lauren Rushing (Creative Commons License)

More recently, I’ve been adding to my practice (both with leaders and with Darlene), asking myself questions about that person.  Questions like, “What does this person need? What are their fears? What kinds of things could have happened in their history that I don’t even know about? What burdens might they have now that I’m not even aware of yet?”  (This is something I can do only after I’ve let go of the immediate defensiveness and am managing my mood.) 

Questions like this do two things for me.  First, they can help me remember that I don’t have all the facts. Everybody is dealing with things they don’t talk to others about. Second, they help me start to remember that, despite my incredible wisdom and gentleness and milk-of-human-kindness-by-the-quartness, I have at times lashed out against people who really didn’t deserve it, just because I was having a bad day.  When I remember that, I’m more willing to try to work with this person who’s offended me so much, rather than against them.

4. Look for how you can help

And so, finally, I start to try to focus on the influence I have, which might be big or might be small.  And the question I ask myself to think about that is something like this:  “What support could I offer them so they are less likely to feel the need to act out in this troubling way?”  I just start looking for ways to help. Sometimes I’ll even ask them directly, “How can I support you?” and let them tell me what they most want or need.  Sometimes have to ask a few times before they take me seriously.  And when I hear something from them (or from within myself) that resonates, then I know what to do for them.

That has tended to make things better for my own experience with these folks.  They don’t change, necessarily, or I might invite them into a healthier relationship with me, but I change.  And that’s when things get better.

“Grant me the serenity to accept the people I cannot change, the courage to change the person I can, and the wisdom to know it’s me.” -Anonymous

Beauty, growth, and justice in places where life is hard…

For church this morning, we offered two readings (one from Walk Out Walk On by Margaret Wheatley and Deborah Frieze and one from Pema Chodron) and then, with the congregation divided into groups of 3-4, gave them ten minutes to discuss two reflection questions related to the readings:

First, we asked:

What have your experiences been with seeing beauty, growing, and practicing justice in places where life is hard?

And they offered in response…

Continue reading

6 ways to support a positive mood

I don’t know about you, but when someone tells me to “be happy,” I mostly want to sock them in the jaw.  And recently I heard this very encouragement from someone whom I usually think of as wise and insightful.  So, to refrain from becoming violent, I sat down and made a list of things I thought he might mean–I translated it for myself.  And here’s what I realized I already know to do:

1. Have fun, and don’t take it too seriously.  I heard this advice through Jeff Bridges, who said it’s what his mother always used to tell him.  It resonated for me because I do tend to take things awfully seriously, and yet I know I don’t have to.  And sometimes “it” is me–I take myself, my opinions, and my plans too seriously. Do you do this, too? Let’s let that go. Laugh it off.  Own your own crazy.

2. Name what you’re grateful for.  I used to hate it when folks would suggest I count my blessings, “because I haven’t got one.”  But I’ve learned over time that we do have a lot to be grateful for if we just practice noticing them.  As humans we are wired to notice problems and try to solve them, but we can be too aware of our problems and become overwhelmed by them.  At times like that, we need to take a step back and realize everything that’s actually working well.  Can I breathe without a machine? Check. Can I walk without a brace or prosthetic limb? Check. Do I have a job and an income? Check. Am I suddenly planning a funeral for a loved one? Thank God, no.  Am I filling out insurance forms for my house that was just destroyed by [name natural disaster here]? Thank God, no.  Can I see anything that is beautiful? Wow… there’s gobs of it right here in front of me.  But you have to take time to name it.  Develop a practice. It doesn’t happen by default for most of us.

3. Express what you appreciate in others.  This is the exact same practice as #2 above, but for the people in your life. And you don’t just name it to yourself, you name it to them.  Are people annoying? Sure. But we don’t have to focus on what’s wrong with other people. (You can’t change them anyway. No, really. You can’t change them!)  Focus on what’s positive about them. What horrible stuff aren’t they doing? Have they done anything to take care of themselves or others? Probably.  There are so many wonderful things in other people that we can miss if we aren’t looking for them, or if we’re expecting some example of perfection. Find the spark and communicate about it.

4. Give yourself credit for who you are and what you do.  Part of what’s so challenging about recognizing the spark in others is that we aren’t practiced in noticing the spark in ourselves.  We focus on our weaknesses, our failings, our mistakes, our illness. We spend our time feeling sorry for ourselves instead of realizing that we’ve survived, we’ve grown, and we’ve made some danged good decisions!  Everyone makes mistakes, and every life has illness, but we need to cultivate awareness of our being on the right track. Start at a baseline of degradation and recognize how much better you are than that! Hey, if you’re reading this, you have intelligence, education, and wisdom that a lot of people don’t have. Recognize it, claim it, and give yourself credit.  There’s a lot of harm that comes from failing to do that.

5. Let go of disappointments and wishes for a different life.  Wish you lived in Jane Austen’s England? Wish your big brother was Wolverine? Wish your boss was Jean-Luc Picard? Okay, these are fun fantasies, but they’re only fun as long as we let them be fun.  As soon as we start believing that we SHOULD feel the way Elizabeth Bennett felt about Darcy, we SHOULD be able to slash our enemies to little bits when they snarl at us, and our boss SHOULD be wise and humble and curious instead of what is… those expectations can kill us.  “The way to dissolve our resistance to life is to meet it face to face.  Cutting our expectations for a cure is a gift we can give ourselves.” (Pema Chodron)

6. Exercise, sleep, take your vitamins, meditate, and give of yourself to others.  I went to the doctor a few months back with a respiratory infection that I just couldn’t shake, and I felt so out of options.  I’d taken every OTC medication I could think of and nothing seemed to work. At my wit’s end, I asked my doctor, “What should I do? Please advise me,” I asked. “Even if you think it’s painfully obvious. I’m in the woods and can’t see the step in front of me.”  She thought for a moment and said, “Chicken soup.”  Oh, right.  Don’t forget or skip the basics.  They’re the foundation.   We screw ourselves up when we miss them.

What about you? Do you have additional ways to take care of yourself and support your own positive mood? What are they?

The Easter Cross, the crash of nails, and the mirrors.

Image

Iron nails, posted to Flickr by user ncculture

The most powerful Easter experience I ever had was in a liberal/progressive, “welcoming and affirming” American Baptist Church in Wayne, Pennsylvania.  It would have been in the spring of 1994 or 1995, I think.

In a service before Easter, probably Palm Sunday (somehow), the pastor had delivered a sermon which included with it an activity that called on the entire congregation in attendance to participate.

Throughout the activity, we listened and sang about the nature of sin as separation from goodness, separation from each other, brokenness in relationship with others and with ourselves, all the judgments and anger and sullen self-centered obsessions that get in the way of our being able to love and accept each other.

And as we sang and listened, we processed through the sanctuary, getting in line to pick up our nails.

These nails symbolized our own sin–not surfacy things like drinking or lust or swearing but those things that fundamentally keep us from being in right relationship with each other, with God, with ourselves.

So we each picked up a handful of nails and walked up to a cross that was about two and a half to three feet tall, standing on a table in the center of the sanctuary.  The cross had strips of powerful magnets embedded in both beams, so the wrought-iron nails stuck easily to the magnets.

It was a large church, so when we were all finished, the cross was really covered in nails.  That was pretty symbolic.

On Eastern Sunday, the minister preached a sermon not so very different from most mainline Christian pastors and priests might preach.  Jesus took our sins upon himself, and because he did, we are not bound to them. We can–any time we choose–let them go and return to right relationship with each other.

To symbolize this act of removal and letting go, the minister in his robe and stole strode over to the cross covered with our nails and started wiping the nails off with great sweeps of his hand.

The nails crashed to the table, the iron clattering against glass and wood in a rolling thunderclap that resounded through the sanctuary. Stroke after stroke, the nails fell, smashing into each other, piling up on the table and scattering to the floor.  Each swipe and crash and clatter startled me, sending shivers around my skin like an electric charge.

It was the most visceral experience I’ve ever had of what it meant to have a clean slate. A fresh chance. My mistakes and fears and scorn all removed, piled up, and scattered.

I think of that cross, those nails, that thundering echo every Easter Sunday.

I do, of course, still have mistakes and fears and more scorn, still more, despite learning to respect others.

But I am grateful for the shining lights of faith, whatever that faith may be, whether Christian or Jewish or Buddhist or whatever, that have come into my life to let me know that I can set those mistakes and fears and scorn aside. I can risk loving even people who seem unreasonable. I can risk loving even people who seem wrong.

I can risk loving them because they help me to see the parts of myself that I still judge, that I still look down upon and reject.  I am learning that people who set us off are like mirrors, helping us to see what it is we haven’t yet learned to accept about the condition of being human.

I’ve learned that, as long as there are pieces of myself and pieces of you that I reject, there’s something inauthentic about how I am in the world. Mistakes and fears and even those things that might invite scorn are not who we are. We might even be passionate about them, but they do not define us.

Our humanness defines us. And while we each are unique–you are the only one of you that will ever be–our humanness ties us together.  We will have that in common, even if we have fundamentally different beliefs about what all of this means.

I can set aside my mistakes, my fears, and even my scorn to risk loving my own unreasonable, occasionally wrong self.  We are all in this together.

So I invite you to think of the last person you thought was crazy or unreasonable or neurotic or whatever, and just whisper, “Maybe I can accept them, because that is not all that they are, and I am also sometimes crazy (or unreasonable or neurotic or whatever). Maybe (another deep breath here) I can accept myself. We’re all in this together.”

For further reading: Pema Chodron on how and why to Be Grateful to Everyone.

Will you block the change you claim to want?

Rob Portman

or, “The ultimate guide to how homeostasis works in society.”

I’ve been fascinated by the public “gay marriage” debate and, especially, the talk about change.

The week before the marriage question came to the Supreme Court in two different cases on California’s Prop 8 and the federal Defense of Marriage Act, Republican Senator Rob Portman from my home state of Ohio released a statement that after two years of consideration, he had decided to come out as supporting marriage equality.

When one of my dear, old friends posted an article about this to Facebook, I was fascinated by the comments this got.  Most of what I saw were comments highly critical of Portman — not because they disagreed with his stance, but because they agreed with it.

That’s right. They hated the fact that Portman had changed his mind to agree with them after confronting the issue in his own family.  They seemed to be saying that the only valid opinions are the ones people arrive at on the basis of logic and inherent liberal values, not on the basis of personal, perspective-changing experience.

I was flabbergasted.  It reminded me of the riots that used to take place in my fair city of Columbus after the Ohio State football team won a game against the Michigan Wolverines.   Yep, in our enthusiasm and joy and relief, we would turn cars over and set them on fire.  Or set dumpsters on fire.  Or couches.  It didn’t really matter, we just wanted things to burn.

That might be an oversimplification.

Maybe there’s something that builds up in us when we are very interested in what’s happening in the public sphere. A sort of psychological static charge that, one way or another, has to be discharged or it will make balloons stick to us.

Anyway, I couldn’t help but take offense at the anger towards Portman, because I know how many times I’ve changed my mind after having had a personal experience that gave me a new perspective.  And don’t we try to get people to change their minds by engaging their empathy?  Don’t we want them to see things from a different perspective so they can let go of their old, defunct opinions and become supportive?

What I was seeing on Facebook suggested that we don’t.  It suggested that we would rather have the hate we know than a friend we don’t.

It wasn’t long after this Facebook exchange that I was watching a first-season episode (“Angel”) of Buffy the Vampire Slayer (yes, I’m a geek).  And I caught this bit of dialogue:

BUFFY:
I’ve killed a lot of vampires. I’ve never hated one before.

ANGEL
Feels good, doesn’t it? Feels simple.

Suddenly a lot of things made sense.  The rift between red and blue, left and right, rainbow flags and Westboro Baptists, the rhetoric of anger I hear even from my fellow liberals.

Our world is too complex. We work too much. There are too many people and too few relationships. Too many issues. Too many competing priorities.

Empathy calls on us to grasp complex nuances, to hold paradoxes, to love and accept even when we aren’t getting our own way. It means allowing people the freedom to change–to change their minds, to change their behaviors–without accusing them or suspecting them. It means trusting even when we’ve been stung or burned or worse.

And that’s just an awful lot to ask.

There are people in my community whom I find challenging. They say things I don’t like. They do things I don’t like. They seem to think I’m something less than fabulous, the bastards.  I know what it is to want to turn my back on them. To rail against them for being so much like themselves (ugh) instead of like me.  But here’s what I’ve been working on: affection. Fondness.  I don’t want to just tolerate these folks. I want to cultivate my own sense of friendship toward them.  Because friendship toward them is really friendship toward myself.

And that’s the other part of the practice–acceptance and fondness and affection and friendship towards myself.  Even when I am unreasonable. (Suspend your disbelief for a moment here.) Even when I am devious and calculating.  Even when I am selfish and greedy and gluttonous.  Even when I am prideful.  Because none of those things and even all of those things are not all of who I am.

I’ve been learning that I am not purely anything. Not purely good, not purely bad. Neither are you. Neither is he. Neither is she. Neither are they.

So I invite us to take a deep breath together and let go of needing to simplify when people or even institutions are changing (or seem not to be changing). It won’t be simple, even if you try to hate it into simplicity.   Cultivating that anger will only raise your blood pressure, and it might even prevent the changes you might claim you want.

Chill, folks. People change.

The path to authenticity

Why hide?

Many things can drive us to hide. Anxiety, failure, a lack of ethics.

• I worry that I’m not good enough. I discount my talents and hide myself away rather than try. I take the easy road instead of risking.
• I have tried and failed. The morass of shame and embarrassment is more than I am willing to face.
• Or, worse, I hide because the secret of my success is that I lied and cheated my way here.

Any of these paths can lead us into a hole that feels inescapable.

Authentic leadership

The path to authentic leadership is simpler than it may seem. It’s like waking up from a dream.

You know that experience. Some nightmare troubles you. You are startled awake, or the alarm saves you. And in the breath of a moment, you realize the delicious truth: it’s over. You don’t have to stay in that world. It was all in your mind. It wasn’t real.

Here’s the good news. You can wake up from your dream. As soon as you want it to be, it’s over. You don’t have to stay in that world.

Much more than you would expect, it’s all in your mind. It’s isn’t as real as it seems.

Steps that can get you out of the hole

1. Realize it’s time. You’re ready to leave behind the worry, the lies, the hole.
2. Find some support: just one other person who is not in a hole and can give you support as you work to get out of your own. Important: This must be someone who is willing to express acceptance and forgiveness to you, but who is not willing to help you lie to yourself or hide again.
3. Spend some time writing, even if this is uncomfortable for you. What you write can take several forms:

a. A list of the things you did (or avoided) that got you into the hole
b. The fearful, anxious thoughts that have kept you in the hole
c. The feelings that have drawn you into the hole and kept you there
d. Everything that has held you back
e. Everything you are ready to let go of

4. Share with your support person what you wrote about. This doesn’t mean give it to them to read–tell them about it.
5. Actively let go of trying to control your life and your feelings. Continue meeting with your support person and ask them to help you accept what you cannot change.
6. Develop a practice that helps you to notice your own thinking. For many people, this may be prayer, meditation, journaling, or a mindfulness-focused yoga. Whatever it is, it should be something that helps you to maintain a nonjudgmental awareness of your own thoughts and feelings.
7. Focus on being responsible and honest. With empathy for others and friendliness toward yourself, do the right thing.

“You may have a fresh start any moment you choose, for this thing that we call “failure” is not the falling down, but the staying down.” -Mary Pickford

What Boxing Movies Can Show Us About Adaptive Coaching

Confession: I love boxing movies.  And I think I’ve just figured out why.  It’s because boxing, while something you can learn how to do through learning technical moves and techniques, is an adaptive activity. You can’t possibly succeed by learning only the technical pieces. You have to be able to adapt, grow, capitalize on your strengths, and take coaching.

A boxer in the ring–if the movies are giving me anything like an accurate idea–can’t be aware of too much while he’s facing his opponent. The guy’s face. The guy’s fists. His own experience and strengths. His coach’s last few words to him the last time the bell rang.

The coach doesn’t tell the boxer to throw punches. His coaching isn’t about technical techniques to learn and use.

The coach tells the boxer what he needs to know about getting an edge for this fight. “He opens up after you jab him. You gotta come in there with a right real quick.” — In fact, for this moment in the fight.  “He’s getting tired. His left is drooping.”

And have you noticed just how much of the coach’s coaching is bucking up his fighter’s confidence? “Relax, you’re looking great out there.” In Cinderella Man, I love the coach’s ritual of reminding Jimmy Braddock of all the other fights he’d won.  “You’ve got this. This guy was made for you.”

When we offer coaching to anyone, it has to be coaching that they need in the moment. Let them know what you can see about how they can succeed in this moment with this challenge.

Sure, back in the gym, the coach can offer tips about the technical stuff. The coach can be a teacher at moments, too. But too often we act as if that’s all there is. We taught them how to do it, and if they can’t figure out how to adapt to each new situation, they’re on their own. Or, worse, we truly believe that following the technical pieces–following the script–is all there is, and adaptation shouldn’t ever happen. That’s akin to assuming your fighter is a robot without even a human handler. It’s gonna get creamed.

Whether you’re a manager or just somebody out there in the world with some insight, someone who can see how another human on this planet could do a better job dealing with the challenges of their present moment, it’s okay to share your insight.

And don’t be afraid to ask for some coaching in how to do coaching more effectively.  We can all use a little.

Believing what isn’t

I recently went into a “conversation” with someone believing I had something to teach, not something to learn. And in the process I believe I may have crippled the trust that was beginning to build between us.

So I’m going to step out of the picture for a moment and pretend we’re talking about you.

Have you ever been in an argument with someone and knew you were right?  Of course you knew you were right.  Otherwise, why would you be arguing for your side?  If you thought you might be wrong, you wouldn’t be arguing at all.

So why, then, can you recall what it feels like to suddenly find out that you were wrong?  OH you felt bad.  Foolish.  Maybe stupid. Possibly even guilty.  You quickly updated your mental notes about which side of the argument was the right one.

I believe that one of the most important communication skills we can develop has nothing to do with learning which side is the right one, but rather this: there is no right side. The lesson life is trying to teach us when we lose an argument isn’t about who’s right–it’s about not going around thinking anyone is “right.”

Kathryn Schulz has done a fantastic job of explaining the difference between confidence and actually being right.  If you have a few minutes, this TED talk is well worth it.  If you have a few hours, check out her book, Being Wrong: Adventures in the Margin of Error.

http://video.ted.com/assets/player/swf/EmbedPlayer.swf

And, for some reason, we can be wrong but believe we are right because of our experience, knowledge, and expertise, which is why quotation web sites are happy to let us know about such foolish sayings as “Drill for oil? You mean drill into the ground to try and find oil? You’re crazy.”– Drillers who Edwin L. Drake tried to enlist to his project to drill for oil in 1859.

Our experiences make us think we know. And then we go around teaching and making decisions and getting into arguments.  Sometimes our experiences hold up, and sometimes they let us down.  But in the process, we run a great risk of hurting both others and our own credibility.

It may seem that I’m advocating a wishy-washy, flip-floppy, indecisive, holding-out-for-more-information approach to life. But no.  We can be willing to state what we believe and value, and why, and still be willing to listen to others. We can be open to the differences between their experiences and our own, able to hold both as true, This is What I Believe, and Your Mileage May Vary.

And that is the challenge: To be purpose-centered in our communication, to know that listening with openness is compatible with knowing who we are.

We sometimes mistrust people who do this.  Consider the character of Luna Lovegood–nicknamed by her classmates, “Luny Luna.”  She is one of the most esoteric characters in the Harry Potter world of strange and fantastic  persons, and it’s easy to see why she’s discounted. But as her character is developed, we begin to see someone who is deeply grounded, despite being the brunt of her classmates’ jokes.  She knows who she is, what she values, and how to treat people well.  She is never defensive or anxious.  Naturally she becomes someone that others come to profoundly trust.

Authenticity about ourselves and openness to others are the keys to building trust, and trust is the key to both effective communication and leadership.

You will not follow “into battle” someone you do not trust, and communication with anyone you do not trust is always more work, laced with complications, politics, and relational land mines.

It is unfortunately easy to burn the trust that others put in us, and it’s painful to lose their trust. Some decide to skip that pain and never engender trust in the first place. Others, like me, fight hard to build trust and, in moments of too-human errors in judgment, find ourselves losing it.

Still–I invite you to join me in trying again. There will be people who will forgive us for our humanness.  Let us own up to our mistakes, release false idols of experience and knowledge, and strike out again into the wonderful world.

For it is wonderful and deserving of our gifts.

a Thought Experiment

Let’s play a game.

You know that pain? The pain you carry around in your heart, every day, wishing it would one day lift or go away or ease or something?  Yeah, that pain.

Maybe you experience it as anger.  Maybe it’s sadness.  Maybe fear or anxiety.  Maybe you just feel like there’s an elephant sitting on your chest all of the time.  However the pain shows up for you, that’s what we’re going to play with.

Okay.  I’ve got mine.  Got it right here.  You’ve got yours ready?  Here we go.

Suppose — just suppose — suppose you learned from the most trustworthy source imaginable that you would always feel that pain.  Always.  No matter what.  For the rest of your life.

No amount of therapy would get rid of it.  No pill will make it vanish even for a day. Cookies, being loved, boxing with a punching bag, understanding and being understood, running, making your dreams come true, shouting, crying, talking it out, sex, prayer, extreme sports, fixing stuff, making money, yoga, winning competitions, hours of video games, meditation, nagging (or “reminding” or “encouraging”), solving the problem, heavy drugs, and alcohol will have no impact at all.

It will never go away.  Just suppose.

What would you do?

Would you stop spinning your wheels trying to make the pain go away?  Would you invest your time and energy in other pursuits? Would you commit suicide?

Would you give up on trying to make the pain stop and go back to your life?

One thing that happened with me, just about 10 hours after I started the thought experiment, was that I realized I found the obsession boring.  You know, the obsession with solving the problem of my pain and making it go away.  I started asking myself, “Why do I care about this so much?”

Practicing being a non-anxious presence

One of the important things I learned this week is that we all have (and act on) our tolerance for anxiety–both our own and others’.

I’ve been practicing being a non-anxious presence, and I’m finding out more and more that my tolerance (for pain/anger/anxiety/whatever) is lower than I thought it was.

The urge to fix it–to try to adjust the universe in whatever way will alleviate my pain or yours–feels overwhelming at times. And the rationalizations have been amazing!

If I ask myself “Am I doing this* to remove my pain (or theirs)?” then I will answer no (with a list of reasons why I SHOULD do it). But, if I ask myself, “Do I believe I WILL remove my pain (or theirs) if I do this?” and the answer is yes, well… red flaggy #1!

*”This” might mean
-sending an email to tell someone that they’ve been too critical of me.
-leaving a voicemail to state that the new policy (that I’ve heard rumors about) is a slippery slope.
-avoiding my email because I know I might find that others have expectations of me and my time that I don’t want.
-telling a beloved friend that she is smart, capable, and masterful when she’s had a hard day

(I managed to avoid doing the first one… but the other three I plunged right into, not realizing that it was a way of perpetuating or even increasing the anxiety in the systems of which I am a part.)

Remembering an old tchotchke with a saying on it about patience, I hear the following rattling around in the old brain: “Lord, make me capable of tolerating the pain of living in this world–and do it right now!”

For further reading:

Maintaining a Non-Anxious Presence

Non-Anxious Presence in Difficult Conversations

How to Respond to Emotional Outbursts