|How many women do you see?|
The short cycle of this experience made it easy to see the cause of the problem: that label of disrespect I had assigned to wrong-side-out clothes. Since it was a newly acquired belief, it was easy to let go of and suddenly, I wasn't struggling anymore. (Well, I was still struggling to get them to put their laundry in the hamper, but I no longer saw it as a personal attack.)
This past week, while operating on low emotional reserves, I experienced what felt like meanness from three different people. I pondered this sudden occurrence in my life that had left me feeling a little bruised, a little bullied. Why did I need this meanness in my life? What was it here to teach me?
First and foremost, I know it's just another step in toughening me up. It's been time to put on my big girl panties for a year now. I operate in a sphere where mental toughness is required, and there's only one way to get it....through experience. Mean people are a fact of life and effectiveness demands that I navigate through them like that Subaru commercial where the vehicle avoids, in a matter of seconds, a dozen collisions with perilous objects on a winding road. It ends triumphantly; it doesn't pull over and change its pants.
To navigate like that, I have to challenge my perceptions. I already knew I had low emotional reserves. Perhaps what felt like boulders falling on my head were really just little pebbles glancing off me. That's not to say that I excuse bad behavior or pretend it doesn't hurt. I let myself experience the sadness or anger that is being generated. I know that if I don't, this event will come back to haunt me. But after the tears, stomping around and numbing out on Toaster Streudels, when I realize that my ego is wanting to decorate a little room for this precious sadness to live in, I step up and become my own coach.
My coach is never mean to me. It's not like my son's football coaches who yell and cuss and predict that he's going to wind up as a trash collector. It doesn't call me a baby or rebuke me for having emotional reactions. My coach first asks me to reevaluate the labels: "mean," "bruised," and "bullied." Of course, I never want to do this but I have learned that labels tend to pour cement around the moving parts in a situation and bring forward motion to a standstill.
It reminds me of the time a friend of mine asked a girl out. Her immediate response was a polite "no thanks." It rocked his world and he called me and asked me if I had heard her say anything bad about him, and why did she have to say no with a knife to the gut? We talked a long time about the stories he was concocting. I finally said, "If you're going to make up a story, at least make it one that makes you feel good rather than suicidal. Maybe she's dating someone else, maybe she's going through a divorce, maybe she's gay." He laughed as he realized how many stories he had written from that one simple "no thanks." Of course, it's better not to make up a story, but sometimes you do have to find an explanation that allows you to move on. Because it's all fiction, go ahead and make it a comedy so you can laugh about this later.
So my coach calls me out on my perceptions. When I refuse to see things another way, it asks "So what if it is true? What if the behavior you witnessed really was appalling? Are you going to become bitter? Are you going to shrink back from your calling just because some hard words hit you--words from people whose meanness is--100% of the time--a result of fear, jealousy, or pain of their own?" Then he pulls out the big guns: Scripture. He reminds me of Romans 8:28, that all things work together to those who love the Lord and that yes, this event does indeed fall within the category of "all things." I'm always bummed when my coach uses scripture because I know I won't have a leg to stand on.
If you're dealing with an upset child, a cranky customer, or what the Bible calls a "weaker brother," you need to initially treat their perceptions as reality if you want to create unity. But when you're dealing with yourself, you need to ruthlessly call out those perceptions. You need to question how you're perceiving reality, because that reality is being formed by what goes on in your head. What you believe to be true, really is. If they really are mean and I'm wounded by it, then I'm now a wounded victim. Ugh! I'd prefer to see this whole thing like they're hawks dive-bombing at me, only I'm indoors and they hit the window and slide slowly down like in cartoons. Since I'm okay, I'm free now to see that they're the wounded ones and may actually need my love, forgiveness, not to mention first aid.
Maybe you think it's better to be realistic, to call a spade a spade? I'm sure there are times for that, but I agree with Will Smith, who said that "being realistic is the most common path to mediocrity." I'd rather shake off what appears to be real in favor of something that seems impossible, fantastic and bigger than what I can do in my little reality. Perception isn't really reality, but because it quickly becomes reality, you have to punch through it like a football team breaking through the paper wall onto the field.
Perception is reality, and it isn't. You get to choose. And yes, sometimes it does involve punching.