When things are bad in our lives, we have this choice: we can fix it or live with it. Or, we can poison everyone else with it.
That term, “sweet poison of self-pity,” came from Boethius in The Consolation of Philosophy. The personification of Philosophy comes to him in his lament over his unjust imprisonment saying, “let me now wipe his eyes that are clouded with a mist of mortal things,” reminds him of the fates of Seneca, Socrates, and other noble sufferers, then inspires Boethius to live above his circumstances.
English author, Neil Gaiman, has a prescription for getting through anything; Make Good Art. (If you haven’t listened to his funny graduation speech, Google it.) Ultimately, the message is…we can take charge of our lives wherever they are…and actually enjoy doing it.
Or, we can drink more sweet poison and succumb to misery.
Be aware, though, we are poisoning people we love in the process.
Be generous in prosperity and thankful in adversity.
Be fair in judgment and guarded in your speech.
Be a lamp to those who walk in darkness and a home to the stranger.
Be eyes to the blind and a guiding light to the feet of the erring.
Be a breath of life to the body of humankind,
A dew to the soil of the human heart and a fruit upon the tree of humility
To make these words more than a beautiful sentiment, I say it as a personal commitment:
I am generous in prosperity and thankful in adversity. I am fair in judgment and guarded in my speech…I am a breath of life to the body of humankind, a dew to the soil of the human heart and a fruit upon the tree of humility.
Check it out:
When I feel so nostalgic that I cannot be content with the present.
When I feel so negative that I shut down my own productivity.
When I am so pessimistic that I attempt to solve tomorrow’s challenges without tomorrow’s resources.
…and better logic.
Which is worse:
- Getting a divorce or secretly wishing your spouse would die?
- Leaving a boss that really needs you or incessantly talking bad behind that boss’s back?
- Telling the truth or leading someone to believe you love them when you don’t?
- Disappointing someone by not following their advice or secretly hating them for ruining your life?
Sometimes, we lie to ourselves and to others to protect what is un-protectable. Sometimes our fear of violating mores prevents us from seeing the forest for the trees. Sometimes our judgment has been seriously compromised and we don’t know it. Sometimes we have valued appearances more than real wisdom.
When our lives feel too complicated, they usually are. Changing the question from what looks right to what is right is the first step to simplicity.
And, sometimes, changing the question yields a third, and better, option.
Things that I’d rather not be honest about but when I am, it makes me less judgmental and easier to be around:
I am disgusting sometimes too. It’s not just the people I criticize.
I have lied and manipulated facts when I was scared of getting in trouble.
I have made myself look better than I actually was.
I have feared rejection and looking unworthy to others.
I have sometimes done things to get attention.
Sometimes, I have even wished awful things upon cable and mobile phone companies (whom I perceived to be arrogant).
I have screamed at family members like a crazy woman and would have killed my sister if I could have gotten away with it.
We may not have killed people, but most of us have thought about it.
That makes me more prone to forgive people who actually fall off the edge.
When life confuses or defeats me
I can listen to dark voices
Of anger and despair
Or to the voices that call
Out of the darkest places
Or from the other side
Voices that still sing
A chorus of power
With shining eyes
Heads held high, defying
The worst that life can bring
A voice of triumph
Singing, yes! singing
In mysterious harmony
With my future
We are jarred out of the illusion…
that our lives were ever in our control
that this life is “all there is”
that inner strength wasn’t of paramount importance
Today, we live with eyes wide open.
Listening to the Beatles yesterday took me back to my first dance. I was 11. I stood against the wall most of the night wanting someone to ask me to dance.
This song started to play and a boy asked me to dance. I was euphoric, but, I spent the entire dance worrying about how I was dancing and what he thought of me. After the dance, my new friend vanished.
How much easier my life would have been at that sock-hop had I just accepted myself and noticed people more! But, alas, all my energy was tied up in a desperate attempt to justify my existence.
In the end, the biggest revelation for most of us will be…life was a lot less complicated than we thought.
I could have been “standing there” with joy.
A disgruntled employee told me she could write a book about the dysfunctional communication in her company. After finally accepting some of the responsibility for the dysfunction, she is now sending me copies of praise emails she is sending and receiving from her team. The latest ended with this exclamation:
“…tears of joy! How can you not feel positive when you’re making other people feel good?! Thanks for having such a positive impact on my life – work and personal.”
There is only one big obstacle (ourselves)
Separating us from this joy (ourselves)
But, when scaled
Leaves us with more
Than we ever
Dared to dream
The fast train to better, sweeter, and richer communication…
Years ago, in an attempt to nudge an introverted friend toward a management position, I mentioned that (A) there were not many bosses who were both smart and sensitive, (B) that she had both qualities, and (C) how tragic it would be if these gifts were not fully utilized for those who desperately needed leadership.
She reluctantly agreed to try. Fifteen years later, hundreds, maybe thousands, (who would have been forced to work for a jerk in her absence) have been the beneficiaries of her direction.
People with kindness, wisdom, and gravitas leave an indelible mark on lives and organizations. They pull us toward them, toward our higher selves, and toward the realization that noble living is more than something we see in movies.