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.
I was thinking this morning about a suggestion from Adam Grant and Sheryl Sandberg in Option B; the simple tip was to write down three joys from every day in order to buoy our spirit away from the weight of living.
My list (I couldn’t stop at three) for today at 9:15 AM:
- The aroma of coffee
- The sound of my (very own) dryer tumbling the clean sheets
- Hawaiian music playing in the background while I gather hope for the day
- Checking tasks off my list while working in my PJs
- The light at my desk and a working computer
- The meaningful cover of the Option B book
Finding joy while enduring sucky experiences is difficult. Doing this exercise makes it a bit easier.
Those of us who have almost had a terrifying collision because we failed to be aware of our blind spot, can understand the total shock or pain of finding out what someone really thinks about us.
It’s radically confusing and bewildering, especially if we have…
- allowed ourselves to depend too much upon what others think of us
- expected people to be better than us when it comes to talking behind backs
- expected people not to be dishonest when they are afraid of hurting someone
Being honest is a challenge for us all…not just our “enemies.” We are smart to admit it rather than let dishonesty be our blind spot.
Being left, fired, rejected, or cheated upon is, no doubt, a painful experience. However, if we find ourselves in one of these situations, here are some critical considerations:
- We can’t make people love us. The right people will.
- We have hurt people too…accidentally, selfishly, or because we were afraid to tell the truth. Forgive.
- Playing the victim won’t fix anything. Move on.
- Many people born with disabilities, disease, or deformities will never have romantic love or employment. Keep it in perspective.
- Sometimes, it’s our fault. Buck up and own it.
- It’s easier to bear when we learn to love, forgive, and honor ourselves.
- Watch what you say. (Our words define who we are not who they are.) Besides, Social media has enough poor-me-finger-pointing-cry-baby jerk-bashers already.
This is one of the major themes of Gregory David Robert’s experience as portrayed in the book (soon to be movie), Shantaram. Also in Tim Tebow’s book, Shaken. Although, one book deals with the dark realities of life and the other, mostly with those of a fallen football player, the lesson is the same; losing is often the win we need for the long-haul. Accept the pain of losing as it comes, and our character development and re-direction will have countless beneficiaries.
I was pleasantly surprised with that reality recently when my challenged nephew was invited to an event sponsored by Tim Tebow’s ministries; ministries that would not exist if Tim Tebow had not been kicked off of three NFL teams.
What I hate most about my past are the times when I was greedy, self-absorbed, or arrogant. Some of those hair-brained words and actions still cause me pain and embarrassment. Yesterday, though, those screw-ups kept me from…
- being a jerk to someone else
- judging another harshly for doing the same thing
- being oblivious and unaware
The best mistakes are those that help us see who we really are.
Said something that prompted 1) cringing, 2) lies and arguments, 3) someone else’s pain, or 4)”What were you thinking?”
If so, there’s only one way out: a big bite of humble pie topped with full responsibility.
Easier said than done, right?
I have way too much practice with these unfortunate scenarios, so can offer tips that help me recover productivity and sanity more quickly:
- remember how much I value apologies and respect those who give them
- realize that the offended party is ALREADY thinking about the offense, so “leaving well-enough alone” is self-deception
- admit that no one ever thought I was perfect to begin with, so, my reputation is not at stake
Notice that “Part 4” about how we justify ourselves is not on this list.
I didn’t recognize you
as the one who had been
crushed by the weight of living
not so long ago
diagnosed with the disease
victim of the accident
bereft of your work and love
children and dreams
so sure you would not make it
but here you are
more beautiful than ever
with seeing eyes
I wrote this thinking about the difficult and frightening things that people are forced to endure all over the world. Some deal with the terror of war, injustice, torture, and catastrophe, others with disease and all manner of sickening loss.
Even here, a mysterious and strong thread of resilience and redemption runs through each of our lives.
To retrace it is to make it stronger.
I was fourteen years old the first time a friend “no-showed” and left me stranded on a weekend night. I was stunned and wounded. My expectations had been high and nothing had prepared me for the possibility of disappointment. As dysfunctional as my family was, I had been taught to keep my word and that others kept their word when the stakes were high. A sibling maybe, but a friend would never no-show and act as if nothing had happened.
Later I would be disappointed when…
- clients, bosses, and coworkers told me they would advocate for me and didn’t
- employers failed to follow through
- employees no called no showed
- romantic interests betrayed
- and…I succumbed to being a no-show myself
But, at least I became wise to the why.
We over-promise because…
- originally, we had good intentions
- we were afraid to tell you the truth
- we didn’t know how to say no
- something better came up
- the cost of fulfillment was too high
- we were embarrassed, or didn’t know how to tell you our plans had changed
- we hoped you would forget about it
- it was always about us, not you
- we wanted to avoid an argument, conflict, or tears
None of us are strangers to the “no show” pain. That’s why I am amazed that we can still rationalize doing it to each other.
Not so long ago, I had to choose between keeping a commitment vs. fulfilling a major bucket-list item. I struggled with it for a day or so and decided I couldn’t let the opportunity pass. I became a no show for people who were counting on me (even though I called and cancelled the commitment before flying off to Alaska). I wish I hadn’t.
The trip, although beautiful, turned into a debacle, complete with painful misunderstandings and disappointments.
No-shows never win.
If I had the opportunity to acquire a superpower, it would be this ability.
How often have we uncovered the ugly root of chaos and found it to be an unwillingness to budge from hardened, bitter dogmatism? Even in our own lives.
That’s why the only place to start is with ourselves:
- Soak the mind in memories of mercies
- People who have shown us kindness
- Music that moves us
- Nature that calms us
- Awareness of our own miraculous existence against the odds
- Focus on listening and learning
- Read outside of our comfort zone
- Say yes instead of no
- Let others talk without interruption
- Delight in differences
- Love where hate has been
- Forgive as we want to be forgiven
- Forgive ourselves for being human
- Recognize the limits of our own knowledge