A lovely man of my acquaintance rang me up this week and told me he enjoys what I write. I demurely blushed. Then, being the genial problem-solver extraordinaire that he is, he added: “Could you write something about living with day-to-day problems? Not everyone, you know, has problems in the workplace.”
No, it’s true that not everyone has problems in the workplace. Plenty of my gazillion-and-twelve readers don’t even have a workplace! But nearly everyone is vexed by daily frustrations that add up to make them feel stressed and overwhelmed.
You know what I mean: The fellow at the baseball game who’s drunk, spills everything and screams obscenities in front of your kindergartner. Your upstairs neighbor who seems to walk the floor in golf spikes every morning at 2am. The gal yakking on her cell phone while the traffic behind her piles up because she’s not taking the right turn on red. The woman in the express checkout with a full basket, who, at the last minute, can’t locate her checkbook or pen.
How, indeed, can one deal with those issues in a positive and purposeful way?
Ah, now we’re getting to Michele’s Big Vision Of Life. Prepare yourself — there are several tenets we’ll have to cover.
First, you can never know what’s going on in another person’s head unless they tell you. The woman in front of you in the checkout line may live alone with 56 cats, and that trip to the store may be her only interaction with another human being in the whole week. Her momentary connection with the clerk, and you, may mean more to her than you can ever know. The gal on the cell phone? She might be a doctor racing to the hospital, making sure the emergency orders she’s issuing are absolutely understood by the oncology nurse on the other end of the line.
Since you can’t know what’s in another person’s mind, you have two choices: decide they’re purposefully making your life difficult, or, they’re doing the best they can.
Guess which choice helps you feel more peaceful.
Second, people don’t have to be exactly like you to be right. You may go to the store to get milk and eggs, but other people go there to get connection and affirmation. A little tolerance and acceptance of different motivations and expectations can go a long way toward reducing your frustration.
Folks are frustrated that other people aren’t exactly like themselves in plenty of situations. I know churches where people are frustrated because not everyone in the congregation approaches worship the same way. I know offices where people are angry because not everyone is a driven Type-A who’s wedded to his job. I know marriages in which both partners futilely endeavor to mold each other into their own shape. Each of these situations overlooks the big point — we’re all different, and vive la difference! Different outlooks, experiences and expectations bring richness and fullness to life. It certainly feels like I’m powerful and in control when I think “it would be better if everyone were just like me!”, but what that really is… is fear. It’s the fear of that which challenges my comfort zone.
Third, you can operate out of fear or you can operate out of love. When you operate out of fear, you limit your world view to that which cannot hurt you. Fear doesn’t allow you to question your own beliefs, or analyze your own mistakes, or even consider that someone else might have a valid point. Fear is a closed, keep-myself-safe approach. Fear is “if he really knew what I was like inside, he’d leave me, so I’m going to keep my true Self hidden and hope for the best.” That particular fear leads to a horrible death — the death of the sense of who you really are and of what’s important to you. It’s the death of true authenticity.
Love, on the other hand, is transparent, authentic and open. Love is all those things we’ve read — patient and kind, understanding and tolerant, hopes all things and endures all things. Love truly covers all transgressions. Henri Nouwen, one of my favorite writers, said that love exists when I create a safe place for another person to be fully himself. Even if when they’re being fully themselves they tick me off. Between you and me, that’s when I lovingly give them a whole lotta space to be fully themselves.
Because coming from love does not mean you abandon your boundaries or forget your limits. No, keeping those intact help keep you intact. Coming from love doesn’t mean you’re a doormat, either. Coming from love simply means living life with freedom from fear.
When daily life vexes you, you have a choice. You can come from a place of fear, with the expectation that you’re going to be hurt, or you can come from a place of love, and the expectation that, although you can’t know what motivates another person, you can be charitable, kind and open to learning something new from them. And about yourself.
If we could all shift away from fear and toward love, our collective vexation would diminish. Wouldn’t that be something? It would be as if the entire world stepped back, took a giant exhale and relaxed.
And that would be Michele’s Big Vision Of Life.
(How’s that, Jack?)