conversation

Healing Differences of Opinion

I remember a time in the past when friends of mine talked up a restaurant for weeks. When we could finally have dinner together, my friends were enraptured by the atmosphere, service, and food. Before, during, and after the meal their exuberance and praise was over the top. When my critique of the meal was given, it was lower than theirs. What astounded me was not only our difference of opinion, but my friends’ reaction. They took my honest experience as an afront to not only the restaurant, but to them. They had tied their self-worth and self-esteem to their belief about the restaurant. When I was less than praiseworthy of the restaurant, they felt I was insulting them.

Sound familiar? In the heightened political climate over the past years, do you or those around you take differing political views as a personal insult? I believe one of the reasons there is so much political tension is that we have moved away from honest discussion of issues and instead are defending our political affiliation as our sole identity. We no longer lean right or left, we ARE Left or Right. When our identity and self-worth are tied to something outside of our self, it leads to insecurity, fear, and either fighting for our ideology or becoming depressed and insecure when our ideology is attacked.

conversation, listening
Photo by Joshua Rodriguez on Unsplash

A recent Fast Company article explored the concept of our values being tied to our worth and how to have honest conversations. It states, “Yet hanging out with like-minded people is the opposite of open-mindedness. It signals a reluctance to learn and grow, and a false sense of security about your own values, perhaps because you are afraid to have them challenged as they are the core definition of yourself, or you fear that they are too fragile to hold when exposed to a different form of thinking.” The article has some terrific advice around this subject that I would like to share and expand upon.

Be Teachable

The article brought up the importance on continued learning. It is the concept of remaining teachable. When anything stops growing, it dies. Such is true with our minds. When we think we know it all, we have closed off and killed our minds. As I get older, I have learned that the only thing I know for certain is that I don’t know anything. By staying in an I-don’t-know mind, I strive to see situations without filters, I try not to judge based on my experience, and I have an openness to see things anew.

Listen

Listening is a key component of learning and understanding. Hearing out another’s view does not mean we agree with them or that one party needs to convert to the other’s beliefs. Instead of cutting off someone with your thoughts or attacking them for theirs, listen. Listen to what it said. Listen to what is not said. Listening leads to understanding which leads to acceptance.  To accept is to stop fighting reality. The reality is that someone has a different take on a subject. Peace is found in accepting the reality that not everyone thinks like I do. Accepting is not choosing who is right and who is wrong, it is listening to, comprehending, and understanding each other.

It Takes Two

You can be open. You can be a terrific listener. You can be accepting and willing to come together. The other person may not. It is important to have healthy boundaries. If the other party is not willing or able to listen with an open mind and only wants to attack, you do not need to continually expose yourself to that abuse. Move on to the next person who is a bit more openminded. You can not repair a relationship on your own. Both parties need to be willing to come together.

It is not always easy to hear out someone else’s views, especially if the views are very far away from our own. But to heal our country and our personal relationships, we need to become open-minded and accepting. Little by little we can begin to feel confident in our own self-worth, remove our fear, and come back together.

walking in the good

Don’t Bring It with You

My life is perfect. I am blessed in so many ways. And yet I focus so much and so unnecessarily on the one thing that is not so perfect in my life. My neighbors smoke. A lot. All the time. Constantly. Which is their business, and they have a right to. But every time they smoke it comes into my house. I choose not to smoke. I don’t want it in my house. I don’t want it in my lungs.

Lately I have become obsessed with their smoking. I was as addicted to the irritation of them smoking as much as they are addicted to the nicotine. I was making myself very unhappy by constantly retelling myself about the injustice of them affecting my life negatively. I told myself I could not be happy until they stopped smoking. All day long I work in my home office and have to deal with their smoking. I felt justified in being angry. My wake-up call was when I came home after a beautiful walk with my dog through the local mountain trails and my husband saw the anger and upset on my face. When asked what was wrong, I talked about the smokers. Their smoke may be in my house, but I took my indignation about their smoking on my walk. I was making my life unpleasant even when I was not being directly affected. It was time to choose differently.

Photo by Volkan Olmez on Unsplash

We have a responsibility to speak up

Much of my anger came from the belief that they were doing this purposefully to me. I assumed that my life and my experience should be the first thing on their minds. False. Most of the time people hurt us, they have no idea they are hurting us and feel justified themselves in their actions because they are doing what they need for themselves. We all go through life this way. Even though I pride myself in thinking of how my actions may affect others, and sometimes see this belief going too far into the role of martyr, I still do not really know how my actions affect others. I am using my own filter, my own perception. We can never know how another is affected unless they tell us.

My first mistake was waiting way too long to tell my neighbors that their actions were affecting me. We can not expect change unless we make a change. If I don’t admit to others how their actions affect me, nothing will change. If we don’t speak up about injustice, injustice will still happen. If we don’t make a change, change can not happen. Look at your resentments, discomforts, and how you may be harmed right now. Have you shared this with anyone? Have you shared it with the other party affected? Have you changed how you act or react in the situation? If you have not, then expect the same scenario to play again and again. It did for me until I spoke up.

We can’t change others

Speaking up does not mean that our needs will be met. The other person may not be capable or willing to provide us with what we want. We can not demand that others will act or be differently. We can not make anyone do what we want them to do. What we can do is change ourselves. We can change how we act and react to others and the situation. In my case, the smokers still smoke but I have placed a fan in my window to keep the smoke from coming into my house. It has not solved the entire problem, but it has definitely made it better.

We can choose our experience

Whether my neighbors stop smoking, whether my fan works or not, none of this matters. What changes the experience most for me is how I think about it. If I continue to dwell on the inconsideration and injustice of the situation, I will continue to feel victimized and filled with self-righteous anger. Instead, I have chosen to embrace my power in my voice and in my actions. I have made my needs know. I have made changes to my circumstances in buying a fan and may invest in an air purifier. I consciously choose to celebrate and enjoy the clean air available to me when I am not at home. Most importantly, I embrace the calm and peace I want to experience, and as much as I can, I keep my anger at bay.

Where in your life do you need to acknowledge that your needs are not being met? Where do you need to use your voice to make your needs known? Can you stop expecting someone else to change and instead make changes to your actions and reactions? Can you embrace your ability to experience different?

dog on walk

Dog Behavior Training – for me

A while back I shared what I learned from having a stray cat try to adopt me. I am happy to report the cat has a home now and is being taken care of in the way she deserves, and demands. This January, I adopted a dog, Güera, who is teaching me new lessons.

Being an older rescue, I had no history of Güera’s life or personality. I quickly learned that although the rescue center said she was good around other dogs, she in fact seemed scared or aggressive toward them. Because of this, I shielded her from other dogs. I assumed that she was going to start growling. My emotions conveyed that other dogs were a threat and go figure, when we were around other dogs, she was aggressive.

Honestly, I don’t know when it hit me. Maybe it was the nice older dog owner I befriended who would allow Güera to sniff his dog. Little by little, they got to know each other and low and behold, no more aggression and growling. If Güera could be nice to this dog, logic told me she could be nice with other dogs. When we met other dogs on our walks, instead of sending my emotions into fear, I relaxed. I would soothingly say, “Diga hola” and “tranquila,” Spanish for “say hi” and “relax/chill”. And you know what? Unless the other dog was obviously aggressive, Güera was calm.

dog on her walk
Güera chilling on her walk

This got me thinking of all the times I entered a boardroom, an event, or any situation where I assumed there would be conflict. How much of the conflict that ensued was a direct response to my energy of protection and aggression? I started to notice this in my day-to-day life. Being human there are people I dislike or judge. Instinctively and sometimes maliciously, I approached these people with a chip on my shoulder. I wanted or expected a fight. Being self-righteous I wanted to prove how nasty these people were by provoking them. If I succeeded in provoking them, I felt like a jerk. If I didn’t, I still felt awful because I had made myself feel that way.

Instead, I started to approach everyone – those I liked, those I didn’t, those who I had yet to know – with the calm relaxed attitude I embodied when walking my dog. Tranquila Melissa. Not all interactions went the way I would want them to. But every interaction felt good to me. I was peaceful and centered, and really that is all I ever wanted. It didn’t matter how the other person reacted or what they did, I could choose to be in the state of calm.

What scares you? Who disturbs you? When do you put up a barrier? Where do you look for a fight? What if you could, no matter the situation, choose calm?  You can. You can’t control what others say or do, but you can always control your own actions and reactions. Try it today. Ground yourself before you meet someone disagreeable. Center yourself before bringing up a difficult conversation. Embody peace within you and see how all your interactions shift. Tranquila bonita, you got this.

seeking human kindness

Compassion is Tough

I have read Brené Brown’s book, The Gifts of Imperfection, at least twice now and never highlighted the section at the top of page 17 until my friend recently shared it with me. “We live in a blame culture – we want to know whose fault it is and how they’re going to pay. . . but we rarely hold people accountable . . . this rage-blame-too-tired-and-busy-to-follow-through mind-set is why we’re so heavy on self-righteous anger and so low on compassion.” Let’s break this apart but first, here is some of my own experience.

I have written before about my chain-smoking neighbors. They smoke constantly throughout the day and inevitably, the smoke comes into my house. This has been happening for over two years now. I complained to my husband. I complained to every friend I could. I wrote a post about it. But, until now, I never brought it up to them. I experienced pain and I leapt into self-righteous anger and blame which did not go anywhere except between my two ears.  I finally had the courage to speak with the neighbors, sanely and clearly. We discussed options; I set boundaries. Unfortunately, this has not stopped them smoking or the smoke coming into my house, but it did empower me. I stopped spending every waking movement replaying the evil they were bestowing on me. Instead, I now find ways to create my own boundaries – closing windows, using fans to point the smoke out, and reclaiming my balcony at least half the time. It is not ideal, but it feels so much more peaceful than stewing in hate.

Blame / Self-Righteous Anger

As I initially did with my neighbors, many people are turning to hate because it is easier than acting differently. Over these past years, I had a spent way too much time focused on how horrible my neighbors were. How inconsiderate they were. How they should pay for their actions. I clearly defined who was good and right (me), and who was bad and wrong (obviously them). It felt good to my ego and my indignation, but it didn’t come close to solving my problem or providing me with clean air.

I agree with Ms. Brown wholeheartedly (no pun intended) when she says that our first response to pain and fear is to attack and blame. Spend 10-seconds on Facebook at any given time and you can see this in action. Self-righteous anger is a way of life for many of us right now.

I realize I play the blame game because I tend to take on the role of victim and feel powerless to make my needs known. For others, they may be in desperate need of connection and find it easier to connect through hate instead of love. It really does not matter why we turn to hate and blame first, what is more important is what can we do differently.

Compassion

Stepping away from my own pain and anger, allowed me to see the full picture. I became aware of my neighbor’s life and their motives. By looking at their own pain and struggles, I began to have compassion for them. They stopped being the bad guy and started to be just another person struggling to be the best they can.

Compassion, Ms. Brown explains to us, actually means “to suffer with.” Isn’t that lacking today? Instead of hearing another’s struggles and fears and being with them, we instead blame and label. We don’t have the courage to actually suffer with them, to walk in their shoes. As American Buddhist nun Pema Chödrön wrote, “Only when we know our own darkness well can we be present with the darkness of others. Compassion becomes real when we recognize our shared humanity.”

Boundaries

Having compassion and understanding does not mean that we resign to accepting personal pain. No. We can have compassion for others and set strong boundaries. We can understand someone else’s viewpoint and look for beneficial solutions for all.

I think Ms. Brown lets people off too lightly when she says, “We’re so exhausted from ranting and raving that we don’t have the energy to develop meaningful consequences and enforce them.” Personally, I never thought I had another option than to rant and rave. I felt powerless and victimized. I felt that a “good girl” accepts things as they are and doesn’t rock the boat. I thought the only options were to sit in my resentment or attack someone else (which for me is not an option). I am learning the space of gray between those two options. First, I need to identify what is not working for me. Instead of blaming the other, I need to define my boundaries and needs, and then ask for them. I have the power to change my circumstance either through letting someone become aware of how they are affecting me or to make changes in how I act and react.

Moving Forward

The Brené Brown quote I shared in the first paragraph is from a chapter called “Courage, Compassion, and Connection.” These are all things I think the world is in much need right now. But how do we get them?  The way Ms. Brown tells us we gain each is by doing them. Just like we learn to walk by walking, we learn these important and powerful traits is by doing them. How can you start today?

pie making ingredients

Preparing to Be Unprepared

I stole the title from Jeff Haden’s article because it is brilliant. I don’t seek out articles written about William Shatner but this one came across my LinkedIn feed and then on Facebook through people I trust and revere, so I thought I would check it out. I am glad I did.

Over the years, I have tried to minimize my overly organized, always-be-prepared, control freak, Type-A ways. I realize my desire to control causes me stress and upset. My desire to control is only a desire, not the true ability to control. Unexpectedly, William Shatner expressed a powerful alternative to the desire to control. He showed the importance of preparation and the importance of letting go.

Preparation

Constantly shooting from the hip or reacting and not acting, will not get us anywhere. We have an obligation to do our own footwork. Research topics. Analyze scenarios. Uncover everything we can uncover. If we do not, we are making decisions and actions without all the information, and when we do that, we often make poor decisions.

Preparation, however, does not ensure results. Our preparation does not dictate how things will go. This is where I often have epic fails. I research, analyze, and come to my desired conclusions – then get very upset when life does not work out as I planned. Preparation does not mean controlling the situation. Preparation does not mean things will go the way we desire. Preparation is by definition “to make ready.” It is not the end. It is the before, before the beginning. Preparation is reading the recipe and pulling all the ingredients together. It is not the final cake. It is not even making the cake.

My stress comes from assuming that my preparation is going to dictate the result. Unfortunately, it does not. I believe that if I think things through, talk things through, create and choose scenarios, then what I desire will happen. Going back to the cake analogy, just because I choose the recipe and have my ingredients ready, does not ensure the outcome of a delicious cake. Some of my ingredients could have gone bad. Maybe my oven heats unevenly or I receive a phone call distracting me from the most important part of the process. Some of these actions I may be able to control, but often many things are just up to fate.

Often, I have this conversation with my job seekers. They prepare. They update their resume. They customize their cover letter. They practice before an interview. All of these things are good, but they do not ensure the end result of landing a position. Many things happen that have nothing to do with our preparation – changes internally at the company, qualifications of other candidates, company workload shift – which affect the end result.

Let Go

Which is why Mr. Shatner says, “Prepare, be humble, and see any one starting point as just a beginning from which all sorts of possibilities can emanate.” What he is really talking about is letting go. Do the preparation then let go of your ego, let go of your expectations. Stay in the moment and see where the breadcrumbs lead you. A comment, a chance meeting, a new piece of information, all of this can change the direction of a conversation, a job search, or any part of our life. In my life, when I am able (or forced) to let go, things happen much better and amazingly than I could imagine.

Letting go demands trust, openness, and willingness to go into the unknown. If we have prepared, we can bring some tools with us, but the journey is really one of being open to anything. It is hearing what is said, not forcing the conversation to mirror what we planned. It is letting things play out, not forcing them to happen faster than they are meant to. It is taking an unexpected path and seeing where it leads.

What do you have coming up this week? Have you prepared to the best of your ability? Are you willing to let go and allow things to happen as they unfold? 

park bench

You can’t go back

Recently I worked with a woman in job transition who was stuck. Every time we talked she would only bemoan how she wanted her old position back. She had worked for a company for decades. She loved what she did. She loved her co-workers and the company culture. She wanted it all back. But it was not possible. The position no longer existed. She could not go back. Her desire for what used to be kept her from moving forward. She was sad, depressed, and hopeless because she refused to let go of what was no longer possible.

Many of us are feeling this way right now. When the pandemic struck last spring, we did our best to adapt. We looked forward to the summer, then the fall, then the new year. Every time we reached our expectation of when things should “get back to normal” and found that nothing changed, we became sad, angry, and despondent. Lately I have seen many clients, friends, and family reach the end of their rope. They bucked up during the recent challenges inspired by the hope things would get back to normal. I am not sure if things will go back to what we knew as normal. What we need to do, is let go of the past and move into our future.

Release the Old

One of the recommendations I made to my client who wanted her old job back was to hold a funeral for her old position. She had to let go of the hope there was an opportunity to return to what was. Whether you are holding on to an old position, a relationship which can no longer be, or the life we used to know, the first step in moving forward is to let go of the hope that things are like they used to be.

Nothing stays constant. All of life grows and changes. If it does not, it dies. When things in our lives are not changing and growing, we need to mourn that their time is over. Until we let go of what was, we can never embrace what will be.

Release Time

Some of the stress people are feeling about the pandemic is because they created arbitrary dates in their minds as to when it would be over. Last March I researched the Spanish flu and learned that it lasted for two years. Instead of assuming our challenge would be over in the summer, after the election, or in the new year, I pushed my thinking into the belief that it would be at least five years. I hope and believe it will not be that long but pushing my expectation out past the point I think is necessary, has given me a peace.

We can not control when or if things will change or be better so it is best not to create expectations of timing we can not control. Many of my job seekers want their new position to come by a certain date. It is important to know when we need income and to have plans to pay our bills, but to set an expectation that we will secure a certain position in that timing is unrealistic. Instead of focusing on time, focus on your efforts as in the case of a job search or focus on the moment. Stress relief can be found in releasing uncontrollable expectations of timing.

Define What is Next

What we can do is to look at what is next. For the job seeker it is defining the ideal position. For the pandemic, it may be defining how we go about our day for the short term. We can not move toward something until we define it first. Instead of longing for what was or hoping something will happen in your timing, focus your efforts on defining what you want and making baby steps toward your goals.

As we move into 2021, release the past and your expectations of when things will change. Focus on what you want next and begin to work towards that. If you have the same experience I do, you will begin to see wondrous things come your way.