Holiday Reductionism: Scrooge-y or Sanity?

I love Christmas as much as the next gal.  OK, maybe I really don’t.  It’s not that I don’t like Christmas.  It’s just that I like other holidays more.  Am I the only one that doesn’t feel like Christmas is the End All-Be All holiday?  Just saying it makes me feel like I’m blaspheming.

Thanksgiving is a much better holiday in my opinion.  The focus of Thanksgiving is on loved ones and food, period.  What else matters?

Maybe Christmas is like Thanksgiving on steroids and with a different theme.  It’s family and food, but it’s also religion/spirituality, decorations, gifts, Christmas movies, dancing reindeer, plus-sized men with white beards.  With each of these additions, potentially comes time, effort, expense and worst of all, stress.

As a recovering perfectionist, in the past I had to do all of these things in spades.  My perfectionist tendencies were peaking around the time our kids were pretty young and career-building was in full swing.   The end result was adding one more straw to the proverbial Wise Men’s camel’s back.

In post-Perfectionland, I still love Christmas decorations and parties.  Other people’s.  I love the music, the embellished sweaters.  Ditto.

Don’t get me wrong, I do still participate in Christmas, but in a very scaled down way.  I don’t spend as much money on gifts as I used to, shopping may happen by mail.  The tree is smaller and simpler, so is the décor and gift wrap.  There aren’t as many parties to go to because of the economy, but if there were, I would say No to all except those involving the people I care most about.  Christmas cards?  What Christmas cards?

I don’t think our neighbors appreciate our minimalistic approach to exterior holiday decorating, which has pretty much been boiled down to a door wreath. We found some covertly-added holiday-themed ornaments in our yard a couple of years that I suspect was the work of a mischievous neighbor.  They’ve either gotten used to the minimalism, they decided we’re hopeless, or the home baked cookies assuaged their need to supplement.

The end result of Christmas down-sizing: I can actually relax during December and enjoy the spirit, the décor, the music, the craziness without getting caught up in it.  I look forward to the Salvation Army lady at the grocery store (where are they this year?).   I can enjoy the time with my family because I’ve had my work-out, some sleep, and time to write. I don’t feel guilty, resentful or stressed.  Does that make me Scrooge or Sane?

sleepingsantas

Conflict: Damned if You Do, Damned if You Don’t

conflict_workshop

I wish I had a dime for every conflict that didn’t end well.   Seemed like, no matter my intentions or resolve, disagreements almost always ended badly.  The knock-down-drag-outs usually left one or more people feeling hurt, and the relationship different afterwards.  The let’s-pretend-this-isn’t-an-issue had different intensity and duration, but still produced the same hurt feelings and damage in the end.  Conflict of either type can be particularly insidious because the trigger for each fight may vary so it feels like a new argument, but it may actually be masking the same underlying emotional battle.

If two people care about each other, and/or if the relationship is important to them, then why do we keep making the same mistake, the same way, over and over again?

I can only speculate as to the answer to this question.  I know for me, I have made the same mistake in the same way because I had approached the conflict the same way every time.     Things have only improved when I changed the one thing I have control over: me.

“Insanity:  doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results” – Albert Einstein

First eye-opener is that every success or failure in the relationship is due roughly 50% to me.  Whether we’re having fun and/or being productive, all the way to dysfunction-galore, it’s half my responsibility.   It’s not all his fault, no matter how “right” I think I am.  This most difficult step requires I assume responsibility for my share, then act accordingly.  Usually it means I examine my motivations, fears and desires and take ownership of them. My fears and insecurities are my responsibility to manage, not my partner’s to fix, heal, or placate.

For example, for decades (talk about stuck) I had arguments with someone close to me that always went the same way. What seemingly should’ve been a reasonable discussion would deteriorate into name-calling and finger-pointing. I could never understand why, but admittedly the topics that triggered the reaction were predictable.  I spent all that time feeling it was her fault, that she needed to change, not me.  Yet, even though it was predictable I couldn’t help but stepping into that same landmine repeatedly.  Now, who’s fault is that?

Things changed when I took a step back to ask myself how I was contributing to and reinforcing the dynamic.  I realized that I have a need to be heard.  It didn’t matter how reasonable I thought my position was or how calmly I stated my feelings, as it was creating an emotional reaction in my loved one. So, I was putting my need to be understood ahead of my relationship.  I couldn’t make her listen to me, why was I insisting on it?  Sounds like I was the problem, not her.

So I decided to change the rules of the dance (this is the second part of making a change). I would no longer tell her how I felt or what I wanted.  Instead, I acknowledged her needs and desires, but was clear and calm about what my boundaries were:  what I am willing to do, or what I wouldn’t do (determined by me as to whether I’d feel resentful afterward), without judgment or explanation.  Knowing and clearly communicating about my boundaries (and sticking to them) meant I would neither get angry nor martyr myself doing something I couldn’t happily do.

When  I refused to participate in the same argument, the conflict dynamic itself had to change.  We were then able to move into a collaborative style of problem-solving since we were no longer pushing the other’s hot button.  Ironically, by giving her what she needed, I was able to get what I needed.

Interestingly, in some situations I tend to go straight to talking it out, but in others I might try to avoid the issue.  Avoiding, or even acquiescing every time may preserve the appearance of peace, but the damage is still done.  Neither approach solves serious or long-term problems or really avoids causing resentment or bad feelings somewhere in the relationship.  Changing my approach means reaching out to the other with an open mind and respect for their feelings, with the goal of understanding.  It helps to request the conversation in advance and have them choose the time and the place.  Oh, and I bring chocolate.  Lots of it.

Damned if you do and damned if you don’t?  Maybe.  If handled with love, respect, clarity, and personal responsibility, conflict can be a growth opportunity for you, your partner and your relationship.  Conflict can enable people to right wrongs or make important course corrections.  It can help each come to a better understanding of the other, result in better decision-making, and reaffirm the bond and commitment between the pair, whether in a personal or professional relationship.

Unfortunately, successfully managing conflict, or anything else in the relationship, is still a shared responsibility.  It is possible to approach disagreements with the spirit of openness and collaboration, but if your partner is still avoiding or fighting to win, all you can do is keep trying different approaches to engage them in collaboration.  Be creative.  Take a chance. If  they then continue to insist on fighting or stonewalling, your only option may be to accept that the dynamic won’t change and work within that reality.  You can always try again another time, as people do change, especially if they observe successful change in others.

I’m better at conflict now – I have better tools in my conflict management toolbox. It is still far from perfect – I can still get my buttons pushed way too easily and fall back into old habits.  But I  forgive myself for not having this nailed down.  I forgive others too for where they are in their journey to be a better person. I celebrate when we make progress.  After all, in the conflict dance, it still takes two to tango.

Sticking Out Like A Sore Thumb, But in a Good Way

race

Diversity

In retrospect, being a member of a small racial minority is both like sticking out like a sore thumb and being invisible at the same time.

Actually, it wasn’t an issue for me at all while growing up in New York state.  It just didn’t seem to matter.  But all that changed when we moved to Texas, back in the ‘70’s.  I know parts of Texas are very different now but at that time when we were living in Houston, there just were no Asians living there.  My freshman high school class had 1000 students, 6 of us were Asian.  The ones that arrived later were primarily recent immigrants.  Thus I/we stuck out like a sore thumb, not to be mistaken for a rose among the thorns.  I didn’t look like anyone else, I didn’t act or think like anyone else.  I didn’t talk like the people that looked most like me.  This was an adolescent’s worst nightmare.

The Texans of the era responded to me with a sort of friendly-unfriendliness:  “WHERE. ARE. YOU. FROM?” (loudly and slowly).

Me:  “From Houston”

Them:  “NO. BEFORE. THAT.”

Me:  “New York?”

Them: “NO. ORIGINALLY.”

Me:  “I was born in Georgia.”

Them:  “Oh….. well you speak really good English” (not so loudly or slowly by this point).

Me (to myself):  “Fortunately for me because I don’t speak Chinese.”

This conversation happened more than you might suppose.  Once a week, probably.

Or I love this one too:

Them:  “WHAT. IS. YOUR. NAME?”

Me:  “Sue.” (I was “Sue” then.)

Them:  “SOO?  DID I SAY THAT CORRECTLY?”

Some days I felt that even the friendly-unfriendly queries were better than just being ignored.  When I wasn’t an ethnic curiosity, I was just invisible.  Waiters would take my order and my money, eventually, but service above and beyond that was not readily available to me, but usually there for my table mate.  I couldn’t get a refill, a cup of coffee, a correction of my meal, an extra napkin to save my life.  Usually I’d be saying “excuse me!” to the waiter’s back, after he checked to make sure my companion had all she needed.  The same was true at butcher and deli counters.  If it didn’t have a pull-number system I was only served after everyone else there had been taken care of, and even then sometimes I had to remind them that I was still there. The net effect was that I believed that others’ needs were more important than mine, that I didn’t deserve attention or equal consideration.  Since I had no confidence, that extra time did give me an opportunity to eloquently formulate the wording of my request, “Uhh.  I’d.  Like.  A.  Pound. Of.  Salami.  Pleasethankyou.”

Everything changed for me when I moved to San Francisco for school.  There I was ignored.  Just like everyone else, hallelujah!   It was an actual epiphany to realize what it was like to be just like, and treated just like, everyone else.  I didn’t have to wonder if I was getting treated a certain way because of my race.  I finally started to meet some men who didn’t think I was just a cute kewpie doll-geisha-anomaly.   I learned to speak up at deli counters and cash registers all over the city, and even told other customers who tried to cut ahead of me where they should go (to the back of the line, of course).  I would have never done that in my Texas days.  I felt my confidence grow in leaps and bounds, and I don’t take that confidence for granted since I haven’t always had it.

Living now in Virginia I had worried that my kids would also feel marginalized because of race.  It’s not clear to me they even recognized they were different while growing up.  One son asked if we were Jewish. Another didn’t even have words to describe people of different races.  Later, as their self-awareness grew, they stated that it’s cool to be Asian.  I agree.  I really love the Asian accents now, whereas when I was a hormonal teenager I just found the accents annoying.  Now I’m the embarrassed one because I can’t speak the native language of my parents.  If I hadn’t spent so much time rejecting my heritage back then, then maybe I could’ve benefited more from it.

I guess the only regret I have now about being a minority now is that it’s difficult to cultivate my heritage when there are so few Chinese people in the community.   I would like to attend a great big Chinese New Year’s celebration each year.   I want someone to commiserate with about how annoying/wonderful Chinese parents are or how awful the Asian restaurants are around here.  I want a friend who has a supply of dried scallops or fermented black beans in their pantry in case of an emergency.  I would love to try to learn Mandarin again and have someone to practice with who won’t laugh at my miserable accent.

Regret aside, now, I wouldn’t trade being Asian for anything.  I love my heritage and the cultural influence it has had on me, particularly the emphasis on food, family, education and more food.  I love playing Chinese Mother and plying my visitors with an array of treats and home cooking until they’re about to burst.  I treasure my mom’s dresses she made when she was still in China.  I like looking distinctive as it gives me an edge when I wish to be remembered or be noticed (downside:  I have to be on my best behavior).  People also think I’m more intelligent than I really am (because we’re all so smart). Plus, Asian women age well, particularly useful right about now.  It helps I don’t get the Where Are You From questions anymore.  And now when people stare at me, I just assume it’s because of my radiant smile.

Question: All these years I have never formulated a proper response to Where Are You From?  What should I have said?

Dating Again After Twenty-Two Years

meltdown

Online dating

Being alone was cake compared to re-entry into the dating world after a 20 year marriage.

I was so naïve when I started my foray into being alone, it should be no surprise that cluelessness defined my approach to dating.  It was practically my post-separation/divorce M.O.  When I started dating again, here was what I worried about:  will anyone find me attractive after all these years, how will I find people to meet, and will I be able to form a successful relationship with someone new?

The answers to the questions above were:  yes (mercifully some men still found me attractive), online (where I would have to meet men, not the gym, bars or school, unless I wanted to now date my students), and yes (I will eventually be able to form a new relationship, but that is a subject of another blog).   Wheewwww.

Here is what I should’ve worried about but had no inkling:  what were the mating rituals of the 21st century (incredibly it was the last century when I was last single), what did the modern man look for when meeting single women, and what etiquette, if any, was expected with these new mating rituals?

Of course, these all came as a shock to me.   After all, much had changed in the 22 years since I was last footloose.  The year I was last single, Anthony Kennedy was appointed to the Supreme Court, the Soviet army withdrew from Afghanistan, gas was 91 cents/gallon (you read that right), the first transatlantic fiber optic cable was installed, and Sonny Bono was elected mayor of Palm Springs, CA (Generation Nexters:  google it).

The internet was not widely used in 1988 and has profoundly influenced modern mating rituals.  The upside of accessing thousands of men instantaneously online had a major downside: they could instantly access me.   I wished to browse from the anonymity of my computer and in the comfort of my jammies.  I wanted to casually peruse the profiles of single, (well turns out, kind of single), attractive (well, from this side of sunglasses), successful (well, success is relative), interesting (well…) array of motorcycle-riding, moonlight walk-loving men and ever so slowly dip my toe into that water.  But the trouble with these online dating websites was that they required that you registered to browse.  In what seemed a blink of the eye, I was receiving emails and “winks” from men literally all over the world (well, so some of them claimed).  This I could handle, because I could choose to just delete or ignore these requests.

But unbeknownst to me was the instant messaging function, where in a heartbeat, you’re chatting live (Live!) with some stranger.  When this first happened, I sat there, paralyzed and terrified.  “Ahhh!!!  What do I do???”, I shrieked to myself.

“Answer him!”, I shrieked back.

“Thank you for messaging  me but I really am not prepared to IM with a stranger”, I typed calmly.  Eventually I gathered my courage and began to email and IM both to and fro with strangers.  After all, I took my time responding and it still was a relatively nominal commitment.

Inevitably though, someone wanted to talk on the phone (The phone! Live!).  “What do I do???”, I shrieked to myself.  “Don’t talk to anyone, you’re not ready!!!”, and so forth.  The same cycle of terror/calm ensued with the phone, and then with the first few coffee dates, before I gathered my meager courage to talk or meet, live and/or in real time.

The second area where I was clueless then subsequently shocked, involved what these men were looking for on the online forum.  I intentionally phrased the subject this way, committing only to the “men” and “online” descriptors because desirable qualifiers such as “single” or “relationship” were purely optional.  Married men, thrice-divorced men, never-married men, older (by a lot) men, barely-legal young men/boys were all online looking for something.  As a 40-something I was not prepared to hear from that 70-something and even less from that 20-something.

Some men were looking only for sex.  To their credit, a few were completely transparent about it.  Others evaded the issue but dropped hints, like sending explicit photos or talking about their sexual preferences.  A grenade is more subtle.  Some were looking for the equivalent of phone sex, others were ready to drop everything and come right over.

There were scary men too.  Some men became belligerent, angry or abusive if, even online, you didn’t do or say what they wanted.  There were those that refused to send a picture or tell you their full name, but expected you to meet them without providing any prior identifiers.  Some men were looking for relationships spanning the whole range: some purely platonic, to a couple who felt we were “in” a relationship with the first email.  Fortunately there were also men operating in-between those two extremes.

In retrospect, I believe I was still in denial regarding the reality that entering the dating game meant I might end up being with someone new.  However, I learned to work through my terror, to enjoy dating again, and eventually to not take any of it too seriously.  Having expectations more consistent with the 21st century improved my attitude considerably.  I met a wide range of yes single and yes successful (yes) men, and every meeting was interesting regardless of the outcome. Finally I learned how I fit into the reality of the world of single people, and how to be patient with myself and forgiving of my uncharacteristic emotional volatility.  Venturing into this entirely unknown universe revealed a side of myself I was unacquainted with; successfully navigating that venture gave me the confidence to go to the next logical step – a new relationship.

On Loss

Max

My little dog has stopped eating today.  He has refused chicken, salmon, cheese, and even pate.  He ate a few bites of doggie treat, maybe a teaspoonful for his diminished 8 lb frame.

For the last 5 months, he’s been battling a soft-tissue cancer, called a sarcoma.  The tumor has advanced so aggressively that meaningful treatments were either not an option or ineffective.  He’s not even 11, which is young for a little dog to be so sick.

I have been a pet owner since I moved out of the dorm in college.  Cats first, then more recently dogs ever since I acquired first a cat allergy and then a fenced back yard.  So for the last 15 years, I’ve surrounded myself with as many dogs as the county will allow without having to register my home as a kennel, a paltry three animals at a time.  Even still, when out walking my three dogs, I am the recipient of looks of amusement combined with curiosity for the crazy dog-lady.

So, I’ve owned and lost pets for many years, and have accepted that loss as part of the price of having loved my animal companions.  If you’re lucky, they live 10-15 years.  Then they’re gone.   It’s the price of “doing business”.

Dogs have varying degrees of need for proximity, depending on their personality.  Cats are at one end of the spectrum: they pretty much come hang out only when inclined.  Max is at the other end.  He moves heaven and earth to be by my side.  If he is not nearby within peripheral vision, then I know there’s trouble. As a result, this little guy has been particularly special to me.  I can say that to all of you because my other dogs haven’t yet managed to get on the blogosphere.

Max has been my constant companion, devoted friend, and nonjudgmental listener for the last 8 or so years.  Max always forgives me for being grumpy, not paying attention to him, or having morning breath.   He never holds a grudge, tolerates all the undignified things I impose upon him like brushing his teeth, having his temperature measured, carrying him in a bag, or dressing him in a lobster costume.  He never complains, not even now when this tumor is covering most of his head.  He is the Wikipedia definition of the words loyalty, patience and devotion.  He reminds me to not worry about the past or future, to just be in the here and now.  His ability to do that now is an inspiration.

I admit, I’m having trouble being present today in light of this development.

I know non-pet owners can’t understand our obsession with our like-family members. I also know that losing a pet is nowhere near on par with losing an actual human family member.  I guess I have been fortunate to have avoided that experience so far.  Being the daughter of immigrants, the family has been primarily thousands of miles away and largely unknown.  My own immediate family is for now, alive and well.  So am I lucky to not have lost grandparents and aunts and uncles that doted on and spoiled me?  Have I been blessed that I didn’t grow up in a big, noisy family with the extended cousin network, only to lose them to death? My ex has an extended family that, for the most part, has enthusiastically and generously welcomed me in to their big, noisy fold and has been a wonderful surrogate for many years.  Much of that family is still there for me; some are not since the divorce.  I consider it a blessing for the time that I was adopted and accepted into their family.

Since I have spent most of my life without, I have to admit that I have always been somewhat (ok, very) jealous of the folks with those big, noisy families, family dysfunction notwithstanding.  I am especially jealous of people with family members for whom they describe as providing a special, safe, accepting and unconditionally loving place that was reserved just for them.  Am I lucky that I never had to lose someone like that, if I’ve never had someone like that?  Is it true that “it’s better to have loved and lost than to never have loved at all”?

I feel like, even today, that the very fortunate ones are those that have, or have had, those special loved ones in their life, not people like me who haven’t had that experience.    I can’t know what it feels like so I have no idea if that’s true for human loved ones.  Most people will love again, and want to love again after loss like death or divorce.  I guess to keep taking the risk over and over again shows that it is better to choose love, even if it may end too soon.

With regard to little Max, I am ever so grateful for every day that he graced my life with his unconditional doggie love and devotion.   I feel my grief is a small price to pay given how he shepherded me safely from one phase of my life to the next, and devoted his life to accompanying me on mine.

Single Again After Twenty-Two Years

loneliness

Even positive changes are stressful.  The dissolution of my 20-year marriage, therefore, by necessity was a difficult transition regardless of how unequivocal and mutual the decision.

As mentioned in a previous blog, this was an amicable separation, so really I was fortunately able to focus solely on transitioning to being alone in my new life.  I wasn’t really completely alone.   I had physical custody of both my teenage sons and all three pups.  Yet there I was.  The only adult with 5 dependent males, a  big house in the suburbs, and feeling pretty vulnerable and by-myself.

Some changes, like the loss of both income and my main companion, I had anticipated.  However, I was unprepared for some of the other adjustments in store for me.  I now had to relate to others as a single, not married person, both at work and in my personal life.   I had to tell friends and acquaintances that I was now separated and then endure the well-meaning looks of sympathy and the feeling of failure that accompanied them.  I had to try to make new friends to do non-couple activities.  I had to figure out how to process the events of my day without sharing with someone else (this is important for extroverts).  I had to learn to live with feeling shaky, unsettled, and yet energized on a constant basis for about a year.

One of the things I do in my day job is student development.  At a recent workshop, we were discussing the stereotype that extroverts need company 24/7.  This is not precisely true, but true enough for me.  Accordingly, for me the hardest part of being single was getting comfortable being alone and amusing myself, by myself, for days at a time.  My curse is my fortune:  just like nature abhors a vacuum, extroverts hate not having anyone to talk to.  So venture forth into the world I did.    I contacted my single friends and set up dates.  I went online to meet other single people (I can only describe it as sheer and total terror).  I joined meetup.com to pursue my latent hobbies with other like-minded people, including ballroom dancing, dining out, meeting singles, volunteering, spirituality.  I hung out alone in coffee shops and ate dinner at restaurant bars when I just couldn’t stand to be completely alone anymore.  I went to the gym and yoga studio regularly and had the guns to prove it (they’re long gone).

Lest you think I was completely needy and desperate, I want you to know I also sought, somewhat successfully, to keep myself company.  I got to know myself in new ways.  I started journaling again  to be more in touch with my inner world and to process my day on my own.  I started a meditation practice which opened a universe of insight into the body I had taken for granted for so long.  I went on long walks with the doggies, and even learned to use the mp3 function of my phone (yes it also took me forever to get the blog started too).  I resumed playing the piano and caught up on my reading.  I tried new interests at work – like personal development – and worked really hard on my new passion. Proudly I can say that I did NOT resume my knitting or Sudoku habits, nor did I spend endless hours vegging out in front of the TV.

A year of being alone and unsteady on my feet required that I establish myself in my new life.  The new me is more comfortable with solitude, more in touch with my body and emotions, more at ease mingling with and meeting strangers.  Today I am more confident, calmer, focused on my passions, more creative and energetic, and feeling better and more productive than ever.  I have taught myself, and modeled for my children, that you can thrive even under adversity, life change, or loneliness. Or maybe they modeled that for me:  they somehow managed to thrive during the transition and gracefully emerged with more poise and maturity.  It doesn’t get any better than that.

How Difficult People Are a Blessing. Part II – Acquaintances

There are people that just bring out the worst in me.  Their actions and interactions just make me want to grind my teeth, eat Ben & Jerry’s by the carton, and throw cellphones and remote controls to the ground.

My tendency in the past (and sometimes the present) has been to take the path of least resistance and do what is easiest or most gratifying in the moment:   ignore them, avoid them, or complain about them with like-minds, the whole time feeling self-righteous.  Fun, yes.  Effective, no.   After all, I can’t learn to be a better person if my M.O. is to just be the same person.

How can difficult people help me learn to be a better person?  As I mentioned in Part I on Difficult People, the unfortunate common denominator in my toughest relationships – whether with family or acquaintances – is me.   On one hand, it pretty much sucks to know that I’m responsible in these situations (yet again).  On the other hand, it’s pretty much awesome to know that the only thing I have any control over – me – can actually make a difference in improving an unsatisfying situation.

I am the difficult person in these situations because it is my perspective that is causing problems.  First, I have spent too much time wishing the other person would change – they are absolutely, definitively to blame!  This is the easiest, yet least productive approach to dealing with difficult people.  Even if I had control over others, I could not exert any meaningful influence on them by merely wishing for their improvement or enlightenment.    In addition, I may have also objectified that person:  if at I see them as a problem, an obstruction, a means to an end, an annoyance instead of a real human being with wishes, desires, insecurities and fears, then I am reinforcing this dysfunctional dynamic.

Fortunately, since it is my perspective that is causing problems, simply changing my perspective can make an impact.   When I stop blaming and seek to understand, then progress, collaboration, and good will become options.   It has become easier with time to swallow my pride and invite the difficult other to lunch or coffee (my treat) so that I can get to know him on a more personal level.  When I do take the trouble, I learn that they have goals, dreams, hot buttons, talents and deep-seated desires to be appreciated and liked, just like me.  Often I find we share much more common ground than I anticipated, and that communication styles sometimes create unnecessary friction and barriers to finding commonality.  Usually I find that any perceived disrespect, animosity, or judgment has more to do with my own hot button issues rather than theirs.  The reverse is also true.  Sometimes their negativity has more to do with their struggle with their own hot buttons, and less to do with me.

Actually, there are honest-to-God benefits to having difficult people in my life.  When I put aside my own ego, defensiveness and fear, then a feeling of empowerment is available to me when I can build a bridge.   It’s an opportunity to learn more about myself, what pushes my buttons and how to better manage my own issues.  It provides an opening to practice being empathic and supportive of someone who has a completely unfamiliar perspective.  It’s a chance to completely change the way I view a situation, and thus to become enlightened.  It creates options for me to help another widen their view of the possibilities.  It allows me to practice the belief that people are more effective when working as a team.  In the end, it’s my responsibility to manage myself, not to manage someone else.  And when I change my behavior and approach someone with empathy and curiosity instead of judgment, then they’re more likely to reciprocate.

I once read a story about the Buddha who kept a whiny, annoying, demanding disciple close by.  The student constantly needed attention and affirmation and yet was argumentative and critical.  One day someone asked the Buddha why he kept this difficult student so close by.  Buddha responded that the disciple was not his student.  He was his teacher.  In other words, the Buddha practiced his patience, empathy and forgiveness at the feet of this contentious companion.

Eckhart Tolle, philosopher extraordinaire, says that we create our own reality.  Therefore, if we perceive a problem, then it is because we have created the problem.  Therefore, if I feel someone else is creating difficulty, then that is the reality that I have created for myself.  I can choose to disassemble that reality into one that is more productive, healthier and forgiving.  I can choose understanding, patience, and curiosity over criticism, judgment and marginalization.  In doing so, I am also choosing to prioritize our common humanity, my personal growth and peace of mind over conflict and division.

Do you believe we create our own reality and our own problems?  Please share your story.

Sweet are the uses of adversity
Which like the toad, ugly and venomous
Wears yet a precious jewel in its head

– William Shakespeare, As You Like It

difficultboyandgirl1

Fighting fair

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