Friends & Allies

A full appreciation of the re-booting process goes hand in hand with the activities of re-framing, re-imagining, taking stock and asking ourselves, “Is this what I want? Is this how I want to behave? Is this what I mean to say?” And then, we proceed accordingly.

Asking ourselves such searching and pointed questions generally leads us to examine the meaning of words—and by extension, the behavioral expectations that accompany them. However, it is all too easy to get lost in this process, forgetting that we’re continually interacting with others who have their own definitions and expectations. Common language, different understandings.

For instance, I was speaking with someone who bemoaned the behavior and attitude of his coworkers in a high stress office. Multiple, tight deadlines compounded by demanding and mercurial personalities have resulted in a workplace just this side of utter chaos. I commiserated, knowing all too well the sorts of stresses an atmosphere like that can generate.  What does “good work” or “responsiveness” mean? Whose timetable or workload satisfies such criteria? When do we make trouble for ourselves by insisting on the superiority of our definition over that of others?

This morning, my father wanted to sit me down and have a long talk about “what is bothering me.” Surprised by this early morning request to assess the “true” condition of our relationship, but not wanting to re-buff a well-intentioned effort to connect, I set a mental limit on just how long I was willing to explore this particular venue and made myself a cup of coffee.

“Why do you ask?” I replied, willing my voice into a neutral stance, reminding myself that hostility is never a good strategy. Well, as it turns out, my quiet demeanor during last night’s dinner was interpreted as anger or resentment directed towards him. (For purposes of this discussion, we’ll ignore the generational echoes such parental assumptions have had on his progeny in terms of an accurate or dramatic understanding of others’ behavior.) I countered that I was neither angry nor resentful but hadn’t had anything I wished to say, knowing that he knew full well what most of my days are like. “I want us to be companionable. I want us to be friends and allies,” he stated. “Friends and allies,” he emphasized.

I’m not sure what the difference between these two terms is for my dad, but I have spent a lifetime of listening to him wax on about love and loyalty in terms of war. Choosing not to probe his particular angle of semantics, I answered, explaining  that I believed I was being companionable—after all, what is more companionable than living together? What about preparing meals, remembering special treats he likes, engaging in a shared delight over the corruption of local officials as detailed in the Post? Does that not speak to my valuing of our relationship despite the fact that dinner conversation was limited? Although he acknowledged appreciating these things once they were highlighted, I’m unsure whether my actions satisfy his definition of the term “friends and allies.”

My point in using these two examples is this: ingrained, ardently held ideas and expectations for Right Living and Right Behavior—as admirable as they may be—are not a universal standard. And when we, as re-booters, examine and settle upon new, improved definitions or expectations in our own lives, it’s all too tempting and easy to fall into the trap of believing our understandings are superior to those held by less reflective folk. Don’t go there.

Maintaining an attitude of openness about the acceptability of others’ approaches is critical to living a larger (and more serene) life.

My dad may be seeking out friends and allies while I have no idea what that’s supposed to mean. My friend has clear, organized ideas of what is required to “get the job done and stay sane;” his coworker doesn’t approach projects in an efficient or superior way. And so it will ever be thus.

So, I ask you: what are your special definitions, and expectations? What loaded terms trigger responses and presumptions in you? Terms such as loyalty, dedication, a “true friend,” generous, family, brilliant, a “good marriage,” “service to another,” independent, strong, brave, responsive, successful, compassionate, or, maybe even, companionable. If you think you are free of such burdens, I tell you you’re not. Think about something that’s happened between you and a coworker or family member in the past few months that has irritated you—see if you can’t dig up that “reasonable and superior” expectation you hold which is contributing to your annoyance. It’s there, waiting to be called out. A re-booter knows these things…

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