Archive for February, 2015

5 Simple Rules to Keeping the Peace: A Re-booting Refresher

February 26, 2015

I don’t know about you, but I’ve crossed paths with more than my fair share of busybodies and they can cause a LOT of trouble! Personally, I like to call these folks “air traffic controllers” because their biggest goal in life is to hold vigil in their Tower of Infallibility 24/7, ordering people around. IT DRIVES ME CRAZY! You know the sort of person who tries to get you to say or do something that’s bound to cause trouble? Know anyone like that? Here are some examples in case you find yourself drawing a blank. “Hey, Monica, don’t bother getting that dress cleaned, it makes you look fat.” “Honey, why don’t you tell your brother that in addition to being fat, he needs to get sober. Don’t forget to add that she’s a saint for putting up with him.” “I was thinking that that pathetic woman down the street would benefit from a visit; showing you care by asking intrusive questions about her health is just what she needs. It doesn’t matter that she barely knows you.” Oh really? If it’s such a good idea, why don’t YOU do it?

 

Have you gotten embroiled in one of their cockamamie schemes? If so, I’m sorry. By my guess, you have the bite marks on your back to prove it was ill advised. If you haven’t, well you’re one wily survivor… Full confession: I have had my moments of being a bossy pants myself. While by nature I’m prone to having opinions, what I have learned over the years is to cultivate less and less curiosity about what it is other people are doing or why they are doing it. The way I see it, wondering simply invites opinions and opinions demand to be expressed. BAD IDEA. So, to help you avoid this trap, I am presenting five handy dandy rules for the sage re-booter.

 

Rule # 1: Nobody wants to hear your opinion. About anything. Ever.

 

Need I say more?

 

Rule #2: Don’t make it your business.

 

For someone who enjoys people watching as much as I, and for whom the human psyche is endlessly fascinating, learning to ratchet down my curiosity is no small task. But ratchet I have. If it’s not your business, it’s not your problem, If it’s not your problem, you don’t need to solve it. Keep your big honkin’ schnoz out of it. You can’t really know what’s fully going on, so just stay out!

 

Rule #3: Keep your helpful suggestions to yourself.

 

Even if you have the best intentions in the world (which you probably don’t), if you aren’t a marquee player in the drama, exit stage left or risk dropping through the trap door. Don’t add your two cents! All you wind up doing is stirring the pot–this compounds exponentially if you’re some form of an in-law weighing in. For the love of all that is right and good in the world, zip your trap. Just zip it!

 

Rule #4: Run for cover if you are recruited.

 

I don’t care if they come to you. I don’t care if they plead with their big, weepy eyes and claim they want your advice. I don’t care if you feel sympathetic. Don’t fall for their line that, “this is just between us.” This is a Trojan Horse. They have targeted you for their own purposes. Remind yourself that these people are adults (at least in theory); they have the tools and responsibility to figure this out on their own. Back away slowly. Do not answer your phone. Do not text back. Become mysteriously unavailable.

 

Rule #5: Nobody will thank you.

 

Most of the time, these dramas will blow over, but in the midst of things, it can feel like a locomotive bearing down. It matters not whether the combatants scream and carry on or behave more like giant icebergs, freezing cold in their icy disdain. This is between them. This is about them. It is not about you. You cannot, repeat, cannot do anything about it—even if what’s going on impacts you. Even if you feel sad. You are not the Grand Negotiator. Remind yourself that nobody can ever fully understand the dynamics between two other people, no matter how much you know or think you know. I’ve seen a lot of people make the mistaken assumption that they fully understood what was going on, naively believing they were able to build a bridge to peace or apportion blame. Please don’t do this. Please don’t make this error. See Rules #1-4.

 

Of course, nobody likes to feel helpless. It’s hard to watch people we care about struggle while we stand by, feeling impotent. But that’s what we are. We cannot fix it for them. They have to do this themselves. What re-booters can do is offer gentle, non specific, non inflammatory support. But leave it at that.

Linda Tripp

 

 

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Letting Our Minds Wander

February 24, 2015

The true essence of re-booting is far more than whatever I say it is or you think it means, and the same can be said for just about any life concept. Too often, we limit our thinking to what we know in terms of concrete experience, but like an iceberg, that curbs our understanding to the 1/8 that our conscious awareness comprehends. Just like children who have to learn in stages, there is more for us to learn. For kids, because so much of life is unknown, they are open to believing other possibilities exist—unconstrained by their knowledge of the world.

 

As we grow older, we relinquish much of our ability to project beyond what we “know.” Instead, we rely on generally accepted wisdom, our own experience, or what someone we respect tells us is “so.” Without realizing it, our definitions about who we are or how life works crystallizes into rock hard formations. This process has many useful aspects to it—it’s practical, clear cut, and enables us to move forward without dithering around all day. The problem arises, however, when we use approaches suited for managing a finite matter (such as following a recipe or driving from Point A to Point B) to our understanding of nebulous concepts such as “love” or “family” or “success” let alone our definition of ourself.

 

What we need is to think abstractly. Over and over, I’ve seen people limit themselves to the accepted definition of a term; it doesn’t even occur to them to wonder about the fullness of the concept. This is where our curiosity and imagination come into play. “Is there more to this than I realize?” This is where we can tap into the 7/8 bobbing beneath the surface. It’s not readily apparent, but it very much exists. Has anyone ever said to you, “I didn’t know it could be like this?” Whatever “it” is went beyond their imagination or experience.

 

Tapping into the essence of something is akin to studying (not just looking at) a painting, listening intently to a piece of music, or relishing the gentle touch of another, all of which can express meaning far beyond what words can convey. In a similar manner, allowing our minds to wander moves us closer to similar conceptual breakthroughs. For instance, utilizing our curiosity to ask ourselves, “What might the concept of ‘family’ entail beyond what I believe it is? Is what I “know” even a good definition? Is there another way to think about this? To be a family, what could that look like, how might we interact, what could be our baseline premises, above and beyond what I understand them to be?” (By analogy, remind yourself that electric currents existed long before Ben Franklin flew that kite.) Identical questions can be asked about love. “What can love look like? What does loving someone actually mean and how does that translate into my actions and attitudes? How does this idea compare to what I have, right now?”

 

Since playing with these emotionally fraught concepts can be confusing, I suggest you return to my examples of the music or painting. Don’t get lost in the words. Don’t limit yourself to hardline definitions. Music and art hint at much bigger understandings; they encapsulate the essence of a subject. How much more you see is up to you; look beyond the lines drawn, listen past the melody; the only way you can get there is to allow your mind to wander.

 

Is what I’m saying making any sense?

 

What I’m working my way towards in this post is to get you accustomed to the possibility that you are far more than who you believe you are. There is much more to you than what you understand to be the case—even in your most secret of secret thoughts. One of my favorite movies of all time is Sabrina starring Harrison Ford and Julia Ormond. Early on in the movie, Sabrina is preparing to go to France, devastated that her big crush (played by Greg Kinnear) doesn’t even notice she’s leaving. At a certain point, Sabrina’s father reminds her that there’s much more to her than this obsession. She has no idea what he’s talking about; he can see far more than she can.

 

We’re just like Sabrina—you and I. There’s way more to us, too.

 

The essence of who we are expands far beyond the life we’re currently living or our current understanding of who we are. To make this more manageable, let’s step back and think about somebody you know, someone you care about who has a lot more going for them than they realize. Have someone in mind? Good. Now, what is it they’re not seeing that you can see? Do they even realize that 7/8 of their essence bobs beneath the surface? What do you think could happen if only they allowed their minds to believe that part is there?

 

Might the same be true for you?

 

Homework assignment: When you go to sleep tonight, I want you to allow your mind to drift. Summon images of unexplored territories, paintings you love looking at, music that inspires; tap into the essence of them and use this as springboard for yourself. “Who am I? What am I missing?” The answer awaits…

Iceberg

 

Dreams of Warm Nights and Smooth Pavement

February 19, 2015

Here in Washington, it is a frightful and frigid zero degrees with grey skies and slick roads. Just awful—especially for someone who prefers to bask in the luminous, languid climes of Santa Barbara. Given the number of layers I have on, you’d think I was preparing to move in with a polar bear—my feet are so cold they hurt! It’s about this time, every year, when pot holes across the city expand in size and number. I realize mine is a DCentric position, but one would expect the Capital City to have better roads than this—let’s petition Congress to reallocate federal funds to maintain our thoroughfares as a national priority! You’d think they’d be self serving enough to do so. Winter, argh. Who needs it?

 

In a desperate attempt to escape this frozen land of lotus eaters, I summon more pleasant thoughts. Dreams of sun soaked afternoons, decadent naps, whatever warm fuzzy floats your boat. But what really lifts my mood is to recall recent and specific nice times. I find that the specificity of the memory grounds the experience, having a visceral impact in how I feel. What is something you had fun doing or who is someone whose company you enjoyed? (And, if it came as a surprise, it counts double.)

 

Meeting new people or uncovering activities we enjoy reminds us that there’s a big World of Wonderful awaiting us. All too often, adults are prone to thinking we know all there is to know or that there’s nothing really exciting left for us to discover; we tell ourselves it’s “too much trouble” to invest the time. But one day, we meet someone new—someone who makes us laugh or has a playful nature or radiates a calm confidence we weren’t expecting. Meeting this person opens our eyes. We marvel that, yesterday, we had no idea they even existed—and yet here they are, talking to us! How much fun is that? Don’t you just love it when you meet somebody cool?

 

Good things happen to all of us, all the time, even when there are significant difficulties in other parts of our life. These moments can be big or small, long term or fleeting, but the fact is they happen. They happen to us. And this is significant because such events remind us to have hope that there’s more good to come. I say all this because it is easy to forget in the midst of the rest of our lives—especially when hunkered down in the doldrums of winter. Let’s try an experiment: think about a recent pleasant memory and see how you feel after you’ve spent some time remembering. You feel better, right? A little lighter, a little more energetic, hopeful that you’ll get to do it again?

 

The power of our memories and our minds to influence how we feel is not to be underestimated. As good as you feel when you think about that person or that surprising interaction or whatever, you can just as easily inflict misery on yourself by focusing on some unhappy event—only this time it makes you feel bad. And do any of us need to feel bad about stuff anymore than we already do?

 

So, the next time you need a lift, focus on something specific that brought you joy. It needn’t rock your world, it just needs to spring to mind. What is that thing for you? What is it about them that lifts your spirits? Are you surprised by what your memory summons? Might you bring more of it into your life today? If not, aren’t you grateful you at least got that one shot? Remembering such events makes our drive all the smoother…

Pavement

 

 

 

Re-booting With Brian Williams and Tiger Woods

February 17, 2015

We have, in the case studies of golf phenom Tiger Woods and NBC News anchor Brian Williams, two different examples of what it can look like when the Universe forces an individual to re-boot. Of course, there are innumerable examples of the mighty falling, but Williams and Woods are so high profile that we all have a rough idea what happened, which is why they are highlighted in this post.

 

Williams was taken down by outside pressure as a result of being caught out in some lies regarding his field reporting, whereas Woods voluntarily removed himself from competition following a series of abysmal tournament performances. Williams inflated his importance. Woods appears to be lost in a crisis of conscience. Different men. Different reasons. Different failings. Same need to re-boot. Celebrities! They’re Just Like Us!

 

It seems to me that Williams’ actions of self aggrandizement stem from a desire to enhance his personal brand. Nobody forced him to “conflate” the helicopter stories; nobody suggested that he claim he witnessed corpses floating past the New Orleans Ritz—he did this to himself. Our friend Icarus comes to mind. So, what does this mean? It means that, underneath it all, Williams didn’t believe who he was was good enough. Know anybody like that?

 

Ok, so let’s shift gears and look at the Tiger Woods example. Things haven’t gone well for Tiger, but for reasons very different from those of Brian Williams. There are many theories as to why Tiger’s game has gone kaput, ranging from an aching body to swing adjustments to a loss of confidence which could reflect deeper problems in his personal life. Whatever it is, after flaming out, Tiger decided he needed to take a break, step back, and reevaluate his game. Unlike Williams, he made this choice of his own volition.

 

Of course, few of us have to endure our re-booting process in the glare of the public eye, which is a very good thing, but that doesn’t make it any less hard—we all have audiences of our own: our families, our friends, our coworkers, and most importantly, ourselves. And, you don’t have to have done anything “bad” to trigger this process. People who experience sudden loss face the same dilemma as those who bring about their own disgrace. In fact, the reason for the re-boot is far less important than the process of re-booting as long as the person aims to move forward with integrity. It doesn’t matter why everything went to hell in a hand basket. The point is it did. Now what?

 

Who do you know who’s experiencing a forced re-boot? What happened? How are they handling it? How do you think they will manage their lives going forward?

 

When things go awry, there are many heavy questions a re-booter needs to ask of himself if he wants to build a better future. He needs to have the courage to answer these honestly and probe further to determine if there are additional, better answers. Don’t just stop at the first one. This can be a humbling and surprising process and the answers don’t, necessarily, present themselves in the immediate aftermath of the “triggering event.” In fact, I strongly believe that the quiet wisdom we are seeking will often only surface after we have recovered from our initial shock, after we’ve groped about in the darkness, at some unexpected moment like when we’re taking a shower or driving to the store or staring at a stranger. In other words, we need time. We need to have the patience and the faith that the answers will present themselves if we are brave enough to listen. (Having the answer and actually doing something about it are two different things.)

 

As terrifying and awful as it is to feel as though we have hit rock bottom, the good news is that there’s no place to go but up. The expression “a bend in the road is not the end of the road, unless you fail to make the turn,” comes to mind. What ties into this is that even with the mess that is our lives, we retain the talents and skills we had before this difficult period began. Williams still knows how to perform well on tv. Tiger knows the game of golf from the inside out. And you, you still have all the talents you had before. Don’t minimize this.

 

The biggest fraud in the world retains her ability to win people over. Can she utilize this talent with integrity? Of course she can! A brilliant politician hasn’t lost his ability to render useful analysis of a situation just because he lost the election or was convicted of some malfeasance. Let’s say your friend loses their entire family in a tragedy. Awful, to be sure, but that doesn’t wipe out their preexisting talent for cooking or their sensitivity to the feelings of others. What I am trying to provide here are very different scenarios in which each person is forced to re-boot; the reason or culpability factor are, in many ways, irrelevant. There are fifty shades of re-booting and you probably fall into one of them.

 

It’s what you do next that counts.

 

I’m going to tell you what I’d tell Tiger or Brian—all is not lost. You continue to have strengths and talents that you can utilize. Be open to new directions or opportunities—even if they don’t sound all that great. Set your ego aside—much of the time, it’s what gets us into trouble, anyway. Remember that you have a lot of positives, that you’ve achieved worthwhile things. If you commit to doing the best, most honest job you can, life holds promise of good things to come…

Blue screen

 

The Achilles Heel of Shapeshifting

February 12, 2015

Transformation is a continuing topic here at Dignitary’s Retreat. We, and the world around us, are ever changing. While change can be exciting and wonderful, sometimes it feels like we can’t get a good fix on the ground beneath our feet, tumbling about from dune to dune, unable to see beyond the most immediate slope of slippery sand. It’s very upsetting for those of us who like to know where we stand, who seek to make sense of the world.

 

The challenge for any re-booter is to negotiate that tight line between identifying that internal “constant” we need to orient ourselves and remaining flexible enough that we can adapt to differing circumstances. New circumstances demand new approaches. When in Rome, right? Yes and no.

 

We all adjust our behaviors depending on our environment. How I behave in a stuffy board meeting is going to differ from how I behave at a football rally or a ride-a-long in a cop car. But what got me thinking about shapeshifting is my razor sharp eye for “green screens.” I consider them distractingly fake. In fact, I find green screens to be so simulated that I get diverted from the story. Instead of immersing myself in the tale, I’m thinking about the dissonance between the actor and the background. The characters are no longer talking, the actors are. This is a shame because the writers and directors’ goal was to create an imaginary world in which I could lose myself; instead, all I’m focusing on is how the process went awry and how much it bothers me.

 

The same reasoning applies when we change who we are to accommodate the people at hand. It is reasonable up to a point and then it all becomes fake. An obvious example is to look at a married couple. There will be lots and lots of legitimate reasons why two people change over the course of their marriage and part of that will be to adjust to the other, but what happens when one of the spouses changes who they are because it’s the only way to get by? It’s the only way to keep the peace, stay with the kids, keep the money intact, preserve a blueprint of what you’re supposed to do with your life?

 

Of course, marriage is not the only place where detrimental shapeshifting can occur; any relationship with a significant power disparity is vulnerable. Years ago, I knew someone who was fixated on turning me into their own mini-me; I became their mirror of an idealized version of themselves. It never felt truly right, but I went along with it because I had so much invested in the outcome. Plus, I was insecure and easily dazzled by someone who spoke more authoritatively, carried a gravitas I lacked, and seemed a whole lot more sophisticated. I saw something that seemed so much better that I said ok, until I felt suffocated to the point of no return. The whole thing was sick and fake and doomed to fail, ending spectacularly. I know how dramatic this sounds, because…it was.

 

Where in your life have you shapeshifted so much that it now feels fake? What part of yourself have you buried beneath the sand to meet the expectations of others?

 

The illusory qualities of green screens and shapeshifters are intended to smooth out our experience into one seamless transition. A problem arises, however, when the dissonance is too great, when the background and the actor no longer sync. It’s like watching a badly dubbed film.

 

Where are you simply mouthing the words?

 

The reason this relates to re-booting is because we want our lives and our selves to sync up. We want things to start making sense, again. Sure, we have to adjust to others, but we do so in the context of remaining true to who we are. While I know that there are times when we’re not always sure who that person is, I can promise you that he or she exists deep within. Those very dark days when I felt myself changing, when I felt myself drowning in a life that felt so very wrong, the part of me that is me kept kicking and screaming inside. She would not let me bury her. She INSISTED I sync up.

 

My hope for you is that your life doesn’t get so out of whack that you find yourself in such dire straits, but if you are, I hold myself out as a promise: you’ll get through this. Trust your inner voice, no matter how disruptive you fear the consequences will be. Regardless of the hardship or sacrifices required, that inner core of you—the one you wish would go away and be quiet—ain’t going nowhere and is there to help you be YOU. No more shapeshifting. No more green screen.

 

It’s time for Take 2.

Sand Dunes

 

A Re-booting Reminder: Keeping The Forest in View

February 10, 2015

For all of us, it’s easy to get lost in the details of our lives. Too often, we are so enmeshed in the day to day machinations of what’s going on that we lose sight of the bigger picture. For some, the bigger picture can feel overwhelming or incomprehensibly distant, as if we were being asked to read some academic tome in a language we don’t know. For others, there is such urgency to our immediate circumstances—so much is demanded from us right here, right now—that we haven’t the time or energy to peer up from our bunkers. And then, there are the intellectual zombies who never even bother to wonder. (Because this last group has zero curiosity about life and are of no interest to me, this post will ignore them.)

 

While there’s good reason to base our choices on “living in the now,” the truth is there’s more to our lives than simply what’s going on today. In fact, for each of us, there’s a big picture we’re intended to follow. Each of us is here to learn and work out particular life lessons. Alas, we are not handed these on a tablet when we turn two or twelve or twenty. Nobody emails us a power point that summarizes in seven succinct slides the life wisdom I Am Meant to Master. Instead, we thrash blindly about, plotting our course by using conventional wisdom and what’s in front of us as our only guide posts (suppressing most internal growls of protest).

 

I just don’t know why I can never get a break,” one friend ranted after detailing an episode involving her ex, a high school party, and the sheriff. Reading her words, I shake my head in sympathy because I understand what she’s feeling. In fact, last week, I was sent home early from my sad little temp job for working too efficiently, for being too productive. And paid all the less for my reward. To say I felt thwarted only touches the surface of my frustration with my earnest efforts to re-boot my life. You’re sending me home for doing too good a job? Seriously?

 

My exasperated response is understandable—especially considering how long this wilderness period has extended—but to allow my immediate reactions of disappointment and frustration to confirm that the Universe is determined to keep me down enables my emotions to obscure the big picture. Life is not random. There must be a greater purpose in my struggle. There must be a reason I continue to collide with closed doors.

 

Now, while it would be a lot more satisfactory for me to indulge myself by crediting a great conspiracy theory as to why I can’t make progress—I could get drunk and cry or run around and make a bunch of bad choices—that would be my emotions dictating both my actions and my attitude. And given how passionate a person I am, I could have a lot of fun being dramatic, so reining that in requires no small amount of discipline on my part. But because I believe that a constructive purpose exists, the calmer, more mature part of me counsels myself to pause. To wait. To calm down. To de-catastrophize what has happened. In other words, I separate out what I am feeling from a clinical assessment of what is.

 

Because the facts are this: I am not living under a bridge; I am not without talents. Odds are an open door awaits—somewhere, please God. In fact, when I dispassionately assess my situation, what becomes clear is just how much support I am receiving. All is not lost! Truth be told, I continue to get “breaks,” to receive support, and am making fundamental progress in understanding who I am while gaining maturity in how I perceive and react to the world around me. Maybe this extended ordeal is the only way I could make these breakthroughs. Such growth doesn’t pay my bills, but it does deliver a powerful sense of inner peace and confidence. Hey, you know what? Come to think of it, I feel better already.

 

So the next time you’re about to pull your hair out in frustration or drink yourself into oblivion because everything feels like it’s falling apart, I want you to take a moment to consider what you’re reacting to and the significance you’re ascribing to it. Is it your lousy day? Your lackluster marriage? Your dwindling bank account? Your impossible family? Because, as hard as it is, you have more important things on your plate; there’s a Big Picture Purpose for what you’re going through. Whatever it is, it’s something YOU need to learn. Remember that. Those trees will only trip you up…

Forest

 

 

 

 

Hunters hunt, Teachers teach, and Re-booters reboot

February 5, 2015

One of the core convictions of Dignitary’s Retreat is that we must practice what we preach. Espousing a belief is inadequate; we must cultivate real world skills in order to transmute principle into practice. Believing in democracy is not good enough; we need to take the steps necessary to ensure that this form of government works. Spouses who declare their commitment to a strong marriage are obligated to act in a manner that builds and sustains the vitality of a mutually supportive relationship. If you wish to become a master marksman, you don’t simply read books about it; you get to a shooting range and learn to hit your mark.

 

There’s a whole lot more to living a life of integrity than simply believing in it.

 

Anything we exercise grows stronger, so we need to be careful how we spend our time and focus our energy. This metaphysical door swings both ways, so, for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap (Galatians 6:7). As true as it is that singers sing or lovers love, liars lie and haters hate.

 

Let’s drill down on this. The hardest and best tests of our commitment to living by these principles generally come from people in our immediate circumstances—our relatives, our coworkers, and our community. For instance, in order to reasonably expect others to show patience for us, we need to be patient with them. If we hope to be given a second chance, we must extend one. Same goes for forgiveness and understanding—applied with a common sense touch, of course. Do unto others, that sorta thing…

 

My exposition could go in a variety of directions, but let’s take a look at college speech codes: at institutions of higher learning (which claim to be dedicated to promoting tolerance and the cultivation of critical thinking skills) there are now rules about what is and is not “acceptable speech” with the justification made that offending someone by expressing provocative ideas is verboten. My speech is “appropriate” but yours is not–how tolerant is that? While I’m not pro flag burning, I believe the United States is certainly strong enough to withstand poor treatment of its symbol by some ignorant or irate asshole. The same goes for blasphemous, offensive images—isn’t the theology stronger than the inflammatory act of one person or group? Are we so fragile in our convictions that we must eliminate all rude references? (And btw, good luck with that eradication plan.)

 

Ok, the above illustrations are based on topics we read about in the papers, so now let’s make this examination more personal. The more intrusive it gets, the harder the test. We’ll start with me. I have many examples from which to choose—and I haven’t handled them all equally well—but let’s take compassion. I strive to be a compassionate person, which to me incorporates sympathy, empathy, kindness, and patience. Recently, a longtime friend decided I had done something so hurtful and offensive that they have cut me out of their life. The end. Although their claimed basis for this decision was completely arbitrary and totally inaccurate—I did none of the things of which I stand accused—our many years of close friendship apparently do not merit a reconsideration of the conclusions drawn or extending the benefit of the doubt to me.

 

When this transpired, it is an understatement to say that I was stunned. I tried to clear my name to no avail. But here’s the thing: although I feel hurt by the accusations, I am not going to allow either my hurt or their accusations to determine how I react. Mostly I feel sad—sad that my friend would perceive me (and the world) as so hostile and sad that our friendship has suffered this blow. Yet, I don’t see this as the end. If and when the opportunity presents itself, I’d like to rebuild, but I’m not manic about it. If it happens, it happens. In the meantime, I’m doing my best to practice compassion for us both. At one time or another, we’ve all drawn wildly wrong conclusions. We’ve all been accused of malfeasance that hasn’t occurred.

 

What amazes me about this experience is that I haven’t felt an urgent need to defend myself or immediately repair fences. I can wait. I can see what happens. I can let my friend settle down. I can feel sympathy for someone who is obviously hurting and see clearly that they are hurting themselves. I am also learning, first hand, what it feels like to be on the receiving end when somebody takes something personally—maybe, as a result of this experience, I’ll be less inclined to take offense. I can see how important it is to extend the benefit of the doubt, to listen, to give people a chance to clear the air, to make amends, or ask myself if I’ve drawn the wrong conclusions. And, throughout, I can build confidence in the knowledge that who I know I am is not reflected in their poor (and misguided) opinion of me. If I want compassion, I need to practice it.

 

So, my fellow re-booters, what principles do you believe in? Might you start by extending this same quality to others? How do YOU rank in the categories of trust, courtesy, respect, friendliness, warmth, understanding, and sympathy? Extending sympathy to your drunken spouse is a whole lot harder than it is to do the same for some idiot at the bar. Tendering goodwill to your megalomaniac of a boss is a much greater challenge than it is to do so for the control freak at your kid’s sporting event.

 

And, if at first you don’t succeed, remind yourself that Re-booters re-boot.

Target

 

 

 

The Groundhog’s Infinite Loop

February 2, 2015

For many of us, February 2nd is the day we find out how much longer winter will linger, depending on whether or not Punxsutawney Phil sees his shadow. But for me, I think Groundhog Day should be declared the official Day of the Re-booter. The film Groundhog Day is a terrific example of someone who must learn to change by being forced to deal with the same issues over and over. Sound familiar? Ring any bells? What difficulty are you wrestling with time and time again? What? Your past strategies haven’t worked? Might you need to find another way to deal with such matters? Hmm?

 

Who’s the groundhog now? You, that’s who!

 

One of the significant aspects of this film is the fact that the screenwriters were able to play out the same scenes repeatedly and still entertain the audience. The premise could have bombed—seeing Bill Murray do the same thing, again and again—but it didn’t. We watch, doubled over with laughter, as this Pittsburgh weatherman reveals himself to be an arrogant fool who slowly learns that kindness and patience are much better options. I want to make a couple of points about why this film is important and why it’s a perfect re-booting vehicle: 1) it takes mastery and skill to create a screenplay that leverages the same old material in a variety of ways to make its point; 2) finding the humor in a situation is a way more approachable and powerful technique for tackling serious subjects than wagging your finger in someone’s face; and 3) we are all Bill Murray—arrogant, unaware, and ridiculous, but willing to “go with it” if we find ourselves down a rabbit hole.

 

Case in point: this past weekend, I took a marvelous, one day screenwriting workshop (where we didn’t discuss Groundhog Day, fyi). Knowing nothing about the medium, I was eager to learn and had pen in hand. There were 14 of us crowded around a big, square table—most of them even looked normal. At the first break, as people were milling about, a respectable, pleasant looking woman in her mid-60s made a bee-line for me.

 

“Do you have any food I can borrow?”

“What?” I looked up, wondering if I possibly misheard her.

“I’m hungry.”

 

I’m not sure why she selected me out of a room full of people to make this request. Perhaps I look particularly well fed or radiate an energy that communicates I wouldn’t be caught dead leaving the house without plenty o provisions in my purse. I had not entered the room with a sack full of groceries nor did I have any food displayed beside my notebook. I had a bottle of water, that’s it. That’s all I had.

 

I looked at her and mumbled, “Uh, nooooo.”

“I’m hungry.”

Wanting to back away slowly, I shrugged (I wasn’t ready to part with a portion of my sliced apple stashed safely in my purse), so she left. The class resumes. At the next break, the same woman approaches me again.

 

“Do you have any food I can borrow?”

 

You might borrow clothes, a car, or some money, but you don’t borrow food. Or toilet paper. WTF? This person looks neither crazy nor poor. There’s a café a couple of yards from our building. Go get your own food, lady, and leave me be. Because I had already dealt with this issue before, I looked over at her place and she had a half bagel and cuppa joe sitting right there! What in the world is going on??? Fortunately, the man next to me jumped in and offered this bizarre person something to eat. The entire interaction was so strange and hilarious at the same time, well, these are the sort of interactions that make me happy.

 

That’s what I mean by Groundhog Day.

 

It’s not that I am supposed to learn some great life lesson from this particular incident, but I am always on the lookout for the humor. People are unpredictably strange, doing things according to their own, mysterious internal logic. It’s what keeps life interesting.

 

So, let’s segue onto a more serious path. What issues keep coming up for you? Have you crossed paths with multiple examples of a challenging personality type over the course of your life? Is there a situation you think you know how to handle, but it keeps blowing up in your face? This is your Groundhog Day. You are Bill Murray. If things aren’t working according to your liking, perhaps you need to reconsider your approach. Maybe an attitude adjustment is in order.

 

“Well, what do I do?” you frown. Here’s a suggestion: think about someone you admire and ask yourself how they would do things differently? You might even talk to them about it. Are they able to handle this person or situation more successfully? Why not try copying them and see what happens? Perhaps they have gone through an excruciating difficulty that is, while not the same as yours, still very hard. If you believe they’ve done a good job with it, ask them how they decided to do what they did. Learn their process. Try it out.

 

See what happens. Avoid the infinite loop.

Groundhog

 


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