Posts Tagged ‘patience’

Limited Mobility Devices: What’s Your Crutch?

May 22, 2014

I always know when my dad has been using my office because, invariably, the tv will be tuned to the Military History Channel or Turner Classic Movies. As anyone who visits such channels can attest, the ads are finely tuned to, uh, an “advanced” demographic. This particular audience has inordinate interest in buying gold, Stain-away denture cleansers, and foldable walking aids such as the HurryCane (Freedom Edition). I chuckle whenever I watch the scenarios of happy seniors using these gadgets to negotiate everything from billygoating along a mountain trail to gamboling the strand in their plaid pants and jaunty sweaters. The only thing standing between them and Mount Everest, the ad promises, is the appropriate mobility device! I might call that a sherpa, but the good folks at Remedial Odyssey tell me it’s a Bobcat 4 Wheel Scooter. As I watch, I remind myself to be more charitable. “In time,” my older self cautions. “Be nice.”

 

But the truth is, we all rely on crutches of one sort or another. Some of these aids are healthy and appropriate and some…not so much. What’s significant is recognizing that we do it, too. Everyone has their vulnerabilities, and they change with age. What gets us into trouble is when we forget this or scoff at others for needing assistance that we, in our infallible judgment, deem, somehow, excessive or objectionable. Years ago, I met someone who exhibited a somewhat nervous temperament. A particular distinguishing feature about them was the highly structured schedule to which they adhered. Each day was carefully planned and announcements made that they only had X amount of time to devote to an interaction before they needed to go. The first time I heard their proclamation, I was somewhat taken aback, especially since they were the one issuing the invitation, but once I realized what the unspoken reason for doing this was—this was their coping mechanism for an unruly and nervous making world–I adjusted. I could take pleasure in their company without being there for that long.

 

Of course, as we all know, widespread crutches to life’s stresses include the regular assortment of addictions, controlling conduct, martyrdom, a need for approval, irascibility, or acting helpless—we’ve all had experience with people who manifest such behaviors under certain circumstances. Instead of letting it annoy us, the trick is to recognize that the behavior is simply their crutch. They have limited ability to handle certain types of anxieties, so this is their HurryCane; this is the extra wide space in which they choose to park.

 

Ok, but why is this important?

 

It’s important because the more we can recognize and deconstruct another’s maladaptive behavior (or crutch), the easier it is for us to respond with kindness and patience. When we understand what they’re really doing, we no longer take it personally or feel so irritated. If I were to interpret my friend’s announcement as a sign that they found my company tiresome, I’d react far less well and the evening would be a wash. Instead, after thinking about it, I could see that their crutch reflected way more about their anxiety than it did about me. So, I relaxed, ordered a quick drink, and revised my expectations of chortling through the night. We both enjoyed ourselves.

 

Now, take this theory and apply it to an annoying relative or colleague. Can you identify their crutch? Can you see how this relates to a larger fear that dominates their thoughts? Does framing the problem in this manner decrease your exasperation? Maybe there’s a better way for you to interact with them when they start doing that thing that drives you crazy. A re-booter appreciates that kindness and tolerance for others’ weaknesses is the best sort of accommodation life offers. And, we can only hope, the Golden Rule will be applied to us when the time comes…

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Reminding Ourselves that Values Start at Home

November 21, 2013

I feel fully confident when I make the assertion that my father is the only man on the planet who selects a freshly laundered and pressed button down shirt and khakis to wear when he cleans the gutters. I stand mesmerized, as one does passing an accident, watching him, hard at work, while globs of wet gunk shoot across his bald pate–like a meteor crossing the skies–past his glasses, landing on the front of his red and white striped oxford. But, most marvelously of all, is the moment when he sets down his equipment, picks up his keys, and heads out into the big world to join friends for lunch—with it never occurring to him to change his clothes. I defy you to surpass this example of sartorial splendor.

 

Now, while it’s true that we all lack common sense on occasion, after a lifetime of knowing my dad, I continue to be stunned by his daily deficit of this important life quality. I don’t know what to make of it; few things confound me, anymore, but my father’s behavior tops the list. It’s so random and there’s no thread of bizarre logic to follow—he just does all this stuff that makes zero sense! Do you have someone like this in your life? How does it make you feel?

 

Back in the 1980s, there was a fantastic New wave band called Talking Heads that put out a concert movie entitled Stop Making Sense which includes classics such as Once In a Lifetime, Take Me to the River, and Burning Down the House. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oUmVH58Eng8 If you haven’t seen it, you should, because it’s terrific; but then, I’m a child of the 80s so it all makes sense to me.  In the song Psycho Killer, David Byrne croons, “You start a conversation you can’t even finish it. You’re talkin’ a lot, but you’re not sayin’ anything.” These are lyrics all re-booters understand, whether we’re the ones feeling as though we’re talking in circles or we’re in the front row of someone else’s absurd performance. What do you do? Do you get up and walk out? Do you close your eyes and pray for it to end? Do you start yelling at the person to get off the stage? What do you do when nothing they do makes sense?

 

Of course, your answer will depend a lot on the context in which the absurdity is occurring, but one of the most important questions I have learned to ask myself when exasperated is, “How important is it?This is the key question I ask when struggling to manage my reactions. Ultimately, my goal is not to be bothered by folderol such as my father’s wardrobe choices, but the first step in achieving this is learning to control and channel the irritation I do have so that I’m no longer surrendering to the urge to criticize. Far easier said than done, my friends! Now, my temperament is most likely very different from yours—I suspect I struggle more with impatience and irritation from inefficiency than others do—so it wouldn’t surprise me if most of you are more unflappable when it comes to such matters. But, as I have progressed through life, I am realizing ever more that one of the very core re-booting skills to have is patience and tolerance for those around us, even when we don’t understand them.

 

Politicians and theologians and their ilk dedicate plenty of time to preaching about acceptance, justice, and compassion—which is fine—but it all starts at home. How patient and tolerant are you of your family and friends? Of your coworkers? Can you forgive them their sins? Those people who ignored an effort you made towards them, who strongly disagree with your approach to things, who hurt your feelings by haranguing you about something you haven’t achieved, can you forgive them? Are you patient with their intolerance of you? All the theoretical tolerance and compassion and forgiveness in the world for people you don’t know pales in comparison to the challenge of your living these same values on a daily basis, where it counts most. We will never fully understand the choices of another, and they will never fully understand us, but what’s important in who we are as people starts in how we behave at home. Remember that.

 

So, as ridiculous as it is for my dad to push around the lawnmower in his oxford shoes and navy blue pin-striped trousers, I remind myself that he’s tidying up the yard. I bite my lip to keep from being snide; one of these days, I hope no longer to notice.

 

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Stocking Up for Thanksgiving

November 15, 2012

The holiday season: none of us can avoid it, and it is looming like an ominous specter in our near future. Sure, sure call me a Grinch. I’m a grump and a naysayer and I’m not appreciating all the pleasure that can be found by gathering ‘round a hearth with a group of those who share certain DNA commonalities.

True.

But, I’m also a reluctant realist, whose conclusions have been drawn as a result of a lifetime of data collection and this is the equation I’ve come up with:

Family + Confined Spaces + Forced Conviviality = Trouble

Which is why I’m celebrating Thanksgiving with nary a single relative.

Sorry, Charlie, but I’m simply not one of those who anticipate the next 6 weeks with unmitigated glee. I really wish I were. I do! And I wonder exactly when it was that my experiences tipped me over to this pained perspective as there is so much about the holidays that I wistfully admire: cozy, decorated rooms, the ritual baking and fussing in the kitchen, crackling logs and mulled cider, strolls through denuded woods with dramatic shadows cast over the course of a bracing winter afternoon, echoes of laughter that escape as front doors open and close, twinkling lights that merrily proclaim, “Festivity abounds!” All that is awesome.

But, what gets to me more is the resigned expression behind the exhausted smiles. The drive to accomplish too much in too little time with too few dollars. The disappointment felt and silently communicated when the effort Person A expends is not matched by Person B. The weight gain or bank account drain or sense of the dog chasing the tail all over the course of a season now driven by retail numbers, advertising hype, and holiday tv specials that bypass anything more than a superficial nod to the original intent of this season compounded by the politically correct reproof that we can’t call this time of the year anything more specific than a “holiday.”  Boy oh boy, I’m depressing myself.

But here’s where I challenge myself to be creative: instead of being a gloomy gus, I need to seek out whatever joy I can genuinely find in the moment. See how successfully I can surf the holidaze and retain a true sense of calm and gratitude instead of griping and complaint. Because, the truth about life is that it is frenzied and it is competitive and people snipe at one another all the time. This is as true on Thanksgiving or Christmas or New Year’s as it is on any other day. And, it is also true that we are each responsible for our own happiness—I know that every one of you can readily think of people in your life who make themselves unhappy, no matter the circumstances. Is this a trait you admire about them? No, you do not. So, I charge you with turning this around on yourself: how can you make yourself happy and sane during a time when it’s easy to do the opposite? What private pledge might you make to yourself to do what’s necessary to find pleasure and gratitude and to practice emotional generosity and patience at a time of the year when the supply of such qualities runs perilously short?

Part of re-booting requires us to cultivate a calm, appreciative perspective towards our daily existence and the progress we have made on our individual journey. By definition, re-booting means that there has been at least one searing experience in your life which has prompted you to take stock and reevaluate and commit yourself to striving for a better way to live—consider this a significant dividend from your unhappy experience—and you are more humble than you were. This is good. This is right.

In the end, we always have more than whatever we lack. Always. I want you to think about this statement. What does this mean to you? How might this statement help guide you through life’s challenges and disappointments—no matter how grave or distressing? What can you call upon in the midst of the fury or the lonely silence from which you run? I know you have an answer. I know you have a strength upon which you can call—listen for it, seek it out, and utilize it as these next six weeks descend.


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