Posts Tagged ‘the Golden Rule’

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.





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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