In our most recent Salon 360˚, I was periodically visiting the various breakout rooms. On entering one room, I heard someone — a gentleman I know, with whom I’ve since discussed this matter — say something that angered me instantly.
In response, I did four things: (1) I shut up. (2) I thought about why in the world what he said would anger me. (3) I thought about what my anger said about me. (4) I realized blaming him for my anger would constitute avoiding and choosing not to recognize something within me.
That incident came back to me when I read “Walking the Talk: Shift Starts Here”, Dennis Pitocco’s reflection on that very same Salon session. In the list of questions that arose from that session, Dennis listed question #5 as this: “When something that hits our core is expressed, what do we do at that moment?”
Some of the answers are easy and obvious: We can avoid or change the subject. We can get angry, maybe even angry enough to lash out. We can blame whomever or whatever it was that triggered us. We can abdicate the personal responsibility we have for our own expressions, actions, and reactions.
Some of the answers are not so easy and less obvious: We can do nothing. We can use the time in which we’re doing nothing to think about our reactions. We can ask ourselves what it is about our mindsets, our environments, our experiences, our biases, our preconceptions, or our ideologies that triggered us. How could triggering us be the fault of someone who doesn’t know us, unless that person was deliberately rude, disrespectful, or antagonistic? Do we assume the other person is less entitled to his stance or his expression than we are to our own? If so, why do we do that? Do we ever wonder?
In an otherwise completely hokey self-help book, I once read this story:
A businessman decided to take his five-year-old son on a trip with him. It was the boy’s first flight. The man settled in next to his son and began to study some materials with which he needed to be familiar with the meeting he was to attend when they reached their destination.
Shortly after takeoff, the boy started getting fidgety. Not wanting to be interrupted, the man leafed through a magazine and found a full-page image of the world. He tore out the page with the image on it, ripped it up into pieces like a puzzle, put the pieces on the boy’s tray table, and said, “Here. Put this picture of the world together.”
Two minutes later, the boy tapped his father on the shoulder and said, “I’m done.”
Looking at the boy’s tray table in disbelief, the father said, “How did you put that together so quickly?”
The boy said, “On the other side, there was a picture of a man. I put the man back together, and the world took care of itself.”
There it is. We’re all out to fix the world. And we all think we can do it without fixing ourselves. We can’t. That’s the simple truth.
Grandpa O’Brien loved to say, “Charity begins at home.” He was right. Patience and forgiveness also begin at home. It’s up to each of us to find those things in ourselves for the greater good of all of us.
If we don’t, this long strange trip will be even longer and stranger.
Editor’s Note: Join us at our next Salon 360°