On a trip to Spain a few years ago, Ron and I landed in Madrid and went straight to the car rental desk, where the employee who was helping us looked at Ron’s full name on his passport and laughed out loud. Then she got up from her chair and, still laughing, began showing his passport to her colleagues around the room.
I’ve sometimes wondered how Ron’s parents looked at that tiny baby and thought, “Yes, we’ll call you Dingomanus Julianus Hieronymus.”
One of my sons says the name acquired cult-like status at his university parties, where at some point in the evening, his friends would begin to cheer, “Say the name!” And my son would shout, “Dingomanus Julianus Hieronymus,” and everyone would begin to chant in unison.
My other son once left Ron a thank you note that said: “Dear Dingomanus, your Hieronymus-heart has helped me once again. It’s a good thing, or I would’ve had to kick your Julianus.”
Back at the rental desk, Ron and I were at an emotional crossroads, choosing how to respond. We could decide to feel offended, get angry, make a fuss, file a complaint. After all, passports are private, and we were tired from our flight and impatient to get our car.
Instead, we chose to laugh with them, because from their point of view, they were expressing legitimate amazement and joy. And because it’s more effective and actually requires less energy to look for something positive in people instead of believing they’re wrong.
EVERYONE HAS A BEST-SELF VERSION
Some best-selves seem to be more deeply hidden than others, but we’ve all got one. If we overlook a person’s best-self – and instead insist on seeing what he or she is doing that annoys or saddens or angers us – that’s what we’ll keep getting. Because, when we decide about people that, “This is who they are, and this is how they’ll always be,” our conclusion will perpetuate the thing we’ve concluded.
If we hang onto negative beliefs about people, nothing can change – not the people, and not our ability to have influence. But if we’ll envision something different and begin to look for evidence of that, proof of change will show up for us. Perspective changes first, then reality.
A PIVOTAL EXPERIENCE
When Ron was a medical student in his early 20s, long before he and I met, he came home one evening and found a young man urinating on the door of his third-floor walkup. Ron pushed the guy to stop him, and he fell against the doorpost, cut his nose and ran away.
A few hours later, when Ron was already in bed, the guy came back with a friend. Ron first heard glass breaking, then the two men running up the stairs, yelling. He was paralyzed with fear. They broke through his door, grabbed him and threatened to kill him.
Then something unique happened. Ron says that he felt a shaft of protection come down over him, like a presence. As if some part of him was experiencing the chaos, while inside he remained secure and detached.
The situation was still out of control. The first guy was gripping Ron, while the other blocked the doorway and shouted threats.
Then Ron said to them, “I won’t fight you, but if you want to sit down, I’ll get you a drink and we can talk.”
That’s when something inside the first guy seemed to break, and he began to cry. The other guy softened as well. And the three of them ended up sitting in Ron’s living room, drinking beers and talking till dawn. Ron says that he questioned whether he should give them alcohol, but it was what they wanted.
The guy with the cut nose had been intent on revenge but realized that, had he gone through with it, he would’ve ended up in jail, instead of being the only one of his gang who still held a job. Ron listened for hours as the two men described their lives and gave him a peek into a world apart.
It takes an impressive effort to express our best-selves when others are expressing their worst-selves. Instead of calling them on it, demanding that they admit it and making them wrong, it means coaxing them in the opposite direction toward reconnection with their best-self versions, who they truly are. But we can’t do it unless we’re relating from that place inside ourselves.
If we believe that people have to act differently before we can feel good, we’ll try harder to get them to change for us. But as we push harder against them, their behavior will grow bigger as we give it power.
Each one, on the two sides of an issue, is giving power to the other by pushing against. And though both sides lose in this kind of situation, the one who appears to win is often the one who has been pushed against the hardest.
According to the I Ching, a student from the Shoalin Monastery was sitting in meditation one day when he heard a scuffle out in the garden, which turned out to be a crane and a snake fighting. The student observed as, over and over, the crane would strike out. And each time, the snake would protect itself by adjusting its position, moving in whatever direction necessary to avoid the crane’s strike. The two creatures kept at it for hours, until the crane was too exhausted to continue. And that’s when the snake attacked. The snake was finally able to overpower his prey, not through being active and assertive, but through yielding, adjusting itself accordingly to the crane.
It was an Aha! moment for the student. The strength of yielding is stronger than the strength of attack, and it’s possible to switch back and forth between the two: passive and active, yin and yang. So the student began to practice the movements – moving from side to side, yielding to an incoming force rather than meeting it with attack. And that was the birth of what would become Tai Chi.
Why choose the path of understanding and acceptance, instead of fixating on what we don’t like, needing it to change so that we can feel all right? There’s a freedom in going through life without enemies, without anyone who we’re at odds with, and knowing that no one can cause us to disconnect from our best-selves.
It will help to say, “I’m going to make the best of things, the best of this circumstance, the best of this person. It isn’t the best I’ve had, but I’m going to make the best of it.”
EVERY MOMENT IS A CROSSROADS
To interact differently, we’ll need to retrain ourselves. We can’t keep repeating what we’ve been doing and expect life to be different. We need to begin new, with a different attitude, perception and expectation. That’s how we activate in ourselves what we want to experience in others.
As we go through our day and we see something that we don’t like, we instinctively prefer something else – it’s built into our nature to desire improvement in whatever areas aren’t working for us.
In that moment, when we see what is, and we want something else, we’re at an emotional crossroads. And our choice will determine what happens next. If we keep thinking and talking about, and complaining about, and pushing against what we don’t like, it will perpetuate.
But if we keep focusing on, and dreaming of, and aspiring to our improved preference, we’ll naturally go in that direction. And when feeling good is most important to us, more and more reasons to feel good will show up.
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Pic by Mike Ricioppo