Lately I’ve been thinking (again) about the rush that most of us live our lives being and doing. We’re so busy, trying to pack something into every second it seems. And in some ways I can understand because there’s a lot of life to be lived and lots of things to do and we’ll never be able to complete them all in our (short) life time. But I think that pressure and decision to say yes to so many things has had a negative impact on our relationships. I don’t think that we take the time often enough to really think about what we say or how we talk to people. Sometimes we’re so focused on being right or doing something our way that we’re not able to see the value in doing it another way, and we’re certainly not willing to admit that we don’t know everything.
I believe we can all learn something from everyone on the planet. Maybe it’s just one or two things, but those things can have great value. But when we go into a conversation or relationship with our minds already made up in how a conversation will go or how smart we are (and they’re not) or making a decision without really listening or getting all the facts, it’s not only hurtful to them, but can have a negative impact on us as well.
Just because someone is younger than you, is older than you, is from another country, went through a divorce, went through bankruptcy, doesn’t like pets, or likes your favorite sports team’s biggest rivals doesn’t mean that they can’t have good ideas, can’t teach you something and aren’t worth a few minutes of your time really listening to what they have to say. The same is true for advice, just because it’s free doesn’t mean it’s bad or because it costs a lot it’s good.
I don’t think it’s (just) about trying to pack every minute of every day full, it’s about making sure to use your time wisely and make the most of your life. Some of the best moments of your life will be with other people. Some of those great moments will only happen if you slow down and take the time to meet someone new, take the time to build up existing relationships or make amends in one that you’ve damaged. I encourage you to take time to slow down this weekend and really watch where you’re going, listen to the full explanation or conversation before making decisions, and suspend judgment a bit longer than you do normally. What will you experience with an open mind this weekend?
One of the things I’m always talking with my clients about is the importance of checking how you say things. If I walked up to you in the middle of the sidewalk and said “do you like Italian food?” you would think I’m crazy or at the very least weird. I don’t know you, we don’t live near each other, we haven’t talked online, we’re not social media connections, we don’t work together: there’s no relationship that could be conceived of between us. If however I said “Hi, I’ve got a coupon for a free dinner for a couple at this excellent Italian restaurant down the road, no strings attached, would you like it?” That would make a big difference and you would think I’m being generous and not rude or weird (which would be my goal). The way you phrase things can make a big difference.
A more typical example would be someone saying “What are you doing here?” at the local bar to you. It’s not quite rude, but it’s not exactly friendly. A better way to say it would be “Hey! It’s good to see you! How have you been? I didn’t know you liked this bar! Are you here with or meeting anyone or would you like to come hang out with my friends and I?” (with appropriate breaks for responses of course). Another common example would be “Why didn’t you take the garbage out?” when you could say “Could you please take out the garbage tonight.”
When you start these conversations as I have proposed initially you’re basically asking for a fight, for someone to be offended or for lots of misconceptions and misunderstandings to take place. Yes, I know that sometimes the words that fly out of our mouth happen because we’re surprised by something or we’re tired or we’re just not thinking. But if we all took 5 seconds to think about our words before they flew out of our mouths and used our ears more proactively, we would be in a lot better shape personally and with our relationships.
If you take a moment and remember that last time that your words offended someone even if you didn’t mean for it to happen, and the guilty and horrible feeling that (should have) followed, I think you’ll find sufficient motivation for taking those few extra seconds to think about your words before you have to apologize for hurting someone.
Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about respect. I know that some parts of respect must be earned; I wouldn’t be respected as the president of the US if I was told to start work tomorrow because I haven’t campaigned or done any politics or anything that would give me the authority to take that job. However, there are some basic parts of respect that can and should be applied to just about everyone. Just about all of us should all be respected as human beings with minds who can think on their own and have a right to their own opinion. We can share our opinions with others, but just because it’s our opinion doesn’t mean it’s right or even one that all people should agree with (take a look at the Nazis, Isis and some of the militant groups throughout the history of Africa for example).
If I don’t know someone, I try to meet them with an open mind. I try not to have too many preconceived notions about who I think they may be and try to be open to finding out who they really are from them, not based on what I judge or assume about them. This is a gesture of respect because rather than just assuming I’m better than someone because of one reason or another, know more than someone about something or look better than someone, it helps me to be open to seeing their value and uniqueness as a person.
Do you really have respect for the people in your life? Do you believe they are capable human beings with smart minds? Do you take the time to really find out who they are, what they’re good at, what they like, what they know about something, and how they see things, or do you just assume they won’t or don’t or can’t? If you took the time to get to know someone not only would you find at least one thing in common with them, you might gain a new friend. I bet if in a work relationship you took the time to talk to people and find out if they feel comfortable and capable about things and make sure their questions are answered and they know what they’re doing and how you want it done, you would be able to pass off quite a few things and not worry so much. I’ve found that with some really good communication and a little effort I’m able to find the good in just about everyone, and that includes something to respect about them. What about you?
Would you consider yourself an angry person? How about someone who has lots of friends (real friends, those you actually know personally)? Would those who know you say that you’re a generous person? These are important things to know because like it or not we all deal with other people every day. Sometimes we interact with those we know and other times we interact with strangers. But whether the person is a stranger or a friend shouldn’t impact how you generally act towards them; for example, just because they’re a stranger doesn’t mean you should disrespect or ignore them. No, you may not give them a hug when you meet them like you might a friend, but you’ll still be civil to them.
But there are those who are overly suspicious of everything and everyone else, those who see the world as a half-empty glass, and those who believe that there aren’t many good people in the world. We all have our bad days and misunderstandings or miscommunications, but that’s no reason to assume that the rest of the world is all bad and treat them as such.
You may not fall into the category of those who believe most of the world is bad, but you may have fallen into the habit of being snarky or treating friends in a certain (less than polite) way and it spills over to how you interact with everyone else you meet. You may not even realize you’re doing it.
But James 1:19b reminds us to: “…be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to get angry.” I’m going to pay more attention to how I interact with others this week. You know why? Because it’s not just about those we personally and currently know, it’s about those we meet and the role they may play in our lives in our future too. You don’t know what role a stranger you meet today may have in your life several weeks or months down the road, but if it’s a negative interaction they have with you now that may ruin the opportunities you could have with them in the future. How do you treat others?
Yesterday as you’re probably aware was Valentine’s Day in the USA. It’s an opportunity for couples everywhere to share some love, eat some chocolate and work on the next generation (a fact according to statistics). As I was thinking about Valentine’s Day and what it means to be in a relationship I ran across Daniel 10:11-12:
“Daniel, you are very precious to God, so listen carefully to what I have to say to you. Stand up, for I have been sent to you.” When he said this to me, I stood up, still trembling. Then he said, “Don’t be afraid, Daniel. Since the first day you began to pray for understanding and to humble yourself before your God, your request has been heard in heaven. I have come in answer to your prayer.”
This set of verses speaks to a couple of keys about love and relationships that are important to note. First, love relationships are meant to be special. The term used here is “precious,” and while it’s not a term many people would use today it’s still applicable. The word precious refers to things of special or unique value or to be treasured, much like a baby human or animal. But it also speaks to how we should perceive our relationships: with care.
Second, love isn’t something to fear. It may be overwhelming at times, but it’s only because people have perverted love and not respected it that we have fears surrounding it. True love isn’t something you should fear. And if there is real fear in your relationship it’s not a healthy one.
Third, it requires communication. Communication between partners is essential, both listening and talking. When we don’t take time to listen and don’t express ourselves we shortchange each other and our relationship. Some things can be said without words but all too often the only words that we share are words of hurt and hate.
Are you attentive to the special needs and quirks of your relationship? Are you working together to overcome fears? And are you really communicating or just hurling insults? What have you been missing in your relationship of late?
The book of Proverbs has lots of great little bites of insight for us, it’s kind of like Twitter from the Bible days. One of those verses is Proverbs 4:23: “Above all, be careful what you think because your thoughts control your life.”
This is a topic that I think about often and have written about before. Why? Do you know how valuable your thoughts are? Your thoughts are your ability to think things through, your ability to process news, your ability to plan ahead, and your ability to your ability to make decisions on your own. For most people their stupid or poor decisions are not a result of having mental challenges, but laziness, lack of interest, lack of effort or lack of willingness to ask for help.
Sometimes things happen that make us lose control of our thoughts, and that’s to be expected, for example when you get stuck in a repetitive thought pattern thinking about the ways you screwed up that day or ways you could have done things different. When you end up in a situation like that it’s usually a good idea to get it out and either talk it through with yourself or a friend. Once you’ve really worked out your frustrations (not spending more time than 15 minutes on it), you have to make the decision that your thoughts are better used for other purposes and let it go. It may come back up in following days or weeks and if it does you can deal with it then. But otherwise there’s no point to dragging yourself around in circles when you could use the power of your thoughts and mind for much better purposes.
This week I encourage you to pay attention to what you’re thinking and how long you’re spending thinking about it. Are your thoughts serving you and helping you be your best version of you or helping you start this year off on the wrong foot?
One of the biggest challenges of life is one of the best things: people. Yes, they can really mess with you or they can really bless you. We’re all capable of being stupid as well as really helping others, sometimes it happens intentionally, other times it’s totally accidental and unplanned. This week I replied to an email inquiry about one of my services, I replied back to them with my answer, and they told me that my answer was rude. I certainly didn’t mean to be rude, and I honestly didn’t (and don’t) think my answer was rude. Maybe they were having a bad day, maybe they misread my comments, maybe they just thought that I was insulting them when all I was doing was answering their question. Regardless, we both could have stayed upset but instead took the time to communicate about and resolve the misunderstanding.
It’s almost impossible to go through life today without experiencing some hurt or heartbreak, whether it’s intentional or not. When a hurt has occurred it’s up to us to decide if they were being intentionally mean and we need to reconsider our association with them or if it was accidental, or was even caused by our misreading of the situation and has nothing to do with them. Regardless, in most situations I believe that it’s better to move forward with the relationship intact rather than to move backward and lose the potential of the relationship.
If we’re going to move forward with the relationship it’s important to discuss the hurt, especially if it seemed intentional, or they will forever be a distrust between the two of you rather than the solid, supportive relationship you could have. Choosing to forgive is one of the most challenging tasks in the world. But when done you can reap some amazing benefits. I choose to forgive because we’re not perfect and everyone makes mistakes. People who did mean things hurtfully can change too. I don’t believe that we should give everyone free passes, especially if they’ve hurt us in the past, but if true repentance and change is shown I do believe that forgiveness should be offered, if not for them, for you so you can move on with your life.
Choose to be the bigger person this week, the one who moves forward rather than back, the one who sees potential rather than problems.
“When you get hurt, don’t let it turn you hard hearted. A soft heart heals and is able to trust the right people again. Soft + Careful = Future.” Dr. Henry Cloud