Monday, July 3, 2017

The power to make things worse

Guaranteed, the person at the head
of this line has no clue.
Recently, the editorial board of the Washington Post  published a column titled "Trump clearly won't change. Here's what the rest of us can do." 

Do tell, I thought. 

Long story short, the Post reminds us:

"We should all be focused on preserving a little flame of decency so that, whenever the Trump era ends, that flame can be rekindled into the kind of discourse that would make the country proud again."

Even before the Post suggested we work to protect our civility I'd added a great tool to my Life Kit which has a few parts:

First, if  you can't solve big problems, resist the temptation to dwell on smaller ones just to feel you've solved something. 

Part B, of course, is don't make it worse by noticing everything else that's wrong. 

Part C is that this tool only works with frequent use.

Let's say, that despite your efforts to rise above it, you've had it with the Trump tweets. With the trotting out of one rage-filled outburst after another, about which you can do nothing, you've developed a tendency to notice and complain about stuff you used to ignore: 

The weather. The lines at the grocery store. A co-worker's Eeyore attitude. Facebook nonsense. Selfish, demanding people.
You're on your way to Dunkin Donuts for something to bring to work and the person in front of you is doing twenty in a thirty. You are irrationally upset about this, you can feel your face get hot.  You hear yourself saying bad words about the driver. You look in your rear view mirror and it looks like the entire town is following you to work. 

There is a light up ahead where you can branch off in another direction but it's not efficient for you, so you linger behind that car. By now you don't even want to look at your own expression in the mirror while you think about how inconsiderate that driver is.
Which isn't true of course. 
The driver is clueless and lost in talk radio, or dwelling on the troubling phone call from an adult child he got just before leaving the house, or thinking this may be the day he's going to get fired, or feeling what he thinks is chest pain, or must deliver a presentation to senior management and would rather die. 
You gesture,"Come ON" and you're shaking your head and the driver catches the look of this and slows down to make a point. Now you've upset two people. You, of course, and the driver in front who is also fed up with those tweets.
We had dinner in Portsmouth recently at a restaurant that we love. The line was long, but we knew we'd earn a table by the water if we waited and so we did. 
We had just been handed our drinks when from behind us, a woman's voice rose like a siren.  "OH MY GOD!!! OH MY GOD!!!"  
It was a surprised, hysterical cry. She'd either won the lottery or lost her finger whilst cutting into her fish. 
Five heads turned to look at this woman, who was now clutching the shoulders of the woman in front of her who, it turned out, was someone she once babysat for!!!!!!!!!
Sandy's response couldn't be heard. 
"HOW IS CHARLOTTE???" (pause) "SHE'S WHAT????? " 
There was no way to know what happened to Charlotte because Sandy was responding at a normal volume.  We were left to wonder. Was she okay? This Charlotte?  

It might have been maddeningly distracting, intensely annoying. I might have been unable to block the shrill tone, or been drawn from my own conversation, I might have become irritated enough to shoot them this look:

Instead, a fun conversation developed between the four or five of us at the bar while we eavesdropped on the former babysitter and Sandy. 
"NO WAY IS SHE IN COLLEGE!!!!!!! OH MY GOD!!! HOW ABOUT BRIAN???? " said the woman.
"How do you think Brian is?" I asked another patron. She shook her head and smiled. 
"NO WAY!!" said the woman, suddenly. " OH!  MY GOD!  REALLY???"
On and on it went. 

It was great. 
Had our table taken a very long time after all that, it might have been a different Ketel of vodka. But in the restaurant that night, I made a choice with the first "OH MY GOD!" to be amused and not irritated by this woman's failure to use her in-the-bar voice. 

Some things you can't fix, and you can't make better, and you can't feel good about, no matter what. But as we lack the power to make some things better, we also possess the power to make other things worse, from moods to relationships. 

That is a choice to resist.

That is power you should not use.


  1. This is what I'm trying to practice - and teach my co-worker to practice - you can't change the situation or the person, all you can do is change your reaction to it.

  2. Well put, and in far fewer words than I used. It's seems harder in these times to "choose" a positive take on something, but yes, I practice it too.

  3. LOL -- what a tough one that is but so true!

  4. I'm seeing the irrational response happen more and more and I'm working to tamp it down in myself because it doesn't help. Thank you for the reminder.

  5. Yes, a good reminder. Watching him represent the USA is torture

  6. It's all about our attitude isn't it Susan - making that choice not to let the niggles (and the bigger stuff) get us down. Choose your attitude is becoming a mantra for me these days - nice to see it's working for you too :)