There is a phenomenon that abounds which puzzles me. I see it in the grocery store, on Facebook, in traffic and on the faces of people I encounter here and there. It is the sentiment of “others have made me unhappy!”
Let’s consider some examples. The person beeping their horn in traffic and visibly raging to the point where I wonder if they will have a stroke. The person who is offended that someone doesn’t emphasize Jesus quite enough in their Christmas card/lawn display/holiday greeting, etc. The employee who got passed over for the promotion. The relative who feels slighted because no one asked her to make her famous cookies for Christmas dinner.
Life, your life, is basically the current result of your choices. Do some things happen that are outside of our control? Of course. You’re talking to someone who was diagnosed with colon cancer at the age of 36. Pardon the expression, but shit happens, right? Maybe I ate too many Ramen noodles in college or put too much Equal in my iced tea or something. But probably we can agree it wasn’t clearly “my fault.” So I’m not saying that everything is within our control. That is certainly not true. However, most things kind of are. Even if they aren’t completely within our control, we have plenty of opportunities to influence any situation we are involved with.
Think of it. In the vast majority of situations, you have endless options. You can choose to do so many different things. You can choose to be generous, or stingy. You can choose to be patient, or agitated. You can choose to be understanding or critical. Someone says something insulting to you at a party. What can you do about it?
Laugh it off
Thank them sarcastically
Gossip about them in the corner
Say something equally insulting
Say something vastly more insulting
Do a groovy dance
Punch them in the face
Change the subject
Reach into the pudding and hurl it at them
Discreetly smear the pudding on their rear end
Light their hair on fire
Ask them sincerely if anything is wrong
Steal money out of their purse
Decide that you deserved it and move on
Mail them a bag of dog poop
Complain to your spouse briefly and then get over it
Flirt with their significant other
Make a joke and smooth it over
Never speak to them again
You could really change the course of the relationship (and party!) depending on what you choose to do. You could make it a big something, a little something, or nothing. It could be something no one remembers after five minutes, or the story people talk about for the next 10 years. Depending on what you choose to do! Obviously some of these choices are kinder, wiser, healthier, etc. than others. I’m not suggesting these are all good choices. All I’m trying to illustrate is that we have choices. Lots of them. Probably an infinite number. But we act like our first inclination, our natural response, is our only option.
The choices we make, the responses we choose, are the things that reflect our character. And I see more and more people whose character is defined by blame, bitterness, and frustration.
I can fall into that type of thinking myself. People do things all the time that puzzle me, frustrate me, and hurt my feelings. Sometimes I have to have a little powwow with one or two of my favorite people to blow off a little steam. But it’s really important that I get over things and move on or forge peace with the person who upset me by talking to them.
I have to understand that other people see the world very differently than I do. They have different priorities, interests and goals. Different things make them happy. I might not be as important to them as I would like to be. And I can get upset about those things and stew in those things and decide that because they have not met my needs or expectations, that this means they are a bad person.
But I know it’s not right. It’s not acceptable. I am responsible for just my own choices and responses. I cannot control other people. It is not their job to meet my expectations unless I have communicated them clearly and they have expressly agreed to them. Anything outside of that type of transaction, is just me making assumptions and having expectations that are probably unfair.
I am learning, little by little, to meet people where they’re at, and not judge that point along the path they are currently journeying along. I know some people who appear to me to be astoundingly selfish. But I have choices. I can never talk to them again. I can still have them in my life but criticize and judge everything they do. Or I can spend limited time with them and enjoy the parts about them that I find pleasant and interesting. That works for me.
Think the decision makers in your office are a bunch of jerks? Try talking to them, asking questions or imagining what it’s like to be in their shoes where their decisions affect people’s lives.
Offended by those who seem to have forgotten “the reason for the season?” If you’re such an expert on the reason for the season, go be the hands and feet of Jesus to the people who don’t seem to get it. Cook them something. Bake them something. Walk their smelly dog. Write them a caring note. That’s what Jesus would give you a high five for. Not your uppity Facebook post.
In the grocery store line, I can fume that the person in front of me is paying with three different transactions. I can freak out that the cashier doesn’t seem to care that I’m in a hurry. I can be grouchy that the person in front of me has 13 items in the 12 items or less line. Or I can consider that the reason I’m in a bad mood is because I am afraid I’m going to be late, which is because I didn’t leave as early as I should have. I can pick up a trashy gossip magazine that I would never purchase and indulge in the guilty pleasure of “Stars: They’re Just Like Us!” I can text the friend I know isn’t doing so hot. I can pray for the elderly woman in front of me who I hope isn’t alone for Christmas.
My problems are because of choices I have made. And I can do all kinds of different things to fix or improve them. Or I can accept them as my current reality, and be content. Blaming them on other people, and marinating my heart in the juices of bitterness doesn’t help anyone. In fact it makes everything worse.
Let’s all agreed to quit making everything worse, okay?