Friday, March 15, 2013
I listened to a lecture one night last week about the prevalence of self-criticism in our society. I was prepared for the usual observations and advice: Positive affirmations, positive goal setting, creating self-perspective…… I could go on but you’ve heard and read them yourself. But in the back of your head, from time to time, that nagging little voice questions a behavior or a value. It happens to us all. We are all constantly evaluating ourselves as we race towards the finish line of “feeling good.” When we don’t get there in record time we perceive something is amiss. Usually that something is us. Don’t get me wrong, it’s good to have improvement areas but it’s not good to be picking out bridges to jump off of when we don’t reach them as quickly as the latest self-help book says we should. The supposition is that back in the old days, the 70’s and 80’s, we created a feel good society that asked us to feel good all the time. When we did, viola, we had attained self-esteem nirvana. Question for you: Anyone here feel completely and totally happy and joyous 24/7? If you are can I come and live with you?
We began to believe we should be humming “We Are the World.” If not something was wrong and oh-oh, it HAD to be something wrong with US because Lord knows everyone else has perfect pitch. We did what we always do, instead of examining the issue we reinforced it. Instead of acknowledging failure as a natural part of our development, we changed the rules. No one gets cut from the team, everyone gets a trophy, no one flunks and one school system in the eastern USA even out lawed red ink in grading papers and tests. They felt it negatively affected a student’s self-esteem. Whether we believe it or not; some days are supposed to suck. That’s the natural order of things. Some days, through no fault of our own, don’t go as planned and it’s not our fault. As a friend of mine put it means “We are in recovery from life!!!”
I met with a client last night and I could tell when he walked through the door something was wrong. We chatted for a bit and I asked him how his day had been. It hadn’t gone well. Someone had gotten killed at work. While he wasn’t directly responsible he was at level where he had to answer a lot of questions. We talked for a bit and I asked him why he hadn’t called me to cancel our appointment. He said he didn’t want to disappoint me and it had been a few weeks since we’d met. Pain, failure and grief are all parts of life. I told him that he shouldn’t head for home this evening expecting to hum “The Sun Will Come Up Tomorrow.” Someone he knew was killed and killed horrifically.
I did the only thing I could. I stopped being a coach. I poured us each a cup of coffee and sat back and became a sympathetic ear. There were no questions, no powerful motivations or reassessment of goals, just a hand extended in friendship for a half-hour or so. I listened and at the end of our session we both were a bit choked up.
There is a powerful antidote for fear and loneliness and the failure that is apt to occur in our lives. That antidote is friendship. I’ve discovered that on the days I’m feeling down or lonely or whatever negative emotion comes into play at the time, reaching out to someone else reassures me we are all in this together. It engenders someone reaching out to me and really, isn’t that what we’re all about anyway?