It struck me this morning as I reviewed my shopping list for tomorrow’s feast that I’ve learned a thing or two about Thanksgiving. It isn’t hidden in my special recipe for Bourbon Sweet Potatoes. Nor is it found in the holiday meal preparation guide that I’ve read and re-read in the Food Section of the New York Times. It is found in the work that I do everyday, work that more and more looks and feels like a ‘how to’ guide for navigating the emotions our lives.
Tomorrow when you reach across the table to pass the cranberry sauce, I hope you keep in mind two important perspectives from our work together in transition.
#1: Our Experience of Others in Seen thru Our Own Lens
Before you pull aside cousin Bridget to say, “Did you hear that? I can’t believe he said that!!!” – take a moment to bring your awareness to the fact that our response to any situation is highly individual. While this may sound like motherhood and apple pie, below is a great exchange that brings this simple fact to life. The piece is excerpted from Harriet Goldhor Lerner‘s best selling book, The Dance of Anger:
- “While attending a conference in New York one spring, I rode by bus to the Metropolitan Museum with two colleagues. Perhaps because of our big city anxiety, we reminded the bus driver – once too often – to announce our stop. In a sudden and unexpected fury, he launched into a vitriolic attack that turned heads throughout the bus. Later, over coffee, we shared our personal reactions to this incident. Celia felt mildly depressed. She was reminded of her abusive ex-husband and this particular week was the anniversary of their divorce. Janet reacted with anger, which seemed to dissipate as she drummed up clever retorts and hilarious revenge fantasies. I had been feeling homesick for New York and almost welcomed the contrast to the midwestern politeness to which I had become accustomed.” (The Dance of Anger, pg 122+)
So when crazy Uncle Harry starts talking about CNN being fake news, chalk it up to his own – albeit unique – perspective. See if you cannot ask him why he thinks that way instead of simply responding to his statement. His why may initiate a surprising and meaningful conversation similar to the conversation that helped the speaker in the excerpt above learn something important about her friends Celia and Janet.
We see others thru the lens of our own experience, a highly individual filter that is different for both the listener and the speaker.
#2: To be present, we have to engage ourselves
How present is your voice on a day-to-day basis? How often do you share with others your interests, values and dreams? Do you assume that those closest to you already know?
Our opportunity – not just on Thanksgiving – is to engage who we are in every situation we find ourselves. Sounds simple, doesn’t it? Too often our voices are silenced or muted or distracted or overpowered leaving us absent or lesser than we should or could be in situations large and small.
How much of your voice will be present in the conversation tomorrow?
I remember telling a story in my first book about the time that my brother-in-law appeared dumbfounded during a conversation that we were having. It was within a year or two after I left Iron Mountain. He had been told by my husband’s family’s gossip column that I was ‘taking it easy.’ He didn’t use the words ‘burned out’ but that seemed to be the talk track that I inferred from his response. I was livid at my husband’s family’s characterization of me. I viewed it simply as another way the family looked through not at me, the different one who was always working.
Roll the clock forward and I now see that I had a hand in his misperception, a big hand. My voice was silent during a phase of uncertainty and doubt in my life. After all, I was working but I was also beginning the important work of transitioning. I think of voice as the verbal or non-verbal expression of that which is meaningful to us. Voice needs to be exercised. It is THE vehicle through which we engage with the world. Through voice we refine and understand our own unique gifts.
I hold fast to a simple belief: The world desperately needs each and every one of our gifts. The only real challenge for us is to figure out just what those gifts are and bring them forward.
Tomorrow be sure to insert your voice into the banter around the pumpkin pie and remember that we will never understand everyone around us but we can start by simply asking them why?
Warmest wishes for a safe and happy Thanksgiving.
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