To quickly transact with a dynamic unit of measure with expansive utility, searchable authenticity, and dichotemous nature and anonymity. Branded Cash — Attach purpose, Artistic expression, a call to…
Remember mail?? I mean the kind used for personal communication. (Bills and glossy postcard ads for plastic surgeons don’t count.) This week I’ve been reorganizing and sorting through some files and found a packet of letters between my grandparents and me from a long-ago time pre-dating email, or at least pre-dating the time when grandparents bothered to buy and learn to use computers. Many of our letters end with RSVP — respond, if you please — and we did! When one letter was received, you’d read it, and (promptly if you were Grandma Mac, eventually if you were 17-year-old me, away at college and busy goofing off) you’d WRITE BACK!
My favorite therapist (and I’ve been lucky enough to have some really exceptional ones) used to have an email sign-off that has really stuck with me:
Real freedom is the ability to pause between stimulus and response and choose how you respond. — Rollo May
What he actually wrote is something more like this:
Human freedom involves our capacity to pause between the stimulus and response and, in that pause, to choose the one response toward which we wish to throw our weight.
Less catchy, to be sure, but still great. I’ve seen nearly identical quotes attributed to everyone from Victor Frankl to Steven Covey but to the best of my googling ability, the credit really does belong with Rollo May, an existential psychologist whose writings I highly recommend. Also, my favorite therapist would never mislead me that way, right? But, I digress.
The reality is that this kind of human freedom — the kind that allows us to hit pause in the very moment something is coming at us — just doesn’t come easy. If it did, we would respond appropriately and lovingly to any stimulus, including children’s upsets and tantrums, knowing that they are caused by suffering and deserve compassion. If choosing how to respond came easy, I would listen to my body when it says that it’s hungry, needs food, AND I’d be able to hear that what really sounds good to it right now is a salad. Or tacos. Or a cup of tea with one of the tasty little jam tarts Robert made last night.
But instead, my response to most discomfort and painful emotion is the opposite of responsiveness. My default response is RESISTANCE. I often meet my children’s pain with resistance, which usually takes the form of fear (that if their pain is allowed to exist it won’t ever end), guilt (that what pain they’re feeling is somehow my fault — that if I were a better mother they wouldn’t ever feel pain or rage or shame or anxiety), and resentment (how dare they have bad days and big nasty feelings after EVERYTHING I DO FOR THEM!) The difference between resistance and responsiveness to a child’s tantrum is the difference between judgment and curiosity, between distance (I’ll love you again when you pull yourself together!) and connection (I see how big your feelings are right now. Let me just be with you while you are hurting.) I don’t think it’s hyperbole to say that the difference between responsiveness and resistance is sometimes the difference between life and death.
At the closing of this decade, I am setting an intention. Not a big flashy “NEW YEAR, NEW ME!” kind of intention, but a quiet hope for the future. I want to be more responsive. The literal translation of the French phrase répondez s’il vous plaît is simply respond, if you please. What an idea! To see someone who might be taking up a lot of space in a room, and rather than thinking, “Ugh, they’re just doing that for attention”, to PAUSE, to BE CURIOUS (remove judgment), and to maybe think… “They must really need to be seen right now. I can do that for them. I can see them.” In other words, to RSVP. To look past the million minor irritations of sharing the planet with so many other quirky human beings — and to see them as PEOPLE. Not occasional minor (or — if you’re me — frequent MAJOR) irritations, not a collection of diagnoses or labels, neither obstacles in the way of us getting what we want nor vehicles we could exploit to get what we want, but just PEOPLE. With quirks that may be different from our own, but still…. PEOPLE. People we could choose to respond to by giving them what they truly and deeply need in the moment.
Confession: this is actually quite self-serving. The reality is that my resistance generally feeds whatever I am resisting, and makes it bigger. That person taking up too much space in the room, demanding too much attention? When I decide to withhold attention, affection, or approval from them (basically just be a big meany and refuse to really SEE them) what are they most likely to do? The natural response would be for them to get bigger — to take up more space — to try harder to be seen — to work harder to extract more (more validation, acknowledgement, approval, acceptance or whatever it is they’re hankering for on a deep soul level) from everyone around them.
“What we resist persists.”
If you’ve spent any time at all in a twelve-step program, that phrase will be familiar to you. It is true. When we resist the pain of others, the pain doesn’t shrink up and disappear. It hangs around and gets bigger and more demanding until we can’t ignore it anymore. It WILL be seen, and it WILL be felt. When we stop resisting and start choosing to respond to the people around us, the pain diminishes, connection increases, and life becomes more peaceful. We can choose to engage with conflict, pain, and all manner of bad behavior on our own terms, rather than reacting from a place of resentment and resistance.
I would love it if you would join me in trying to become more responsive. I will post tips and thoughts here, along with my successes and my failures and I would love to hear yours as well!
2020 should be all about clear vision, right? Let’s look at people long enough to really see who is there. Then let’s choose to RSVP with light, curiosity, and love, and create more of what we want in the world.
*Thanks to Carol Jeng on Unsplash for the beautiful Airmail photo.
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