We are often blind to our own behavior and how our words affect others. Too often we tolerate others’ negativity for the sake of being polite. Too often we forget to work on ourselves.
The Danish series Seashore Resort is a cornucopia of interactions, good, bad, and humorous. Each character has his/her idiosyncrasies. Mrs. Andersen thinks of others first. Weyse thinks of Weyse. Fie feels responsible for her 17-year-old sister Anne and their father thinks that yelling at Anne will change her to his way. The joy and sorrow we feel watching Seashore Resort is because we know people like them. Or better yet, we recognize some of our own shortcomings.
When interacting with others, it’s difficult to pay attention and analyze behaviors we want to avoid in ourselves and others. It’s not like we have video tapes we can rewind and study. I recall watching an experiment where a camera person followed individuals (who were in therapy) for 48 hours. One of them was a woman whose family complained about her explosive temper. Crossing a street a driver blew his horn at her. The woman started screaming obscenities and at one point kicked the car and smacked the window. Reviewing the video with the therapist she exclaimed, “I look like a crazy person.”
There is a saying that in time people reveal their true selves. True enough. But, that applies to ourselves as well. When we begin to pay attention, it’s like a cataract surgery, after your vision improves.
On my morning walk, this is how interactions played out with two neighbors:
- Christine, a fellow gardener greeted me with a smile, “Good morning, Edith.” Pointing to the sky, “Did you notice how exceptional the sky is this morning?” We chatted for a few minutes about the splendor of Florida skies. Our encounter raised my feel good quotient.
- At Central Park, several people were standing around watching four sandhill cranes. Conversing with Jane, I told her I’d seen a group of otters coming out of a nearby preserve and jumping into the lake. “Watching them play was such a delight,” I said. Jane responded, “You know they eat the fish that are supposed to help clean the lake. You’d think wild pigs and snakes are enough, now we have otters!” Jane’s toxic input changed the trajectory of the conversation. At this point, words coming out of my mouth would not reflect my value of kindness. It’s not in my know-how to change others. It’s hard enough to work on myself. Unwilling to rent her more space in my day, I walked away.
Interactions take forms of contradicting, correction, and opining. People who continually rain on your parade can be like emotional black holes. Everyone they come in contact with suffers the consequences.
When we are aware of the quality of our interactions, we can walk away from relationships that make us feel depleted. We can choose to be with people who inspire us to see what’s right in the world. Whom to run with and whom to flee. Good relationships don’t hurt. They feel good and right. The sorting process takes paying attention to what we and bothers say and how it makes us feel. Taking stock of our interactions affects the quality of our lives.