Sunday, September 26, 2010

Angry People

Not long ago, I had occasion to hear someone tell a story about how things had unraveled after an angry rant was blown out of proportion. He was able to indicate how everyone else involved had reacted poorly to the situation, but seemed unaware of his own part in things. Being the person that I am, I tried to point out that his way of expressing anger could be something to look at as well. That piece of insight was not very well received.

In fact, when this fellow’s anger was focused on me, I found it easy to get hooked by it. It was a bit of a challenge to maintain my composure, which is a testament to how powerful an impact it has when we turn our anger on another individual. When I realized that I was getting riled up myself, I chose to remove myself from the situation. It’s my practice to handle my anger privately, since I know that I can say some pretty harsh things when I am angry – things I don’t really mean, which are intended only to be hurtful. I want to manage my anger in such a way that I can engage with people in a thoughtful and purposeful way.

There are plenty of ways to defuse angry people, but when I am in the midst of anger myself, I honestly don't feel like it.  I don't always want to get to the heart of what is really bothering or scaring someone who is unleashing their anger on me.  Sometimes, I just want don't care enough to take the verbal assault.

To this particular individual, my withdrawal looked like “running away and not playing anymore.” And that was true, in part. I didn’t actually want to play a game of one-upmanship with angry words. His claim was that I would keep encountering angry people in my life until I learned the lesson they had for me. In that moment, I think he knew what that lesson was supposed to be. I’ve been thinking about it for awhile, and I realize that I have learned a thing or two about anger.

Anger is useful. Anger is good. Anger is a legitimate emotion. As Julia Cameron says, “It is meant to be acted upon, not acted out.” Anger can direct us toward meaningful work in our lives. It can also be expressed in a way that separates us from others. Listening to anger can help determine what actions one wants to take in life. This is different from imposing anger on others.  You can listen to your anger, but other people don't necessarily want to.

What I have learned from engaging with angry people is that it often isn't worthwhile to me to spend time and energy supporting someone who doesn't want support. When someone is in the middle of expressing anger, there isn’t a lot of room for another person’s insight or challenge. And I don’t have to engage in another person’s anger any more than I want to. Not only can I choose the partnerships that have meaningful value in my life, I can manage my anger in such a way that I bring my very best to those partnerships.

I know of organizations that have experienced great turmoil because a few people were unable to manage their anger or express it in a meaningful way. So, I don’t mean to suggest that anger should go unacknowledged. If one is unwilling to see the fear that is underneath the anger, however, festering anger can be devastating to many people. Expressing anger publicly is a way to gain power and get one’s way without much of a challenge. Managing one’s anger privately and bringing some practical suggestions forward publicly can be transformational on many levels.

It’s true that I have learned lessons from the angry people I have encountered. Not least of which, I’ve been able to make some choices about how I want to handle my own anger. But I may keep encountering angry people nonetheless, no matter how many lessons I have learned. Maybe they have something to learn from me, too.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Draco and the Labyrinths

Draco crawled on his belly through the maze.  He didn't know how he had come to be there, but he was beginning to discover how to navigate its twists and turns.  Before long, he could predictably get food when he was hungry and attention when he was lonely, and yet there always seemed to be new paths to explore.  One day, he discovered that he didn't need to slither along the ground, but could actually crawl up the walls of the labyrinth.

With a sense of wonder, Draco climbed on short legs up a wall all the way to the top.  When he looked around, the whole labyrinth was laid out before him.  It was no longer a mystery, and although it was comfortable and familiar, he began to notice something beyond the labyrinth he knew.  It was another place, unfamiliar and yet inviting.  He crawled to that place and began to explore.

Soon, Draco realized that he was in a new maze, with wonders and perils he had never known before.  The old labyrinth was gone.  As he walked along the new passageways, he made new discoveries.  Beyond learning how to get his basic needs met in the new place, he also found ways that led to other rewards.  Before long, the new labyrinth was as familiar as the one he had left behind.  When he scaled the walls, he could see other mazes, but they seemed distant and unreachable.

With a bit of surprise, Draco discovered one day that flaps of skin between his legs would let him glide through the air.  As he tried out his new capability, he realized that he could reach the other labyrinths he had seen with great ease.  He wandered the mazes, each with its own surprises and rewards.  The routes through some of them were so simple that Draco lost interest quickly.  Other labyrinths were complicated enough that he became frustrated with them.  Over time, he became familiar enough with bits and pieces of many labyrinths that he could find his way to what he wanted.  By traveling this or that path, he could reliably get food, shelter, and other rewards.

But Draco eventually became so accustomed to the reliable routes that navigating the labyrinths no longer excited him.  He began to think about who had built the labyrinths, and why they had fashioned the corridors as they had.  He knew that his parents had created at least one of the mazes he frequented, and he assumed that they had traversed their own twisting paths.  Friends, lovers, bosses, distant officials, and others he had never met crafted other labyrinths.  When one maze became tiresome or filled with dead ends, Draco could glide over to another labyrinth and walk its paths for awhile.  And when that became frustrating, he moved to yet another maze.  He began to wonder if there wasn't something more, something that wasn't a labyrinth.  A place without twisting corridors and confusing jumbles of paths.

One day, Draco noticed that the skin flaps that he used to glide from one maze to another had developed further.  To his amazement, he found that he could fly up into the air.  He would soar for awhile, and then return to one of the familiar labyrinths when the sheer freedom became frightening.  A strong tether kept him from getting too high, too far away.  When he became tired of the convoluted halls, he could fly up and away from them.  But when he needed something, he knew how to return and travel the familiar paths.  The tether kept him safe and close. 

Until one bright day, Draco realized that he could get to anything he needed by simply flying to it.  So he shook off the tether, and took to the air.  He played on the zephyrs, perfectly content.  And he never entered another labyrinth.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

100% Certainty

The puzzle began a little over two months ago. A group of friends were gathered around the table on a hot afternoon in early July, and a drop of water landed on the table. Searching the ceiling, we guessed that it was coming from a seam between the wooden slats there. It had been raining that day, so we thought it could be a roof leak. There was no plumbing in the attic above that room, just an air conditioning duct and a couple of vents. And the drip hadn't come from either of the vents. Still, as time went on, I became fairly confident that this drip had some connection to the air conditioner.

I don't really know anything about finding roof leaks or air conditioning problems. So, armed with our two best guesses, I called a roofer to come take a look, and I called our home warranty company to request an A/C specialist to check that out the other option. The first roofer was positive that it wasn't a roof issue, and the air conditioning specialist said he couldn't see any reason for the drip to be caused by the A/C. It was a just a mysterious drip, but it persisted and became more of an issue over the next couple of weeks. It happened infrequently, always on hot days when we had the air conditioner running, and with our two best guesses shattered, we had started seeking less likely causes.

The best less likely cause we heard about was poor ventilation. Supposedly, on hot and humid days, if the attic didn't have enough ventilation, a "cloud" could form up there that would account for our drip. Since attic ventilation was a roofing issue, I called a different roofer to come and take a look. He looked around and said that we seemed to have plenty of ventilation. In fact, the only thing he saw that could cause any problems in that part of the attic was the air conditioning system. So, I called the air conditioning expert back to have another look.

Imagine my disappointment when he couldn't find any reason for the drip. I had been fairly certain that the drip was an A/C issue, but then I heard some stories from other people about water leaking from one place and then running along a beam or something to a completely different spot before succumbing to gravity. So I went on a bit of exploration. I couldn't really see anything leaking or any water running along any beams. What I did see surprised me, though.

We have a lot of insulation in the area of the attic above that leak. I mean, a mother lode of insulation. So much, in fact, that I couldn't really get to the spot where the drip was happening without removing bales of insulation. I thought, I wonder how that A/C specialist was able to check this out without moving all this insulation out of the way. And then it dawned on me. He hadn't. Rather than remove all of the insulation, I called our home warranty company back and asked them to send the A/C man back, explaining that he could not possibly have done the job I paid him to do when he had visited my home previously.

He returned and briefly explained to me why he didn't need to move the insulation to know that it wasn't an issue with the air conditioning system. I pressed him, and he said, "I can 100% guarantee you that this isn't being caused by anything with your air conditioner." I was impressed by that. He certainly hadn't said that before. And he was the expert in that area.

So when he left, I looked up at that wooden ceiling and realized that the only way to really figure out the issue would be to tear down the planks (which were starting to show some signs of water damage by this point). I hoped that our home owners insurance would cover fixing the problem and any damage that had resulted. They sent out a few people of their own to diagnose the issue.

Their plumbers confirmed that there was nothing up there to leak in the way of water pipes. That was reassuring. I hadn't missed anything as obvious as a pipe spouting an arc of water across the attic. The air conditioning expert the insurance company sent out actually found the problem within about a minute. It was a problem with the A/C duct. Really.

Now, since the issue is the result of normal wear and tear, the insurance company won't cover it, and any damage caused by the water also isn't covered. But the home warranty company covers matters of normal wear and tear. So now, two months later, I have an answer to the mysterious drip, and I know how the matter can be solved. I am prepared to be tenacious with the home warranty company, the repair company with whom they contract, the Better Business Bureau, and anyone else that can have an impact on taking care of the problem completely.

The thing that bothers me most about the whole ordeal is that I knew what the problem was from the very beginning. I had no real knowledge or experience of my own to rely on, so I trusted someone who specialized in the area of concern. His 100% certainty turned out to be faulty, so I'm grateful that I got a second opinion. If I had trusted myself a little more in the beginning, perhaps I would have been a little more insistent with Mr. 100%.

It just seems like it shouldn't have been so difficult to get an answer. It seems like it shouldn't have gone on for as long as it did. It would be easy to slip into a victim mentality with all of this. What I want instead is to stand up for myself and get the services I've paid for, performed at a satisfying level of quality. It is actually about being able to care for and value myself while still seeing another person's humanity. Sometimes it can be a challenge.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Speaking of Truth

Bold support is a term that gets used among a certain group of people I know. I use it occasionally, depending on the context, but I've started using a different term for it recently. Different people have different definitions of "bold support," so sometimes it can be a challenge to know exactly what people mean when they use the term. Some people think it means to tell people something they don't want to hear. A few people have described bold support as getting in someone's face and being confrontational. I don't necessarily want to practice either of those definitions, so I have turned to an older phrase for the same action: "speaking the truth in love."

The phrase appears in a religious text, but it doesn't really have anything to do with spiritual beliefs. Rather, "speaking the truth in love" is a way of engaging with other human beings that is at once bold and supportive, while maintaining a deep connection. Some people are good at speaking the truth. They may do so for any number of reasons. It isn't actually hard to say honest things if you don't care what anybody else thinks. The problem is that the truth can be presented in such a harsh manner that it is impossible to hear.

Some people are much better at saying loving things. They know exactly how to encourage, uplift, commiserate, console, and compliment. Sometimes there's an ulterior motive, and sometimes people are just trying to be nice. The issue with just saying loving things is that they are shallow without being rooted in actual truth. I'm sure you can think of a dozen useless loving things to say to someone who didn't get a promotion or reached the end of a relationship. It doesn't really support another person to give dishonest compliments or glib encouragement, no matter how good it may feel in the moment.

Of course, some people's words of "bold support" are neither truthful or loving. They wind up being opinions expressed as facts for the sake of telling someone else how they ought to be. Truth has an actual meaning beyond what any individual thinks. Our creative minds can invent all sorts of conclusions from the minutest details, but truth is really about the verifiable data one has. Sorting this from all of the opinions and beliefs we create ourselves can sometimes be a challenge.

For me, "speaking the truth in love" captures what I want my bold support to look like. I think the phrase is also less subject to interpretation if someone really thinks about the concept. I've seen it at work this week, and I've noticed how much I feel at home with that level of connection. I've been envisioning a world where people practice speaking the truth in love more frequently. I thought you might be interested in getting in on that action.