Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Unjust Criticism

After all the moralisms and platitudes have been said, it still hurts when you have been unjustly criticized or insulted by someone else. There is just no pleasing some people when they are determined to make your world miserable.

Maybe it's your neighbor, or a co-worker or even a former friend who now holds a grudge.

Depending on your level of self-esteem and your skill at dealing with adversity you may be able to stiffen your spine and walk away. Or not.

If you take the bait and fall for it then you are no longer in control. You have given control to your critic - And they are now driving your response. If you respond negatively to the behavior or comments of peers then your mood is being influenced by them - often long after they have moved on and forgotten about you.

Perhaps you even think about it late into the night! Lying there imagining all the things you could have said or all the ways in which you could have responded and, in the process, emotionally working yourself up - which further ensures you lose more sleep. Meanwhile they have forgotten about you and are sound asleep.

So how do you deal with unjust criticism?

First, If someone unfairly criticizes you and you do not rise to the bait they don't get a reward for their behavior. They need your response in order for them to get a feeling of power or satisfaction. By not responding in any way you deny them their satisfaction.

If you respond in kind, insult for insult, then you only come out on the bottom every time. You end up confirming everything the other person thought about you and you don't end up feeling too good either.

Second, remind yourself that life is not always fair. And that people have different views of what is right or wrong, what is appropriate or inappropriate. Their idea of fairness may differ considerably from your own and so it shouldn't be such a shock when unjust criticism happens.

Finally, you have to decide whose opinion really matters to you and why does it matter?

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Change is in the air

This week feels like the first full week of spring. I can always tell when spring is here because the Snowdrops, the first flowers of spring, start pushing through the soil in my backyard. Spring flowers offer the hope of warmer days to come and the renewal of life.

I am a member of the Men's Garden Club of Cleveland. This is a group of about 100 or so mostly folks between the ages of 40 and 80.

The club started in the early 1930's in downtown Cleveland and has been meeting on the second Monday of the month from September through May ever since. We don't get together during the summer because everyone is, of course, gardening. We meet at an "assisted living" apartment building near University Circle.

As you can imagine, this is pretty wild and crazy crowd. There is a cocktail hour, followed by a formal dinner and then a gardening presentation of some kind at the end of each meeting.

We are the Men's Garden Club but we have several women members. When we first opened the membership to women a few years ago we had 4 or 5 men resign in protest. They could not handle the change. The tension between their expectations and the innovation was too much to bear and they left.

Leonard Sweet in his book Soul Tsunami asks:

"What is the difference between a living thing and a dead thing? How do you tell one from the other?...In the medical world, a clinical definition of death is a body that does not change. Change is life. Stagnation is death. If you don't change - you die. It's that simple. It's that scary."

What was interesting to me at the time was that the oldest members of the club were not the ones who raised a stink. They thought it was about time we were more inclusive. They had the vision to see that if we did not change the club would eventually stagnate and die.

Just like the season of spring, change offers hope and renewal. Two things none of us can really live without.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Wouldn't it be great if we always felt like doing everything we needed to do?

A couple of weeks ago we were watching our three year old niece and her one year old brother. The one year old is an early riser. He is up and ready to go around 5 AM.

When I heard him stirring in the next room did I say, "I'm sorry, I don't want to get up right now out of this warm bed and change you - I don't feel like it and I don't want to be a hypocrite?"

Nope – I got up and plastered a big fake smile across my face, talked sweetly to the boy and took him downstairs so he would not wake his sister.

Like the little Hobbit he is, he enjoyed a “First Breakfast” of banana, Cheerios and milk. Soon we were playing on the floor and I had forgotten all about my warm bed.

Even though the United States Constitution guarantees it, even though we spend lots of time and money pursuing it, it is difficult for us to find happiness.

A couple of years ago a researcher asked 2,264 Americans this question, "What do you want most in life?" The response was nearly unanimous - everyone wanted to be happy.

The fact is: Contentment does not come naturally for most people. It must be learned.

And one of the first lessons of learning contentment is that if your contentment is dependant on perfect circumstances - you will never have contentment. If we ever hope to be happy in this life we have to learn to look beyond our day-to-day circumstances.

How do you do that?

A giant step in the right direction is to: Learn to act better that you feel. Alcoholics Anonymous says it well with their motto, "Fake it till you make it!"

A friend of mine put it this way, "Let the brains drag the guts."