As a fan of success books, I love knowing that I have an impact on my happiness. It’s what inspirational gurus like Zig Ziglar trumpet time and time again: it’s not our circumstances, but how we look at them. So why does this pain say otherwise?
All Good Things
A few moments ago I sat outside the security line at the airport watching my 17-year-old son, Joseph go through. He was unloading his carryon, taking off his shoes, and folding up his coat. Then he walked through the scanner with his hands in the air, elbows bent, palms forward. As he walked to the end of the conveyor and put his stuff back together, he never seemed to notice me watching him. I don’t know if it was watching so much, as missing him.
I had no desire to drive him to the airport this morning. I didn’t want him to leave. For the last two weeks, he was here, sharing the same office space, sitting on the same couch, laughing at the same jokes. As he sat at his desk animating, I sat at mine writing code. As he sat reading, I sat watching videos on video editing. We played card games together, fought alongside each other in online battles, rocked out together, and laughed at the same lines in Arrested Development. And today it was my job to make that end. I don’t know how to put a smile on that, no matter how much that makes me seem like a thermometer.
Thermostats and Thermometers
From the time I was a kid I remember hearing the comparison between thermostats and thermometers. Growing up as the son of a minister in a church that was focused on positivity and helping people become their best, this message came out often.
The premise is simple: a thermometer cannot control the temperature. It can only react to it. A thermostat on the other hand can control the temperature. That’s it’s job. The thinking is straightforward: be a thermostat. Don’t let your circumstances define your attitude.
It’s a great message. I definitely agree that we will find more success looking at solutions rather than problems. We want to find the good in life, not what’s missing. We want to be thankful.
Understanding How We’re Built
At the same time, we aren’t machines. We are humans. We are made to experience emotions. We are made to feel. Feeling not only helps us understand what we need (I’m hungry; I need food. I’m sad; I need understanding), it helps us empathize with others who experience similar issues.
But there’s another fundamental reason for it: it helps us know when things aren’t as they should be. It helps us realize things are amiss.
Now, as much as I understand that this is my life, as much as I understand that my choices have led me to this position, it doesn’t change the fact that my mind will always interpret this as something being out of whack. And it makes me think about how we react to people who are hurting.
Seek First to Understand
Too often people see others who are hurting and look to fix. A person will frequently try to find how he can apply his ideals, solutions, and understanding to get someone else in line with his way of doing things.
But pain is not removed with a one-size-fits all solution. It’s not erased with a cute picture and an inspirational message. It’s not vanquished with a clever saying and a smile. Pain must be felt. It must be experienced. It must be endured. To try to cover it up only makes the pain last longer.
If you want to help someone in pain, listen. Or sit with them. Just occupy the same space. Just show them they matter. We are not thermometers or thermostats or random smiles that haven’t been engaged. We are people. We have feelings. That’s okay.
So, Zig, as much as I love your advice and put it into practice, I’m sorry, but I’m going to have to sit this one out. My heart hurts. I’m okay. The pain just shows me a different side of love. I’ll survive and will experience many more smiles. But today, I’m sad. And I’m okay with that.