Hey guys. It’s Dad!
I wanted to share a couple of stories that have truly helped me during times when I have struggled to “keep calm”, and behave in a healthy, positive way, not react in anger. People lie. People have bad judgement at times. People make mistakes. We all make mistakes.
There are two ideas; two strategies or skills that I have relied on help me avoid making a bad situation worse. I learned these skills from stories that I read from an author who recently passed. It’s a shame that he’s gone, but what he taught me, through his writings, is always with me. I want to make sure that now it’s always with you.
So here’s the first story. While you read it, imagine how your emotions come into play. Imagine how you’d feel in the situation. Then, notice how your feelings change at the end of the story.
A battle ship was on an exercise at sea, and in very, very bad weather. The captain was on the bridge, where he controlled the ship. It was very foggy and the seas were rough. To make a frightening situation even worse, it was quickly getting dark. Shortly after the sun set, now sailing with virtually pitch black skies, the look-out told the captain that he spotted a light on the starboard (right) side of the ship. The captain quickly asked if the light was steady or was it moving. The look-out told him that the light was steady, meaning they were on a direct collision course with that ship!
The captain ordered the ship’s look-out to send out a message, “Change course 20 degrees. We are on a collision course.”
A message soon came back, “Advisable for you to change course.”
The captain immediately messaged back, “I am a Captain! You must change your course 20 degrees.”
A reply came back, “I am a seaman second-class. You had better change course 20 degrees”
The captain, now furious, yelled to the look-out to send out an urgent message! “I AM A BATTLESHIP! CHANGE COURSE IMMEDIATELY!”
Back came a simple message saying…
“I am a lighthouse.”
I bet that the captain probably felt like a complete jerk! From calm, to furious, to embarrassed. That’s a huge range of emotions that never ever needed to happen. If he knew that the other person wasn’t challenging him but helping him, he’d never have been upset in the first place, if he knew that the other person was sending those messages to save his crew, and to save his ship from crashing into the rocks during that stormy night, he would have felt grateful, not angry.
Through all of it, the circumstance, the truth, never changed. But the anger, the emotions, the chemistry, they changed dramatically.
But what if we don’t know why? How should we behave? Wasn’t the Captain right to send his messages? Yes. He was right. But he immediately became wrong (ineffective) when he lost his calm; his patience.
This second story helps us to understand how important it is not to make judgments, but to always behave with compassion and understanding, even when we don’t yet have understanding. This story really affected me in a powerful and positive way. This is the story that taught me to live in peace. It lead to our little family’s mission statement: “Be gentlemen.” This is a true story of an experience that the author I wrote about earlier lived through. It’s transformative. I hope you feel the shift in the way you’d feel while you read. Recognize what matters…and what doesn’t.
One morning in New York, people were sitting quietly on a subway train. Some were reading newspapers, some were lost in thought, some were resting with their eyes closed. It was a calm, peaceful morning.
Then, suddenly, a man and several children entered the subway car. The children burst through the doors, running around without a hint of respect toward the other passengers. They were so loud and disrespectful that instantly the peaceful morning was interrupted.
The man sat down next to me and closed his eyes, apparently not caring about how crazy his kids were behaving. The children were yelling and screaming. They were throwing things, and falling down, even grabbing people’s newspapers out of their hands. They were SO rude, but their dad still didn’t do anything to alter their behavior. He just sat there, completely zoned out.
It was difficult not to feel irritated. I could not believe that he could just let his kids run wild like that and do nothing about it, taking no responsibility at all for their behavior.
It was easy to see that it wasn’t just me who was aggravated. Everybody on the train was getting aggravated too. So, after being patient for such a long time, I finally turned to the man and sternly said, “Excuse me! Sir! Your children are really disturbing a lot of people. Will you please control them a little better?”
The man looked like he had just woken up from a deep sleep, not knowing what was going on around him. Then he softly said something that I’ll never forget.
“Oh wow. You’re so right. I’m terribly sorry. I guess I should do something about it. We just came from the hospital where their mother passed away about an hour ago. I don’t really know what to do or think, and I guess they don’t know how to handle it either. I’m so sorry.”
What did you feel when you read that the poor man had just lost his wife; the mother of his children? He wasn’t in fact irresponsible and rude. He was lost in his heart and in his head. Did your emotions change as soon as you learned the truth? Did your feelings of anger and resentment toward him go away, only to be replaced with feelings of compassion and helplessness? Didn’t you want to comfort him, rather than scold him?
Did everything change in an instant? It’s fascinating, really. After reading both stories, the only thing that changed in an instant…was our emotions. The lighthouse was still a lighthouse, and the poor man’s wife had really passed away. Absolutely nothing had changed, yet everything had changed. We learned “why.” We learned why the ship captain and the man on the train behaved the way that they did. The only thing that changed was in our understanding.
It’s amazing how as soon as we know the whole truth our emotions, our anger, our sadness, our resentment; they all wash away in an instant. So why don’t we just live like that? We can. I do! Or at least I try.
It’s always easier to accept that we don’t know why people behave the way that they do. It’s not just easier on us…but it leads to a much, much more peaceful and healthy life.
Why is that man driving like an idiot? What a jerk! Well, maybe his baby is horribly sick and he’s rushing her to the hospital. Or…maybe he’s an idiot!
Why is that boy in my class always sleeping instead of doing his work? Well, maybe he stayed up all night playing video games. Or…maybe he stayed up all night listening to his mom and dad fighting. Maybe he slept with his brothers and his mom in a car last night. Maybe nobody has ever been there to comfort him and make him feel safe. Maybe, just maybe, his classroom is the only place where he feels safe.
Ultimately, we shouldn’t change our behaviors based on other peoples’ attitudes and behaviors. We should simply behave as gentlemen do. That always works. Always.
That doesn’t mean that you can’t get upset, or you don’t have the right to feel angry or disappointment or hurt by someone. Those are natural feelings and a normal part of a healthy life. But if taking a moment to wonder “why” can help alleviate some of those feelings then it was worth my time to jot down these two little stories for you.
With practice, it becomes easier to simply say to yourself, “I just don’t know why he is a bully or why she stole something or why they got into a fight, so I will behave with compassion and caring, rather than anger and resentment.
It does get easier too, the more you practice it. I promise.
Oh. That man! The one who told the stories. His name is Stephen Covey. His books have helped me a lot. We can read ’em together if you want. They’re amazing.
I love you guys.