Silver linings only belong to storm clouds

How hard do you try not to hurt people’s feelings?

We hurt stranger’s feelings unintentionally, I am sure. We hurt some feelings intentionally from time to time, I bet, too.

But when you really try to do it all right… when you think about all the options and all the possibilities to your best ability so you avoid causing problems… and it still manages to result in hurt feelings, what do you do?

Recently I became aware my actions hurt someone for whom I care very much.  I had debated the possible actions and choices for months, and I knew that my options guaranteed some or all parties might be displeased. In the end I chose one version of happiness, and in turn created unhappiness. Days after learning of the damaged feelings, I am left feeling conflicted, sad, dismayed and confused. I know what it is to be hurt, and would not wish it on anyone. If I am supposed to learn from this – what is the lesson? Is it that I just cannot make everyone happy no matter the effort expended? Is it that my happiness must always fall second place to other people’s happiness when they are in conflict?

When left with these questions, I feel as though no matter which way I turn, I lose. My head spins with possibilities, and not one is a clear winner:

  • OPTION 1: Don’t worry about making other people happy.  Take the risk that your actions will cause discord and focus on your own happiness first. Problem with this: must deal with the aftermath of appearing “selfish.”
  • OPTION 2: Worry about what will please others, because bringing them happiness brings you happiness. Problem: This simultaneously brings the stress of anticipating the needs of those silent masses of people who matter in your life. This can create enough anxiety to eliminate any happiness you gain in considering their happiness in the first place.
  • OPTION 3: Realize you can’t win either way. If you focus solely on making others happy (preemptively) you lose your happiness (because you won’t be honoring any other need but the desire to please others). And if you focus on your happiness only, you degrade the happiness of others because you are not considering anyone but yourself. And trying to balance the two is like an endless process wherein one is trying to balance scales while gravity shifts under the seismic instability of emotional reactions and uncontrollable social variables. In other words: a futile effort.
  • OPTION 4: Exclude people from your life and decision-making so you eliminate the need to please them. But in the process solidify your sadness as you effectively make yourself an island.
  • OPTION 5: Accept their negative emotions (even though it is made difficult by your frustration at having tried so hard to avoid a negative result). Do you take ownership over their emotions? Do you assume responsibility for producing them? Or are we all the sole owners of our emotions with nowhere to place blame but within? To the contrary, if a person is brutally assaulted, their feelings of pain and anger are not entirely their responsibility and are certainly significantly the cause of the assailant. But in day to day social situations, to what degree are we responsible for the feelings of others? There seems to be no good answer. Do we simply allow the emotions to exist in the air that cushions our relationships, unresolved and untended?
  • OPTION 6: Rest knowing you had the best intentions. Rely on the fact that emotions are complex. Solutions are rarely cut and dry. Choices are often presented as a utilitarian balance of what is necessary and what is desired. This balance is tinged by the external variables in the moment, and – when taken out of context – may not seem like the best solution at later date. So again, trust in one’s decision is essential; confidence that we do the best we can at the time is an imperative. 

If the hurt is unintentional – if we truly believe we did the very best we could with the information and influences available at the time of our actions – then perhaps the best we can do is acknowledge the pain and express regret it occurred.

What saddens me, is that hurt feelings exist at all in these circumstances. Because even with the best intentions and the best efforts, the knowledge that we hurt someone unintentionally can in turn hurt us to a significant degree. It seems that hurt, no matter our efforts, is a driving force in our lives. It must often uncomfortably exists in our days, an ever-present reminder that maturity and wisdom are gained not only by the triumph of logic, nor the thoughtful assessment of pro’s and con’s, but also by the visitation of discomfort, sadness, and disappointment. Perhaps in coming to peace with this fact, one might finally achieve the most realistic sense of satisfaction.

The art of working within one’s limitations

Hi. Did I tell you I haven’t made my art in months? This from the girl that was doing her work every day? I got some tendonitis in my wrist and one of the instructions was: no weight-bearing poses in yoga, no embroidery, no scrubbing or chopping. Three things I loved: yoga, my art work, and cleaning (making things shiny) and cooking were off the table. What the hell was I supposed to do?

Luckily buying a house distracted me, but I am still left with a question. How will this change my art? How will I get back to yoga? Doing downward dog can cause my wrist to hurt for days, sewing tightens my fingers within minutes. Doing the things I enjoy brings terrible frustration. Not doing them brings disconnection and sadness. Ironically for choosing a form of art that demands patience, I am not incredibly patient with myself or my limitations. I opted for doing nothing rather than to work within those limitations and find a way out of the problem. Why? Because doing that is hard. And frustrating. And you encounter MANY failed starts. My expectation of doing things without trouble has consistently left me feeling dejected. (I can’t help but feel further guilty because this “limitation” is nothing compared to true disabilities people face in their lives. But that guilt won’t necessarily move me forward the way I would like, so I let that go.)

I am spending my days thinking how I will finish the two embroidery pieces I have going. How will my art practice transform? Answer: I have no idea. But this morning, I feel encouraged. My step-dad sent me a great Ted Talk about embracing your limitations. This man, Phil Hansen, has found satisfaction in making art that works around his limitations, and it is inspiring. Check it out. Just ten minutes of your life – well worth it.

Thanks!

What happy people do

Hello! I have been neglecting you, I know. It isn’t that I have forgotten about you, I am simply very busy! Jake and I bought our very first house (yay!) and are in that lovely period of unpacking and tending to the inevitable repairs that seem to be needed immediately. As a matter of fact, today’s tasks include groceries, a run for the fourth time to the hardware store to look for a groundhog – yes, a GROUNDHOG – trap. We have a freaking groundhog. It would be cute… if he wasn’t living under our porch. 🙂

So, rather than share my thoughts today, I am leaving you with a link to a great little article on what happy people do differently. It’s a fast, easy read and good food for thought. Have a great day!

“22 Things Happy People Do Differently” by Chiara Fucarino

Compliments denoting our differences aren’t necessarily complimentary

I haven’t written in a while (my apologies). Today, I would like to share this article with you. It addresses the ill-conceived act of complimenting the beauty of a biracial person.

I am embarrassed to say I have been guilty of giving the kind of “compliment” the author discusses here. To be honest, I had never considered the implications of my well-meaning words. Looking back now I can see the ignorance in them and I am sorry for it. I have always held the conviction that when I think or hear nice things about someone, I say it (which is like the antithesis of “If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all…). It didn’t occur to me that my compliment could be insulting. Noted: sharing a compliment that denotes a difference between people may have the opposite effect it intends to create.

My mother always taught me to consider a person’s intentions in conjunction with their words, so I can only hope the recipient of my compliments knew I meant well. I am gratified the author of this article has a similar – and very well-rounded and compassionate – view of these sorts of comments: “Awkward. Well-intended. Poorly thought-through. A window into our shared cultural stuff about identity.

I have learned something very important today – something I won’t soon forget. I am sharing the article with my readers in case they have made this social blunder as well. We are human beings full of imperfections – the importance is that we work toward being better versions of ourselves when we see the error in our ways.

Too happy?

At work the other day I had a rather high level of happiness and it was noted by one of my coworkers with both amusement and annoyance. I noted how I imagined some people might find my happiness overwhelming. My coworker responded, “You can be happy, but just don’t TOO happy all the time.” I paused for a moment, astounded. Too happy? Hmmph. “No, I’m going to be as happy as I want whenever I want. If people don’t like it that is just too bad. I don’t think being happy is something to be ashamed of.” My co-worker’s eyebrows arched with surprise, but she smiled and agreed.

I’ve been told I am “too much” of something in one way or another most of my life. Too happy, too friendly, too outgoing, too talkative, too outside of the status quo, too sensitive; I’ve been told I think too much and I say “sorry” too much (that is actually true). Hell, I’ve been told I’m too tall. At this point in my life – being an adult I guess – it irritates me when people feel licensed to say this to me. Because what these words can communicate is a level of intolerance, a lack of acceptance, and an implication that I should be ashamed of these attributes. But are they truly shame worthy? No, I would say most of them are not.

It is my natural inclination to reflect on what about me may make people feel comfortable passing these judgments. Perhaps it is my people-pleasing demeanor, or that I show audible concern for the influence my actions may negatively have on others. Something to work on perhaps, but I think the other person has some more important thinking to do.

What I believe people are feeling when they pass these evaluations on a person’s character – if I can project a bit here – is uncomfortable. Perhaps they are stressed or feeling negative, and interacting with a very happy person makes it difficult for them to navigate their feelings in that atmosphere. Perhaps they are tired, shy, or quiet… perhaps they are simply not interested in what is being communicated. Rather than launching into a critical assessment of a person’s behavior in an attempt to shut it down or convey one’s surprise (“You’re too happy…” or “You think too much…”), it would be better to communicate his or her feelings more self-referentially.  “I am sorry – I am not feeling too talkative right now. I’ve got my mind wrapped up in a project,” or, “It’s nice to see you’re so excited. I’m pretty tired myself. Keep up the good day.”

It is very possible people might find a behavior annoying or fake or superficial. But this perception certainly doesn’t give that person the right to criticize that behavior, particularly if the traits are generally held as positive by society at large. Truly, if I took the same sort of license with others that historically they have taken with me, I don’t imagine it would be appreciated. If I said, “You’re too quiet,” “You are always so negative,” “Boy you sure are grumpy every day,” I have a feeling people would view that as rather unkind and uncalled for. After all, what do I know of their personal circumstances? Who am I to judge? And why kick someone if they are down? Thing is, we shouldn’t kick someone while they are up, either.

Shy people can adjust to overtly friendly ones, just as chatty-Cathy’s can accept not everyone is going to volley back a verbose reply. Rather than casting judgment, whether silently or verbally, perhaps the best action is to pause and consider who you are interacting with as well as consider the type of person you are (with all your expectations, cultural behaviors, and opinions on proper etiquette). These are simple differences that can be accommodated and adjusted for, rather than noted in an offensive, dismissive regard.

The world needs quiet people and talkative ones, upbeat happy bubbly folks and low-key, laid-back people, too. We can’t all be either a “Tigger” or an “Eeyore”; we need both to give society a little balance. So, I’ll make you a little deal. When I’m super-happy in one of my bouncy-bouncy fun-fun “Tigger” moods, I’ll do my best to carefully circumnavigate the personal space of the “Eeyore” people out there. And maybe they can do best to stay out of my rambunctious path! 😉