The Many Things People Are
One of the biggest projects I ever undertook was remodeling my basement. I had absolutely zero handyman skills but had a friend who was the love child of Bob Villa and the Tasmanian devil. This friend was so talented and worked so quickly, that I learned more about being handy in those 21 days than at any time in my life.
When the basement was almost finished, he said I should hire a professional to mud and tape the drywall seams. He explained how we could do it ourselves, but emphasized the importance of the task, and cautioned me that it wasn’t his strong suit, recommending I hire it out. I didn’t listen, insisting that if we could finish an entire basement remodel, we could certainly mud and tape some silly drywall seams. I was wrong—I should have listened.
The funny thing was in all the years I lived in that house, I would walk into that amazing, beautiful basement, complete with a theater including lit, stair-step seating, a bar, a kegerator, arcade games, a pool table, guest quarters, and a steam shower, only to look up and stare at the worst of the tape lines. Amazingly, there were only two or three of them which ended up being bad, and they were on the ceiling. Here, all this beauty surrounded me, but I insisted on looking upward, staring at the few imperfections that existed.
I don’t think I’m alone in this. I think most of us are preprogrammed to dwell more on the negative rather than the positive. My upbringing seems to have reinforced if not furthered that programming. I believe it takes a conscious decision and a lot of effort to reprogram our brains to think about, dwell on, and remember the positive. I’ve been in the process of changing this for over a year now and I can tell you, it is not an easy task.
I believe many of us do the same thing with people. When it comes to my relationships, I notice many times my attention and focus is directed at the few things those close to me are not, instead of the many things they are. I was sad when I realized this. I spend a lot of time dwelling on people’s issues and where they are deficient rather than their strengths and where they excel. I focus my attention on the few areas they are working on, instead of what I could work on.
I have one friend who is usually late. At the gym the other day, she came in after the warm-up. I had been attempting to save a spot for her—and I hate saving spots anywhere. I immediately began the persecution in my head. “Gee what a surprise, she’s late again. You know, I’m not saving her a place anymore. You snooze you lose. She would be such a better person and so much more successful if she could just get it together.” Then to teach her a lesson, I was short with her for the first half of the workout. Surely my persecution will be useful in helping her fix herself, right?
I’ve learned that persecution doesn’t make anyone want to change. Most of the time it encourages people to do more of the same, sometimes just out of spite. Plus, we don’t like being persecuted for our own mistakes so why do it to others? I’ve found most people already know what they could be doing better and the areas in which they struggle. I don’t need to point them out. I don’t need to remind them. I don’t need to convict them, and most importantly, I’m not capable of changing them.
Nobody is perfect, including me. Everyone has things to work on, but not everyone’s issues are the same. I am good at being on time, but sometimes I have the patience of a frustrated two-year-old. What I always forget is I can’t work on someone else’s issues—they are on their own life journey. It’s an absolute truth that even with a gun to someone’s head, I can’t make anyone do anything. They always have the freedom to choose. I can’t make someone believe something. I can’t insist everyone prioritize the way I do. I can’t demand people act how I want them to act. Their lives, decisions, and beliefs are completely up to them.
You know, my friend is late more often than she is on time, but out of all the people who know me, she’s my biggest supporter. She would drop anything she was doing at any time to come help me. She would be there night and day if I needed her. She’s loving, caring, hardworking, encouraging, and supportive. Truth is, as is the case with most of us, her good qualities far outweigh her bad.
Oftentimes most of us would rather work on someone else rather than face our own issues. It’s easier. On the surface, we tell ourselves we are doing it from a loving place. Ostensibly, we want to help them become better people because we love and care about them and maybe that’s true to a certain extent. However, if we look deeper, it’s probably also selfishly because we believe they should act a certain way, believe the way we do and have the same good qualities we do, in order to make us happy about who they are.
For those of us who don’t usually practice this, it can be difficult to fully accept people for who they are, love them for the one-of-a-kind set of features that is uniquely them, and focus on all the things they are instead of the few things they are not. If we are trying to change somebody we haven’t fully accepted them or where they are in life. Now that I’m starting to see some progress in this area personally, I can tell you it’s also been a gigantic relief. I’m much less angry. I’m much less stressed because I’m not taking on everyone’s problems. I smile and love more now than ever, and that makes my heart feel good.
Now for my next challenge, one I believe is even tougher—focusing on the positive and extending the same acceptance and love towards myself.
**Steve Warneke is an award-winning author, writer, contributor, and speaker. Steve’s book and more are available at www.stevewarneke.com.