I believe there is something good in everything. We might not always recognize what goodness is hidden in the moment, but usually we can see it when we allow ourselves to open up to the possibility of hidden nuggets behind our own perceptions, if we can pause to focus and be grateful for what is right despite the injustices that we feel.
Last week at dinner, Charlie was struggling to see the good in his big brother. He kept using BIG words like always, never, every time, and so forth to describe the behaviors that were bugging him. He was rightfully frustrated and kept labeling his experiences with these words. He wasn’t feeling so good and I sensed a downward spiral that I didn’t like.
I wanted to teach him empathy. I wanted to teach him to see the good despite the struggle. I wanted to teach him that things aren’t always as bad as they seem. I wanted to teach him gratitude for all that is good and to recognize the conflict that was creating such frustration for him. I wanted to protect him as he slung angry words so that he could hear the real, important message and I wanted to validate his feelings despite being frustrated and I didn’t want to react to his negative reactions. I wanted to help manage expectations. This was a complicated challenge and I was thankful for our family dinner time to be together and to work through the conflict so that we could get back to our roots.
At first it was hard to hear each other. Charlie taught me 7-11, the mindfulness technique to slow down and breathe for seven seconds and then blow out for eleven seconds. We practice this together when conversations start to get heated. I like to be as close to neutral as possible with our emotions so that we can hear each other and negotiate a fair solution. Eventually we got there. He was frustrated and expressed his concerns. I listened. And then I shared with him a story about how I used to label people a certain way when they frustrated me. I told him that the more I called someone something mean, the meaner they became. They lived up to my expectation and I was successful at not liking them, but I was sad because I loved them and wanted to like them. I didn’t like creating monsters from my perceptions and I had to fight against the labels to make the monsters go away. I had to see the good in them when I didn’t want to, and I had to keep fighting to see their value instead of what bugged me. I told him instead of seeing what was wrong with the other person, I tried to find 5 things I liked about them despite the things that bugged me. It worked. It works every time with those I wish to have positive relations because I choose to focus on the good so that I can scare the monsters away and catch them being great. I challenged Charlie.
I asked him to think about what he liked about his big brother and to share with us 5 things. He was mad at me and I pushed him a little harder. He chose sarcasm as his weapon. His first response was that he liked his brother because he was a boy. His second response was that he was tall. I told him that these didn’t count. He had to use his imagination to think of what things his brother did that he really enjoyed. And then he practiced 7-11 and began again, because he knew he had to answer eventually and he really doesn’t like long, drawn out conversations over dinner. As he began, he shared really nice things such as his brother letting him in his room, and how his brother lets him play Minecraft with him, and how he lets him hang out with his friends. And as he shared, his tone began to change. He started to believe himself and he was right. He liked the things that were good more than he didn’t like the things that were wrong. He was able to see that his brother wasn’t always, never, ever and etcetera. He saw the good. This created a connection and both boys were content. Apologies were shared for the actions that created the conflict and resolutions were made.
This took time. It wasn’t easy. Yet we took the time to listen, to validate, to redirect, to be empathetic, to hear each other and to not be defensive. We protected each other and avoided accusations and instead used words such as “I don’t like it when…” and “I feel… when you…” and it was no longer feelings of personal attacks and people feeling like they had to hold on to their positions. It was actually pretty cool. Our family focus is on connections and not conflict and to love one another despite any struggles. We kept bringing the conversation back to the center and the end result was success and we picked up where we left off and cleared the dishes.
So fast forward to today when after school, the boys chose to play basketball together and Charlie let his big brother be the coach that he wanted to be. The two played and enjoyed each other’s company and I was proud of their connection.
Wishing you the power to always find connections despite the conflicts you are faced and the strength to persevere. There’s always something good.