Walk Away

4C65EDDE-AE5D-497A-8094-C6A3821D6AE7A couple of weeks ago, I was trying to make prints of the photos from our recent family vacation, but the local camera store’s site which I often use wouldn’t upload over half of them.  Frustrated, I called the store and asked for help.  The man I spoke to was very nice, but said that the site must be acting up and suggested I come into the store and load them directly onto their equipment from my phone.  

I drove to the store and asked the young woman behind the counter for directions on using their equipment.  She told me bluntly there was no point in doing that, because obviously the files for my photos were corrupted.  Which was annoying enough, but the little smirk that accompanied her words made the situation worse.  I wondered aloud how some of my photos could be corrupted when others, taken at the same time and with the same phone, seemed to be just fine.  She began a long explanation of the many ways photo files can be damaged, but none of them pertained to my situation.  When I tried to tell her so, she told me, sharply, not to interrupt her before she was done speaking.  

And that was when I realized there was absolutely no point in continuing our conversation.  She was not going to admit that the problem could be on their end, and I was not prepared to believe there was anything wrong with the photos that wouldn’t upload to their site.  I would have asked to speak to a manager, but I knew that I was very, very close to completely losing my temper and I didn’t want to take my anger out on someone else.  So I simply turned away and walked out of the store.

The older I get, the more I believe that simply walking away from confrontations is often the best way.  There is rarely any good that comes out of arguing with people who have already made their mind up, or trying to negotiate with those who treat others like idiots.  While I will always believe that being in relationship with people who are different from me is a good thing and that the world needs more, not less, communication, I also know that true communication can’t be one-sided.  Both parties have to be willing to respectfully engage, which means that there is no point in trying to talk to someone who refuses to listen.

So I went home and logged into the site of a company I’ve used many times to make photo books.  And you know what?  All of my photos uploaded successfully, even the supposedly “corrupted” ones.  I didn’t even have to wait for my prints to be mailed to me, as I was able to pick them up at a local drug store about two hours after I ordered them.  I’ll admit that there’s a part of me that wanted to take the prints back to the original store and show them to the rude clerk, saying,  “See?  I was right!”  But I resisted that urge, because I know it would be both petty and pointless.   I have my vacation photos, neatly displayed in an album, and that’s good enough for me.

Common Ground

IySCob9WT3ulxRSEZimmIAMy dog Finn takes his sleep very seriously.  When he’s awake, he has endless energy, and spends his days tearing around the house or persistently trying to convince us that’s it’s time for another walk or even more food.  But by early evening, he’s always curled up in his dog bed, fast asleep.  And that’s just fine, right up until the moment when we want him to go outside for his last potty break before we put him in his crate for the night.

Our late-night routine is always the same.  When we’re ready to go to bed, my husband and I call Finn to go outside.  We always begin on a cheerful note, holding the back door open hopefully and calling, “Come on, Finn! Time to go outside!”  And Finn always ignores us, even when my husband adds, “I’ve got treats!”  (I refuse to resort to bribery.)  So then we approach his bed, a little less cheerfully, and tell him that he needs to go outside RIGHT NOW.  At this point Finn opens his eyes and fixes us with a glare that makes it clear he has no intention of budging an inch.

Eventually, Finn leaves his bed, either by choice when he sees we’re not backing down and we begin to use our really stern voices, or because I lose patience and simply lift up one side of his bed and gently tip him out.  And then he’ll go outside and potty (occasionally getting his revenge by peeing on my flowers), come back in, get his treat and trot willingly into his crate.  And yes, we go through this routine every single night.

Despite all evidence to the contrary, Finn persists in his belief that one night he’ll win the battle and not have a bathroom break before he goes to bed (which we’d allow if we thought his bladder could hold out that long).  And my husband and I keep right on believing that one of these nights Finn will cheerfully spring out of his dog bed and go outside the first time we call him.

It’s funny how often we persist in thinking we can change the way others behave, and how we naively believe that if we just try hard enough and long enough, we can convince other people that our way of thinking is the only right way.  Social media provides ample proof of that, with all those posts pointing out all the faults of those who happen to believe and act in ways that are different from us.  And we’ve all witnessed, and probably participated in, those futile arguments where we try so very hard to show someone just how flawed their thinking really is, and then end up frustrated when we’re not able to change their minds.

The truth is, Finn is probably never going to want to go outside for his late-night potty break, and we are never going to feel comfortable putting him to bed without it.  But maybe if we try getting him out a little earlier in the evening, he won’t mind it so very much, and he’ll still be able to “hold it” through the night.  Compromise, after all, is so often the key to solving problems.  It’s never quite as satisfying as winning an argument or actually getting our own way, but there comes a time when we realize that it’s better to “give a little in order to get a little.”  And that’s true for all of us, human and otherwise……

My Way

rlMtuR23SC6pZJLH6olOvQMy mother and I have an ongoing dispute over the proper placement of silverware in the dishwasher.  I always place my forks, spoons and knives in the dishwasher with the handles up.  My mother places them in with the handles down, because she says the silverware gets cleaner that way.  And perhaps they do, I tell her.  But what happens after the dishwasher has run its cycle, and then I have to remove the silverware by placing my grubby little fingers on the parts of the spoons and forks that are supposed to go in people’s mouths?  And isn’t it dangerous to handle the knives by the blades?

When I say this, my mother always nods and says, “That’s probably true.”  But as soon as she thinks I’m not looking, she goes right on putting the silverware in the dishwasher with the handles down.

The correct way to load a dishwasher is a relatively small matter in the grand scheme of things, but I think our ongoing disagreement is a good illustration of a much bigger problem.  Because most of us tend to believe that our way of doing things is the best way, and our way of thinking is the only way.  And then we cause a whole lot of trouble by trying to convince everyone else that we’re right.

If you’ve ever had a “discussion” with someone who holds different views from you, especially on such sensitive topics as politics or religion, you know what I’m talking about.  Those are two topics where people have never had much tolerance for disagreement.  But even different beliefs in how we raise our children, how we run our households, how we celebrate holidays….heck, just about anything these days….can cause us to lose our tempers and lash out at those we think of as “other.”

I guess it’s just hard for us to accept that it’s not our place to tell everyone else what to think or how to act.  It seems to be human nature to like our own way best, and to harbor the belief that the world would be such a better place if everyone else just “got with the program” and came around to our way of thinking.  But it doesn’t work like that.  Because the people who are different from us like their way best, too.  And they also think that the world would be so much better if we would just wise up and agree with them.

The best thing we can do, I think, is to live our lives as best we can according to our own convictions, and to be very open about what we believe and why.  And if someone else wants to share their beliefs with us, we can listen to what they have to say and really think about why we do or do not agree with them.  Sometimes minds will be changed, but often they won’t.  And that’s okay, because other people are allowed to be different.  They really are.

So I will keep right on loading the silverware in my dishwasher with the handles up, and my mother will keep right on putting the handles down.  And that’s fine, because either way, we’ll still end up with clean silverware.

Do Unto Others

As a general rule, I’m very suspicious of over-simplification.  I rarely see anything in stark black and white, preferring instead to examine the various shades of grey that exist in between two opposing sides.  I think that most people and most situations are not only rather complicated, but also usually evolving in new and different ways that defy simple classification.  That being said, the older I get, the more I realize that in an increasingly complicated and angry world, there is one very simple rule that almost always applies:  treat other people the way that you want them to treat you.  (Also known as “The Golden Rule.”)

The issues that we face in our lives, both on a personal and public level, can be unbelievably complex, and often seem overwhelming.  And I don’t believe the day is ever coming when good people will always agree on everything, no matter how sincere and well-intentioned they happen to be.  But I do believe that when we are deciding how to speak to or treat another person, we can just take a minute to ask ourselves, “if this situation were reversed, how would it make me feel?  Would I like it if someone spoke that way to me?  Would I like it if someone treated me that way?”

Would we be so quick to post that snarky political meme on social media if we took a second to consider how we feel when someone makes fun our our political views?  Or worse, makes it clear that they consider everyone who voted the way we did to be either evil, an idiot, or both?  Do we like it when someone makes sweeping generalizations about our religion (or lack thereof),  especially when the generalizations don’t match what we actually think or believe?

On a more personal level, do we like it when someone vents their anger on us?  Do we appreciate it when someone (oh, so helpfully) points out our every single mistake?  Do we learn anything when someone else constantly preaches their point of view, and never once asks what we think?  Or worse, assumes that they know exactly what we think, and why, and proceeds to tell us how wrong we are?  Is it helpful when someone trivializes our fears?

People are complex beings and the opportunities for misunderstanding, hurt, and anger are staggeringly abundant.  Our lives are complicated and sometimes our problems are overwhelming.  So it seems to me that the simplicity of “The Golden Rule” is a gift to us, and a guide that can help us navigate the storm.  We just need to try, as often as possible, to treat other people the way we would like to be treated ourselves.  It won’t solve all our problems, but I honestly believe it would go a long way toward calming the waters for everyone.

Great Expectations

Several years ago, I read an article in which the wife of a long-married couple was asked what she thought was key to her happy marriage and she answered, “I learned early on to lower my expectations.”  Personally, I sort of wondered just how much longer her happy marriage was going to last after her husband read that article.  And I thought that she was being a bit harsh, or had perhaps married a man who was simply not right for her.   But lately, I’ve come to believe that if I put her words into the context of simple human relationships, she might have been much more perceptive than I realized.

The older I get, the more I think that most of the conflicts we have with other people stem from the simple fact that they don’t live up to our expectations.  They don’t act the way we think they should act, or they don’t treat us the way we expected them to treat us.  And because they don’t, we find ourselves feeling hurt and angry, sometimes even lashing out at the people we think have failed us so miserably.  If we’re not careful, the problem can escalate from there, causing permanent rifts in our relationships with family and friends.

Sadly, this seems to happen in all aspects of our lives, and not just in the close relationships we have with family and good friends.  I once angered a fellow blogger because I commented on the photo that accompanied his post rather than the poem that he had written.  This was a person I had never met, but the fact that my response wasn’t what he had expected obviously stung.  If it’s that easy to hurt feelings of someone I barely knew, just think how easily it happens with those we know best.

I think the key might be in remembering that while our expectations always seem reasonable to us, that doesn’t mean that they are reasonable to other people, and it most certainly doesn’t mean that other people will meet them.  The fact is, we all look at things just a little bit differently, and so what makes perfect sense to us often seems completely illogical, or even rude and insensitive to others.  Sometimes I think we just need to take a step back, remember that the slights we perceive are rarely intended, and that the best thing we can do might actually be to “lower our expectations.”

I have come to the belief that lowering expectations is actually both a good and necessary part of how we handle our personal relationships.  It doesn’t mean that we don’t expect good behavior from others, it simply means that we stop projecting our ideas and values onto people who usually have their very own ideas about what is and is not appropriate.  It means that we put our own egos aside and learn to love and accept people as they really are, and not as who we may want them to be.

Which actually means that our expectations haven’t been lowered at all.  They’ve simply been expanded, and that’s a good thing.