When Reality and Feelings are Miles Apart

We recently bought my aging dog Xena a new bed. The package arrived with a big, green sticker on it that read “Do not open with sharp object.” Can you imagine how many sliced open beds have been returned to their warehouse! When I opened the box, it was clear why the sticker was needed. There was no cushion between box and the bed. One wrong move with a knife and I would have had stuffing everywhere.

Watching much of the discourse in our world today, it seems we all need some cushion between us and the sharp objects – or sharp tongues and quick judgments when things go wonky or weird.

Recently, as my daughter Jen and I were putting up our chickens for the night, I had one of those “What did I do?” moments. (Read that sentence with the emphasis on the “I”, a little bit of attitude and hand on hip.) For a split second, I was a kid. Feeling like I was in trouble. With my own daughter.

What was really happening and what I FELT were miles apart.

After we put the chickens away for the evening, I remembered that we had some watermelon rinds sitting in a plastic bag for them to eat. (Chickens LOVE watermelon rinds!) These rinds did not need to spend another night in the plastic bag. But I also questioned whether or not I should put them out in the chicken yard, thinking it might draw in some unwanted guests. (We call those unwanted guests around our place “mayhem”, whether it’s a bobcat, raccoon or weasel.) Nonetheless, I decided to go ahead and throw them into the yard for the chickens to have in the morning.

Just as I was putting the rinds out, Jen walked out of the chicken house door and yelled loudly “What are you doing?” BAM! That hit me in a soft spot. For a split second, I went to the “What did I do?” place that any kid that ever got caught with their hand in the cookie jar knows all too well. I even said “What?”

Within a couple of beats, I brought myself back to this moment. In answer to my question, Jen pointed at her dog up the hill. The dog was getting into something, and Jen’s question was directed at her, not at me.

And here I thought I was in trouble for spreading the watermelon rinds.

My survival mode kicked in before my brain could catch up. For that quick moment, I WAS back in the past, being a little girl getting in trouble when Mom caught me doing something I shouldn’t.

We have these little moments all day long. Someone says something, survival mode kicks in, and we have a choice. Except it’s an invisible choice, unless we work on it.

First choice: We assume the worst and act instantly.

The better choice: We can provide ourselves a little cushion by pausing. In the pause, we can provide a little cushion for the other person as well. We can assume positive intent. We can offer some grace, some curiosity, even forgiveness if need be.

Making the better choice – The Elegant Pivot – is much easier said than done. We are hardwired to assume the worst. That’s just how survival mode works. It’s there to protect us.

However, with practice, we can build in some cushion. We can create space between our assumptions and our actions.

What situations get to you? Who are the people that get to you? What words or actions set you off? Where could you build in some cushion?