Monday, January 11, 2016

Haircutting me down to size

Somewhere, sometime I ran across this line and copied it onto a list I keep of things to remember: 
There is a huge amount of freedom that comes to you when you take nothing personally. 
Once upon a time, Tom used to cut my hair. I have been reviewing a ten-year-old journal, and I see that on one occasion he mentioned -- [What am I saying, one occasion? It was part of the regular routine] -- that my hair was not cooperating. I could feel myself getting annoyed. My father cut my hair until I was eighteen, and he always had some complaint about it. My hair "grew backwards," he said, or it "porched" on one side and not the other or... I would get defensive and make excuses.

But I also recorded another incident that same week a decade ago. 

At the time I was working as the office staff for a small law firm and the senior partner was irascible. I liked him, still do, as a person. But he exploded easily whenever anything happened to interfere with his plans. On the occasion in question, I had lost my own cool and exchanged words with him. Apparently at the time, that episode combined with Tom's remarks about my hair -- what there was of it -- and something clicked. I stepped back and looked at what was going on.

When it came to the haircut, Tom and my father were not complaining about me. They were expressing frustration with the task before them. My boss had similarly expressed his frustration with a computer problem. I immediately personalized their frustration. They were frustrated and angry at me! After all, I am the center of the universe. So I got resentful, defensive.

My defensive emotional response was not to what they had said but to how I interpreted their words. In my mind, they were finding something wrong with Michael, not with the computer or the weirdness of hair. It was my inner world that felt threatened and made me react. I was doing this to myself!

Undoubtedly a counselor or spiritual director would help me discover what underlies this tendency. I don't plan to get all Freudian or Jungian or Rogerian on you, don't worry. I don't know that understanding what is making me do that is as important right now as realizing that I am still doing it and I can work to change the behavior.

I am happy to say that my journal also tells me that when that thing happened with my boss, I sat back and realized what had occurred. I immediately went and apologized. He understood, took responsibility for his part in the incident and we moved on.

But here, ten years later, I still trip up over things like this. I am working on it, though. My goal is to have the realization five minutes before venting, instead of five minutes after. A full and immediate apology and mending of relationships is good. Not rending them in the first place: priceless.


Mitchell is Moving said...

This would be very helpful, inspiring, and interesting but for one thing. Everyone knows that I (and not you) am the center of the universe.

Michael Dodd said...

Do you find it as crowded at the center of the universe as I do?

Mitchell is Moving said...

Oh, Michael. There's no one here but me!