Anyone else’s kids in the process of writing their Christmas wish lists?
Last night I realised – with exactly a month to go until Christmas – it was probably as good a time as any to get started, so I got the toy catalogue out, took a deep breath, and began the process. Writing Santa lists feels a bit like going down a rabbit hole, doesn’t it? Young kids have no idea what’s good for them sometimes, or even a concept of what things cost.
But this time, it all went a bit predictably- at least it did at first.
Zoë: [jumping up and down with excitement] ‘I want an Our Generation doll! Yes, that one with the glasses – she’s called Avril!’ 👧
Eden: [gasp] ‘Wow, look at that dragon!’ 🐉’
Zoë: [chomping at the bit] ‘No wait, I want that jungle Lego set… I do, I do, I do!’ 🌴
Eden: [pointing wildly in no particular direction] ‘Look at that dinosaur!!’ 🦖
Me: ‘Ok, girls, you can each choose two things from the catalogue. Deal?’
Zoë- ‘Deal!!’ 👍
But just then, Eden says, ‘mummy, I want to give you a cuddle.’
Hugging her close, I said, ‘Aww thanks, Eden, what’s that for?’
‘Because mummy, YOU are my present’ 🎁
Aww, my heart. 💓
And what a wonderful reminder, just at the right time.
In all the fun and chaos of getting ready for Christmas this year, remember this:
YOU are the gift your kids will love most this year. Your love, your attention, your affection. Your presence is the best present.
🎁 They’ll forget by this time next year all the gifts they received, but they’ll never forget how you make them feel.
🎁 They’ll enjoy the fun of unwrapping what’s under the tree, but they’ll never forget what values they saw unfolded before them as they grew up.
🎁 They’ll receive your gifts with joy and excitement, but nothing will compare with the joy of loving parents cheering them on, and being an effervescent support underneath and around them in life.
But one thing I’m going to try to do most intentionally this year – besides offering Zoë and Eden the best of myself – is to keep reminding them of a Gift far beyond myself. A Gift that surpasses the best I could ever offer. A gift that cost more than any other. The One whose presence brings joy unspeakable. The One who offers life abundant and free.
Have you been having vivid dreams lately? If so, you’re not alone. Since March of this year, people all over the world have reported having intense and unusual dreams on a regular basis. Contagion, social distancing, health dilemmas and relational strains are just some of the things the world has been dreaming about.
Sleep experts tell us that dreams are a way of working out our deepest concerns on a sub conscious basis. The pandemic has disrupted our schedules, and has made the unconscious more alive to us than ever.
But many of us have been thinking about life dreams during this time, too. Often the deepest dreams our hearts carry exist only beneath the surface for much of our lives. Many times we never take time to deliberately examine or explore them. The uncertainty of the last few months has prompted many of us to take stock and take steps towards fulfilling some of those inner desires that we’ve harboured deep in our hearts.
💓 Some have discovered dreams to be stay at home parents and are exploring whether they could live on one wage as a result.
💓 Some have started to put our talents out there and share them with those around; from crafts, to cupcakes, to original music.
💓 Some are on their way to becoming foster or adoptive parents.
💓 Others have realised they need a career change and are currently re-training online, or have gone self-employed.
💓Still others have decided to move towards major lifestyle changes, like moving to the seaside, for example.
It’s well known by now that some of the biggest regrets people have at the end of their lives are not doing more for others, not working at relationships, not spending more time with family, living according to others’ expectations, not finding fulfilment and not pursuing their dreams.
Do you sense dreams burning in your heart but don’t know where to start?
Here are some questions that might help you do just that.
1. What do you love doing?
So many of us think of work as work and free time as doing what we enjoy. But what is it that gives you goosebumps when you think about it? What makes you laugh harder than you’ve ever laughed before? If you have any kind of opportunity to make those things your work as well, make it happen!
2. What would yougladly do for free?
Take time to consider what, if you didn’t have to work to financially support yourself, you would do for free? If money wasn’t a consideration, what would you contribute? What could you innovate? Who would you love to help? And how could you reshuffle your priorities to make room for those things?
3. Who do you love?
Most times your personal dreams will involve those closest to you. Think about who is top priority in your life and move from there.
Your family is irreplaceable and precious.
Good friends are rare jewels that need looked after and cherished.
But there are also those you feel ‘called’ to invest in. Who is most heavy on your heart? The orphan? The poor? The enslaved? The abused? The homeless? The elderly? Never let those who are closest to your heart become a fringe priority, because you are burdened for them for a good reason.
4. What do people say they love about you?
If you are having a hard time identifying your best character traits, talents and gifts, write down what others have identified in you. Do your friends say you are generous and giving? Do they admire your creativity and passion? When you’re having a hard time finding the gold within you, let others call it out.
A list of dreams
Put all these things together and make a list of dreams. Here are five from my top ten, for example:
💭 I dream of writing things that encourage, heal and bless others.
💭 I dream of walking alongside hurting people until they reach wholeness.
💭 I dream of inviting people to stay in our home so they can have a real rest.
💭 I dream of having a close relationship with my kids when they reach adolescence and adulthood
💭 I dream that my friends will feel part of my family
If you had one day left to live,
What would you say, and what would you give?
If this moment was your last on earth,
What dreams would you dream, what ideas would you birth?
This time has cut comfort with a knife
And taught us of the fragility of life.
But it’s also brought what’s important to mind
To love, give and serve – and most importantly – be kind.
‘Mummy, it really hurts me in my tummy when other people are sad.’
Zoë’s wee eyes filled up out of the blue last night. Concerned, I asked her what had happened.
She described how she had seen someone in her class hurt her friend’s feelings.
‘But they didn’t hurt you, pet.’
‘I know, but I felt it.’
‘I know how you feel, honey.’
[And I really do.]
Soak it up
Looks like Zoë has inherited her sensitive nature from me. There’s a reason I don’t watch the news regularly or read too many traumatic stories on Facebook: I’m a super-sponge for emotions. Sometimes the intensity of feeling is so heavy it’s as though I’m staggering under the weight. When there’s tension in the room, I feel it in my head. When there’s sadness all around, I feel it in my gut.
Yes, it’s a gift to be able to empathise, but I’d love to be able to rein it in a little more often – especially when I’m trying to sing at a funeral or comfort someone without breaking down. I also feel intense stress when I see a need but don’t have the resources or energy to respond as I’d like.
So many of us are experiencing this at the moment with all the difficulties that COVID has precipitated, and in witnessing the suffering of so many in all kinds of ways.
Yet those in caring roles have always had to manage what psychologists call vicarious trauma.
Vicarious trauma is the emotional residue that is left when we become witnesses to the fear, hurt and wounds of others.
Over time, we can absorb this to such an extent that it just becomes too heavy; we lose our ability to carry any more and we start to feel the negative effects of it in our life.
💤 Disturbed sleep
👀 No concentration
😔 Low motivation
So if you’re like me and you’re a bit of an emotional sponge, here’s some things you can do to make sure you don’t experience the above symptoms too often.
Let it out (gently)
When you squeeze a sponge, it instantly feels lighter and it gets some of its bounce back. However hard it feels, talk to someone you trust about what you’re carrying. Don’t open up to people who won’t listen sensitively; you don’t want to expose yourself to more pain. But if you share with a gentle and tactful person, You’ll feel so much lighter and you might even get that spring in your step back.
Hang it up (temporarily)
Everyone needs a break, sometimes. A sponge is made to tend, to wash, and to cleanse. But sometimes it just needs to be hung up and dried out before it becomes useful again.
It’s the same with us. There are moments we need to feel the breath of the wind on our cheeks and get a bit of space around us to feel ready for the next step. Don’t feel bad about that. You’re not lazy or hard hearted, you’re just refuelling.
Rinse off (regularly)
If you don’t give your sponge a rinse now and again, you’ll get nasty mildew and mould going on.
What de-stresses you? A walk? A shower? A coffee with a friend? Time to blog or journal? It’s amazing how a little time to rinse off the grit of the day can refresh you and reduce the pressure of feeling intense feelings non stop.
Don’t get wrung out
… or should I say, wound up. When you waste your emotional energy on the wrong things, you won’t have anything left for the right things. I can be so guilty of this sometimes. Ask yourself, will this stressor matter in five years time? If not, limit the amount of emotional energy you invest in it.
Fit for purpose
So if you’re a sponge, celebrate it as a gift! You’ve been designed that way for a purpose. But remember, you gotta take care of yourself or you’ll become rough around the edges and of no use to anyone!
Over the past few weeks in Northern Ireland, there has been a growing sense of weariness and frustration with this pandemic, and the pendulum swings of restrictions that have had so many costly repercussions.
In the midst of my own personal feelings about it, I’ve also been so conscious of the impossible tightrope those in authority are walking at the moment. I’ve found myself imagining what I would do if I had to choose between overwhelming the health service and destroying the economy, between elective services and reactive provisions. I heard a politician say in a radio interview a few days ago, ‘This is a lose-lose situation. Something always has to give; there’s always a cost to pay. It’s a precarious predicament.’
That’s part of life all round though, isn’t it? This has just been a particularly stark reminder of humanity’s finitude.
Every day, I’m reminded (much to my dismay), that I can’t do it all.
🌱 When my work life flourishes, my social life suffers.
🌱 When I’m getting quality time with my husband, my kids clamour for my attention.
🌱 When I get better at self-care, other people in my life can feel neglected.
Why is there always this sense that we aren’t doing enough, or achieving equilibrium in any area? Who gets the balance totally right?
Actually, someone did. But He was (and is) – fully Man and fully God.
🌱 Jesus mastered the impossible tightrope of deity and humanity on this earth.
🌱 He was always productive, in rest and in work.
🌱 He poured out endlessly but stored up spiritually.
🌱 He knew to say no to the wrong things so he could say yes to the right things.
🌱 He was perfectly self aware without being remotely self focused.
🌱 He balanced the scales of grace and truth perfectly.
🌱 He is perfectly consistent in all his judgments and fair in all His assessments.
🌱 His unmistakable authority complements His irrefutable humility.
🌱 He is always loving, in kindness and in rebuke.
🌱 He was fully majestic in absolute meekness.
Jesus understood who He was and what He came to do. He gave his life so others could find it. And because He lived the perfect life, died the perfect death and rose again to life, He provided a win-win solution to our inability to get things right.
The phrase, “Something’s gotta give” means that things are building up and whatever is supporting everything is going to break under the pressure.
Yes, the pressure of getting the balance right is too much for us – particularly when there are important decisions to make; and most especially when tragedy strikes and all the plates we’ve been spinning crash to the floor.
Yet the real freedom comes when we stop resisting the fact that we can’t do it all, and hand it over to the only One who can- who did, who does and who will. There’s liberty to be found in recognising our wisdom is only partial, our energies are finite, our foresight is limited and our capacity is not endless.
Somethings gotta give… so give it all to Him.
Hand it all over to the only One who can support the load, and keep you steady. Release it all to the only One who knows what lies ahead for you and for our nation. Place everything into the hands of the only One who can give you true wisdom for the next step. Entrust your life to the only One who can help you walk the line in impossible situations. And when you feel you can’t carry your invisible load anymore, remember He carried the weight of it all for you.
‘For everything there is a season, and a time for every purpose under heaven…’
I looked out my kitchen window yesterday and noticed an apple or two still on my tree.
It looked like they were just clinging on for dear life, just hanging on by a single twig.
Anyone else feel a bit like that these days? Sometimes I feel like I’m holding on by the skin of my fingertips to those ‘summer’ days long past.
🍎 The days where hugs weren’t a memory and crowds weren’t a hazard.
🍏 The days of dinner parties and cosy movie nights with friends.
🍎 The days of indoor play dates and real life music concerts.
🍏 The days when you could hold someone who was grieving and visit someone who was sick.
When I was a kid one of the rides I hated most was ‘the Waltzer.’ We used to go to the fairground at Ballywalter when I was staying at my granny’s caravan, and my cousins would persuade me to go on that ride.
As the button was pressed and our car began to spin freely while rotating around a centre point, I still remember that dizzy feeling of clinging on for dear life, closing my eyes, stomach churning, and willing it to be over.
The thing is, looking back now, wanting to feel safe and secure robbed me of the enjoyment of that ride, every time! I should have just joined in with my cousins’ laughter and embraced it for what it was.
You see, trying to cling on to the past can cost us dearly.
If that little apple on my tree would just let go and drop gently to the ground, it would release nutrients to the ground to prepare the tree for its next bumper crop.
But if it stays attached to the branch too long, it could attract bacterial, fungal, and viral diseases that might ultimately kill my whole tree.
It can be a bit like that for us, too.
I wonder, can we gently release that friendship that the other person has ended long ago – before it becomes detrimental to our souls?
Can we release the hurt someone’s words caused us – before it begins to taste bitter?
Might we let go of the ‘old’ imperfect normal and embrace a new one, however different it might be from what we imagined? Can we do this before nostalgia threatens to steal our joy in the present altogether?
If we keep clinging on to what we can’t get back, we will find only decay and stagnation.
But if we allow ourselves to free fall into the unknown, we could fall into new ways of nourishing and enriching others. We might even discover that our influence spreads as we allow our lives to become fruitful in a different way.
I did a ridiculous thing today. Just when I think I can’t get any more daft, I reach another level. I’ve concluded that sometimes my head is so far ‘in my head’ that my environmental senses don’t work properly.
Bill asked me to post a really important piece of correspondence this morning. He drove me right up to the postbox at the garage.
Whistling merrily, I slotted the piece of mail through the opening and swivelled back to the car with a flourish.
‘Hilary! That’s not a post box, that’s the bin!!’
Sure enough, I looked around, and that prized letter was, in fact, nestled comfortably on top of a pile of used coffee cups in a red waste bin.
Two yards to the right, the red post box gloated at me proudly, now reflecting the new rouge of my cheeks perfectly. Quick as a whippet, I glanced around sheepishly, fished the letter out (thankfully relatively unscathed) and deposited it in the right place.
Bill looked at me in utter disbelief as I slouched back into the car and slunk into my seat sheepishly.
I started to argue my case … ‘look – they were right beside each other … and they’re both red…’
And then we all started to laugh.
The girls’ giggles came first, closely followed by my belly chuckle and Bill’s wheezy wonder. No doubt Zoë went into school and told all her teachers that mummy posts her letters into the bin.
Well, it was a narrow escape, to be sure. Had Bill not been there to intercept, my important letter could have ended up in landfill – certainly not the place I intended it to end up!
But as I thought (and chuckled) about the whole thing, I realised there may be larger lessons to learn from this ridiculous mistake.
A landfill of gossip or a bank of loyalty?
We’ve all done this at some point, haven’t we? In a moment of distraction, we’ve shared something with someone in confidence, who inevitably spreads it and brings it to somewhere we didn’t want it to go.
Gossip is a landfill. It’s a place full of criticisms and superficial opinions. But people who are trustworthy hide important things in their heart and keep them in their bank of loyalty.
In short, we need to be discerning about who we open our souls to! Does that person have a history of talking about other people? Do they have your best interests at heart? If not, don’t post anything personal there! The best post boxes are people who don’t allow any old person access.
Pearls and pigs
Many of us will already know the phrase, ‘don’t cast your pearls before swine.’ But what does it mean?
At the most basic level, pearls represent precious things, and pigs represent people who don’t see the value of that precious thing.
Likewise, it’s not wise to offer personal treasures to someone who you know will not appreciate them or view them with contempt. Post your pearls to people who will truly benefit from them, and who will be blessed in the receiving!
There are some women in my life who are packed full of pearls. When I’m with them I love to receive and learn from all the incredible life experience, advice and insight they have. Let’s be people who look for the value in others and are grateful when they give of themselves and offer something that is precious and full of quality.
Don’t waste your gifts, unwrap them
I love the parable of the talents in Matthew 25, which tells of a Boss who went away to travel, and entrusted properly to his three servants. Two of the servant invested it and made gains on it, and they were commended for good stewardship, but the last one hid his away so no one would know it was there, with disastrous consequences.
Our time on earth is too short to hide our talent and resources away in this life, or even use them for the wrong purposes. Invest your talents in the right place, and you’ll see them go places. And if you’re thinking you don’t have anything to offer, you might just need someone to help you unwrap your gifts.
The nineties are gone, but they are not forgotten.
It was my golden era.
Coming from the depths of the African jungle, I cut my teeth in British society during this decade. Forget swinging from trees and collecting grasshoppers, I was now making up dance routines in my garage- and I thought I was the bees knees!
And yet, nostalgia is such that when things seem too good to be true, they probably are. And so instead of looking back at this decade with rose tinted glasses, it’s worth laughing about some of the idiosyncrasies about it, too.
The radio pop chart on a Sunday
When you’ve lived in the West African bush for years, your exposure to popular culture is limited, to say the least. I’ve always been a researcher- so as an anthropological exercise (well, actually to try to develop some street cred), I listened religiously to the charts on a Sunday afternoon so I could learn some names of bands and impress my new buddies.
Well, trying to record songs from the radio on an ancient tape recorder is hard work. If you miss the cue, you’re sunk. There’s no second chances.
Also, we were always on the way to church during the top ten, which was less than ideal. Then of course my dad would switch to Classic FM on a whim or turn the engine off when we arrived (I mean, did he not understand how important this was??)- and inevitably I would miss out on who had taken the top spot.
Ah well – I’ve still not figured out the street cred thing anyway.
Anyone else think these were the BEST THING EVER at the time?
I mean, I had a whole suite in my single bedroom. I think I even stretched to a pouffee at one point that I got as a gift in SHOUT magazine. This flexible furniture was great for entertaining friends; that is, until you inevitably got a puncture or leak. Heartbreaking times. Those things weren’t great quality, to be fair.
But do not despair- just in case you thought it was gone forever… inflatable furniture is now making a comeback! We can now all look forward once again to the beautiful plastic fragrances and the comfort of thigh tacky PVC!
Ironing your hair
Frizzy hair? Who needs straighteners? Why not use an actual iron? The pluses… you already have one in the house and they certainly get the hair straight as a die.
My friends and I used to walk to corner shop vainly swinging our long and luscious locks behind us. However, burn marks in the carpet and scars on your face were a hard price to pay- not to mention a few singed ends from time to time.
I think my bestie still has a mark on her floor to tell the tale…
The Spice Girls
I mean, who doesn’t want to get platforms on and dress up as a pop star? The worst thing is, though, when you look nothing like any of them you end up fighting with your friends according to which one you want to be like.
In my head I was most suited to be sweet and pretty baby spice, when in fact I was probably more of a feisty ginger spice at heart. Now, when you look back, it’s amusing to think – how did we spend so much time wondering if we were more Baby, Scary, Posh, Ginger or Sporty… I mean, was it ever really cool to wear an upcycled Union Jack-emblazoned tea towel? Hindsight is a wonderful (and cringeworthy) thing. Especially when you are doing performance to no one – in front of a mirror – on a handmade stage in your garage.
I dare you to get out some of those old videos of you dancing with friends and have a good old laugh at yourself.
I remember the good old days when you could actually get ten sweets for ten pence. Forget sleep-deprived, I was severely sweet-deprived in Africa, where the chewy sweets always seemed to taste like soap and the Mars bars smelled of plastic because they had melted and re-hardened so many times. We had tuck shop at boarding school once a month, and the selection was limited.
‘You only ate sweets once a month?’ I hear you gasp in horror.
Yep. Pretty much!
So imagine my delight the first day I saw a pick and mix counter. The joy was unspeakable, the excitement palpable. It wasn’t an anti-climax, either.
Nowadays, you take your ten sweets in a stripey bag, and just because you got to choose them yourself you’re charged a fiver for it. No wonder all the grown ups monopolise the pick and mix carts at weddings. They know a good opportunity when they see one!
Currently trying to think of something bad about 10p mixups actually being 10p…
What do you miss about the nineties? And is it actually as good as you remember? Should we leave it there, or bring it back?
If there’s one thing that serves to humble me on a daily basis, it’s being a parent. One of the reasons for that is that things I vowed I’d never do before I became a mum tend to come back to haunt me…
🍰 Slice 1. ‘The kids will work around us’
It took me a ridiculously long time to come to terms with this one. But I’ve finally accepted that children are not actually as flexible as I thought they could be, and that it’s ok to work around them for a more peaceful life – especially when they are three and under.
I’ve always had a bad habit of attempting to accomplish too much, but some of the things I’ve tried to do with babies in tow have – looking back – been completely unrealistic. Hindsight is a wonderful thing, but if I could go back to the start, I’d be a lot kinder to myself, and to the little ones too.
🍰 Slice 2. ‘I will honour every social commitment I make.’
Before the girls came along I was a stickler for arrangements. No matter what happened, if I said I’d be there, I would be there.
What I didn’t count on were the new variables of wakeful nights, daytime naps and unforeseen sickness.
Maybe there are some babies out there that never get sick, sleep on command and always fit effortlessly into their parents’ schedule, but this is pretty far from our experience, I’ll tell you.
If you don’t facilitate naps, it’s often not worth taking them out at all. Grouchy toddlers are no fun for anyone. If I’ve slept a total of two hours, I’m not going to be able to be the life and soul of the party either. Sometimes it’s just better for everyone to reschedule.
It also helps the frustration levels if you can hold arrangements loosely, because as life would have it, as soon as you plan something, the kids inevitably get sick. In short, before kids I was convinced I wouldn’t sacrifice my plans for my little people. Boy was I wrong!
🍰 Slice 3. ‘I’ll never let them watch screens’ (or at least only educational programmes.)
Ha. Ha. Ha.
In this day and age, this goal is a pipe dream. Keeping screen usage down is a continual battle in our house. The more tired you are and the earlier your kids get up, the harder it is to be disciplined about this.
Yes, I have endured many episodes of the psychedelic and completely random Night garden. I’ve also watched random kids playing with barbies on YouTube who somehow have managed to get millions of views despite their mindless chats and awful accents.
Screen time has reaped some unexpected benefits, however. At bedtime prayers, Eden has been known to thank God for things I didn’t even know she knew existed. Turns out ‘Blaze and the Monster Machine’ taught her what kinetic energy was. Who knew?
🍰 Slice 4. ‘I’ll never let them have sugar.’
This, my friends, is one hundred percent mission impossible; at least in Northern Ireland, where we live.
Even if you decide not to give your children sweets, other people will; most of the time without asking. The old lady at the park, the shopkeeper, Kids’ clubs … you name it. It’s almost like children have ‘give me sweets’ written on their foreheads. At Halloween, it’s candy apples and trick or treat collections, at Christmas it’s selection boxes, at Easter it’s Easter eggs, and in the summer it’s ice lollies and candy floss.
The only way we have been able to have some control over this is to limit portion sizes to ‘one in each hand.’ But we know that won’t last long…
🍰 Slice 5. ‘I’ll never make empty threats’
‘Bye! We’re leaving without you!’
(Which of course, you can never actually do.)
‘If you don’t do x… we’ll tell the babysitters not to come.’
(and before you know it, you’ve cost yourself a date night out.)
The whole consequences thing is draining and tedious. We all know in our heads consistency is key. But we are doing this drill day in day out, and in the heat of the moment, threats that actually cost you more than they cost them tend to slip out.
So do I follow through every time? No, I don’t. It’s an unfortunate reality, but reality all the same.
Slice 6 🍰 ‘They won’t eat things I haven’t already paid for at the shop’ 😂
I used to think when I saw kids opening a packet of crisps before they got to the till – ‘like can’t your children wait just another ten minutes?’
Let me tell you, ten minutes is a long time when the baby is wailing and the hungry toddler is whining. I’ve now lost count of the times I’ve opened a multipack just to get me through the last aisle at Tesco. Let’s be clear though, I do pay for it at the till!
🍰 Slice 7. ‘My children will only drink water’
Well that’s ok, if they will actually drink water. If they won’t allow it to pass their lips, you’re choosing between juice and dehydration.
Five years into this parenting thing, I’d rather have a child who drinks than doesn’t. Zoë prefers water over juice; at times Eden will only drink juice. But the phase passes, and really, there’s bigger battles to worry about.
🍰 Slice 8. ‘I won’t bore people by talking about my kids’
For years, I struggled with conversation about nappies and sleep and milestones etc. Every time I started talking about that stuff, I either felt like I was being boring or that somehow I was losing my ability to have intellectually stimulating conversation.
Now, I realise that yes, I am a mummy, my girls are a big part of my world, and as long as I am sensitive about who I am speaking to, I don’t need to feel apologetic for the fact that my kids are a major part of my life.
I’d start to get worried if they were the only thing I talked about, but neither do I need to try to avoid talking about them.
🥧 Humble pie ain’t so bad after all!
Is it hard to have these myths busted on a daily basis? Sure it is. But all in all, perhaps eating a slice or two of humble pie regularly isn’t a bad thing. It keeps us grounded, normal and a whole lot less judgey. And truth be told, I’m starting to enjoy the taste.
I visited the drive thru at KFC with the kids some months back. It was one of the first days it had opened after lockdown, so the queue was massive. Unfortunately, this created a bit of difficulty for the people trying to get in and out of the carpark. Or so I realised, when I found myself sandwiched between two cars, and a very grumpy looking lady started blaring her horn at me to move.
Instantly, I could feel the irritation rising up in me.
‘Can’t you see I can’t go anywhere?’ I mouthed.
I gestured rather self-righteously at a way for her to mount the kerb around me.
She wound down her window. Uh oh.
‘Love, I’m not going over the kerb and wrecking my wheels. You’re blocking my way. You need to reverse.’
Suitably under pressure, I tried to manoeuver my way out, but my reverse parking sensors started to blare. I raised my arms helplessly.
She smirked surreptitiously. ‘Look lady, I’m a lorry driver. I know what I’m doing, I’ll direct you out.’
And so, slowly, and painfully, I did a 50 point turn with the whole place watching.
By this stage, I was seething. But then she had the cheek to say, ‘Try not to block any other customers now, won’t you?’
The steam was coming out my ears by now. But just as the frustration bubbled over, Zoë piped up, ‘Wasn’t that so kind of that woman to take the time to help us out?’
It reminded me of the question that changed my life a few years back. The question that helped me to begin refusing to be ruled by my own exacting standards or expecting the same from others.
What would happen if I assumed the best?
What would happen if I gave this person the benefit of the doubt?
Or, put another way, what is the most generous assumption I can make about this person right now?
Let me tell you, I was not feeling generous towards that woman at KFC. But in her childlike simplicity, Zoë reminded me in that moment that I could at least be hypothetically generous.
So… what if this woman’s general manner just happened to be brusque, and she was actually being helpful?
Hmm, that was perhaps a bit of a stretch.
But what if she was late to an appointment already and my lack of basic observational skills (and spatial awareness) was stressing her out? Yes, that was more likely. Ok, I’d probably feel the same in that situation. So I just need to breathe and let it go.
You see the difference the question makes? In your head it transforms someone from being rude and ignorant to harassed and stressed. That may or may not be the case, but starting from the positive helps you deal with the situation in a much more constructive way.
Are you finding yourself scratching your head or frustrated by the way someone is acting?
You might not be feeling like giving them the benefit of the doubt, but you could start with a hypothetical question.
For example, if someone overtakes you on the motorway at what you consider to be a dangerous speed, your first reaction will often be, ‘How irresponsible!’ (That’s the clean version). I wonder would you feel differently about their behaviour if you discovered they had an injured person in the car or were rushing to hospital to visit a dying relative? You’d find yourself praying for them rather than glaring at them.
Or, if you need an employee to answer an urgent work matter and they aren’t picking up, instead of getting annoyed or frustrated you could think, ‘Well, to be generous I might assume that this person had a family emergency and therefore couldn’t respond to me when I needed them to. I wonder are they ok?’ Now you’re concerned instead of cross.
Or perhaps your friend continually cancels meet-ups last minute, and you assume they can’t be bothered. I wonder if you knew they’d been suffering from panic attacks for months, and hadn’t plucked up the courage to tell anyone yet? Instead of taking it personally, you’d be asking them what you could do to help, wouldn’t you?
See how simply asking the right question could change the whole dynamic of the situation, as well as your own mood, at least until you find out what’s really going on?
Maybe it’s time to stop evaluating people based on what we think they should accomplish, and start respecting them for who they are. As Brené Brown puts it, our lives immediately become better when we “work from the assumption that everyone is doing the best they can.” This assumption may not always be correct, but neither are the negative judgements we can make so quickly.
Everyone is fighting battles we know nothing about. If we can practice choosing kindness and generosity, we will become kinder and generous people all around. If we assume the best, we become better.
So the next time someone does something that makes your blood boil, try asking yourself that question, and see if it doesn’t help you cool down and chill out.