“Man is free at the moment he wishes to be.” ~ Voltaire
Elephant founder Waylon Lewis recently posed a question for all of us elephants out there which boiled down to this: what is something important you have recently learned?
Deceptively simple, it—as usual in Waylon’s World—generated lots of thought—provoking responses.
My own? I had to mull that over for a few. I mean, we’re learning things every second of every day. I just learned yesterday that I love raw figs—specifically the in season black figs from California I bought at Trader Joe’s.
I urge you one and all to try them.
But aside from new-to-me food, how has my mind recently expanded?
Then it hit me: it wasn’t my mind, but my heart that had learned something.
I’ve been married for a long time, and as any of you in long term relationships know, they can be challenging. The toughest times in my particular marriage seem to be when either my husband or I loses the “Power of Nice” and is met with meanness instead of patience, humor or compassion.
In other words, for whatever reason, one of us stops being our cool, normal selves and instead becomes petty, childish, short tempered and rude. The other one—instead of taking the high road—reacts in a similar manner.
Once the pattern is triggered, it can escalate very quickly until every interaction is loaded with sarcasm and double entendre. It leaves both of us feeling angry and alone—and that negative energy seems to infect the entire household.
Ugh. What a mess.
In the last few weeks, no doubt due to the excessive stress of traveling, my husband and I found ourselves in such a place. It waxed and waned, flaring up and then seeming to fade away, but never evaporating altogether.
I could sense my overall hostility gradually increasing, and began spending an inordinate amount of time figuring out who was to blame.
He said this, so I said that. He did this, so I did that. Or was it the other way around? Who was the bad guy? And whoever it was, could they just hurry up and chill already?
No matter how hard I tried to untangle the knot of ugliness, it just kept getting worse.
Then suddenly, I had an idea. What if, instead of worrying about who started what, I simply decided to reclaim my Power of Nice?
What if I stopped worrying about who did what, and just started paying attention to what I was doing? And what if what I was doing was just trying to be nice—instead of keeping score, rationalizing my behavior, and driving myself mad?
Whatever happened, it would have to be better than the status quo.
So I took a deep breath, gave myself a little shake—kind of like shaking a mental Etch-a-Sketch—and became, once again, Nice.
When my husband asked me if I thought the lentils I was cooking were done, I didn’t let myself suspect that he was hinting they weren’t, or that they were overdone—I just answered, “Yep, I think so!”
When he chuckled at the obscene amount of bug spray I doused myself with before our daily dog walk, I didn’t get all defensive (even though he laughs at me every time I put on bug spray despite the fact that he knows mosquitoes are drawn to me like vegans are drawn to hummus), I just kept spraying and then leashed up the dogs.
When he sneezed, I said, “God bless you!”
When he asked me what I’d done all day, I gladly told him.
When he put the dishes away, I said, “Thank you!”
And when he hugged me in the middle of brushing my teeth, I stopped, and hugged him back.
And I don’t have any idea if he became nicer in return, or if I just felt better because I wasn’t marinating in my own crappy juices, but whatever it was, it was great.
Sometimes something so basic can really change everything.
I’m not saying I won’t ever backslide and get pissed when my cooking is criticized or I’m laughed at for some weird habit I have, but I am happy to have a clear understanding that I can control myself and make kindness a priority.
I have a feeling things around my house are going to be much nicer from now on.
Love elephant and want to go steady?
Editor: Renée Picard
Photo: elephant archives