Picture a little girl (with short, naturally curly, golden hair who always wanted a pony tail), on a hot and windy Kansas afternoon in the summertime (no ocean in the background)… okay, maybe I should have found a different image, but let’s go with this.
Sweetly nestled in the family room couch with my mother’s anthology of fables and fairy tales I was in 9-year old heaven.
My mother worked as a public school teacher while she earned both her bachelor’s and master’s degrees. It was special to see my mom graduate.
I remember mom’s story of her student peers throwing up in the restroom before their graduate statistics course exams. Yuck. My mother was truly a supermom (with the cape and everything) plus she was just fun! It was special to see her graduate. My dad supported her all the way which is a memory I love about him today, but I digress…
This big, sky blue book of fables and fairy tales with gold, script lettering on the cover was one of her textbooks. It contained a world of stories, some shorter than others and my favorites were the stories that ended with a clincher phrase, the moral of the story is…
In this article…
Valuing differences, tolerating discomfort and understanding intensity are strengths I bring to conversations personally and professionally, in business interactions and to coaching relationships.
I’ll share how my understanding and appreciation for staying in conversations which include forceful words and angry or intense emotions has evolved. Situations where people are in conflict and want clarity aren’t everyone’s favorite, yet exist.
The following fable from my mother’s textbook provides a good background for illustrating how I got to be where I am today with valuing differences, tolerating discomfort and being around intensity.The big value for clients is the willingness and ability I have to respectfully be present with them.
I loved this story…
The Wind and the Sun were disputing which was the stronger. Suddenly they saw a traveler coming down the road, and the Sun said: I see a way to decide our dispute. Whichever of us can cause that traveler to take off his cloak shall be regarded as the stronger. You begin.
So the Sun retired behind a cloud, and the Wind began to blow as hard as it could upon the traveler. But the harder he blew the more closely did the traveler wrap his cloak round him, till at last the Wind had to give up in despair.
Then the Sun came out and shone in all his glory upon the traveler, who soon found it too hot to walk with his cloak on.
And the moral of the story is: Kindness effects more than severity, or put another way, Persuasion is better than force.
In my family, angry feelings were contained, rarely verbalized. Silence was not only golden but expected.
The home environment my parents created was predictable and emotions were controlled. In my childhood home in middle America, angry feelings were contained, rarely verbalized. Yes I remember slamming my bedroom door in protest when told I couldn’t stay overnight Friday at my best friend’s house because I had piano lessons early Saturday morning. However, as a rule I did my best to control my angry feelings. We all did.
Silence was not only golden but expected. No prolonged debates. Firm direction, but no yelling. Silence can be pretty darn powerful and painful in its own way.
Tantrums were ignored. I learned quickly that complaining that my older brother and sister were picking on me (which they did) would get a, work it out Mary or time to stop to all of us from our parents. Admittedly, my brother and sister were always my champions growing up through adulthood… still are. I eagerly typed many college papers for my brother and hung onto every bit of advice from my sister about guys (she was tall, long brown hair, big brown eyes … she could easily have a pony tail and was super popular).
It was great when they brought their college friends home for the weekend and I’d be invited to go to the movies with them. Buck from Schenectady, New York was so cool and cute as was Myron, from Kremlin Oklahoma. ( Who knew there were cities called Schenectady and Kremlin or names like Buck and Myron?) Then there’s, sweet Carleen from Nebraska, who married my brother a month after Myron and my sister married. Great, happy memories.
Moving along with the point of this article…
Feeling hurt was something I avoided as well, thinking I was showing strength.
Of course I experienced hurt, yet failed to acknowledge it. Years later when questioned by a college professor about this attitude (I majored in social work and self-awareness is a critical part of social work education) I came up short and felt ashamed.
It dawned on me in those powerful ways life’s lessons are learned that it was an arrogant attitude which removed me from a major part of being human. Like anger, I thought feeling hurt was a weakness. Instead, I realized that my attitude made me the weaker and more vulnerable.
I still resonate with the fable after 36 years.
Fast forward thirty-six years. Professionally, as a therapist and coach, I have spent many hours with people in conflict with themselves, with others at work and home and sometimes the world.
I’ve always worked with clients in or around emergency settings whether a hospital emergency room or as a critical incident responder for small and large organizations where leaders and employees are managing an unexpected tragedy. The range of emotions and intensity expressed has varied among individuals and groups as you can imagine.
I married a loving, intelligent (and gorgeous) Italian man who has no difficulty engaging in fierce discussions. He grew up in Europe during times of social upheaval and political fighting. His personal tagline is, I take no prisoners. He saw a lot of cruelty and was determined not to be a victim. He doesn’t seek conflict, but always faces it right away. I don’t have to guess where he stands on an issue.
He pursues conflict. I naturally distance. When we’re in conflict, he wants to resolve it now. I want to take a nap and talk about it tomorrow.
We’ve learned from each other overtime. He’s coached me to go after issues with others respectfully like saying, Please don’t mistake my soft voice and kindness for weakness. He’s learned to appreciate that others can be intimidated by the confidence his clarity communicates. He’s willing to encourage others by validating their opinion. (I think he’s finally getting it that I’m perfect in every way) 😉
I have worked and still work on my own personal conflicts, difficult conversations, judgments and defensiveness. Angry or forceful expressions are not intimidating to me. I tend to stay in the room and listen for the core message, open and curious. I still remain an advocate of non-violent approaches to differences, no exception.
Being present, like the sun shining gloriously, is incredibly moving and powerful. Forcing a point of view or behavior, like the blustering wind, is often met with resistance and too often gets dismissed because it’s loud and uncomfortable, even if there is a worthwhile idea or behavior to consider. No denial that abusiveness involves a kind of forcefulness… but forceful isn’t always abusive.
Today I am aware of how too much of anything can become detrimental, even sunshine.
In some versions of the The Wind and the Sun, the man takes his cloak off and looks for some shade. Those of us in Kansas and Texas know the misery of too much sun. I’ve experienced heat exhaustion. Not fun. Ever heard the phrase, killing them with kindness? Too much sun can be a killer too.
And while too much wind can create all kinds of challenges to our comfort and ease, it also propels the windmills for creating electricity. The wind provides the resistance the kite needs to be able to fly. And the wind feels so good and provides a welcomed push when I’m outside running in the Texas sun.
We need the Sun and the Wind. And when considering conflict and influencing others, I’d like to be able to have both sun and wind at my back.
I need the warm, persistence of presence which leads me to consider new or different ideas and behaviors and may gently, although powerfully impact me so I can make some shifts towards another’s view or be more accepting of myself.
I also appreciate the push and challenge of a strong voice with matching determination which will not be ignored emotionally or dismissed intellectually. Be very clear, the intention of the strong voice isn’t to be abusive, sarcastic or mean. The discomfort for me can create a need to learn something new.
I admit that I can be stubborn. I need help sometimes to feel the urgency or realize my own ignorance and/or arrogance which blocks me from growing. Being thrown off balance by the wind can literally bring a needed new perspective.
Excessive sun can cause heat exhaustion and heat stroke. Excessive wind can destroy, make us hold on tighter, literally stay indoors and dismiss the message altogether. Let’s make sure we have some shade, sunscreen, windmills, kites and yes, a quiet retreat or permission to take some time out from the intensity to truly give consideration to the messenger’s message.
And the clincher takeaway is…
The Moral of This Story: We need the beaming sun and the blustering wind. Value differences in communication styles. Be mindful of dismissing the message because of the quiet or forceful delivery. Notice the discomfort, and let it teach you about yourself and the other.
It makes us stronger communicators whether at work or home as business owners/leaders or family members.
It’s my story… and I’m sticking with it all the way.