Be an Owl

Do others’ feelings keep us from getting things done?  If we measure our success by the number of tasks we complete, but hurt others in the process, that’s not success – that’s pathology.  We may need professional help, but we CAN be as passionate about our relationships with one another as we are about “getting things done.”  Goals and relationships are not an either/or proposition; if we are to be truly successful, we have to do both.

I’ve often taken the “turtle” approach to dealing with confrontation:  avoid, withdraw, retreat.  When someone tells me to fight for my goals at the expense of others, my gut reaction is to punch them in the face.  This person doesn’t understand who I am – they want me to be someone other than myself.  For better or worse, I am a shy person – and for some reason, the people I am closest to don’t understand why I just don’t come out of my shell and be like them.  You never really know how alone you are until you realize how disconnected the world is from you, and you from it.

You can’t be anything other than who you are, no matter how much you may try.  I can only be who I am – to me, both thinking and feeling matter.  It’s not a matter of either/or – if you don’t have both, you’re doomed.  I’m not a turtle anymore – I will not avoid conflict.  But I’m not a lion, either – lions care only about getting things done and (when necessary) will hurt others.

I’m an owl.  Owls collaborate.  They place a high value on both their goals and their relationships.  They take a problem solving approach to conflicts and work to find a solution that achieves both their own goals and the goals of the other person in the conflict.  Owls recognize that when handled effectively, conflicts can improve relationships by reducing the tension between people.  They try to begin a discussion that identifies the issues that are creating the conflict.

Owls look for solutions that will satisfy both themselves and the other person, thereby preserving the integrity of the relationship.  They will work diligently and are not satisfied until a solution is found that achieves their own goals and those of the other person.  This also includes working at the conflict until all of the tension and negative feelings have been fully resolved.

Yes, we have to do this over and over and over again.  I still believe that collaboration is the best way of dealing with conflict and confrontation.  But lately all I see in this world are craploads of lions and turtles, and no owls.

Be who you are.  Care about your relationships with others as much as you are about what you want to accomplish.  Collaborate with others, and you’ll be amazed at what you will achieve.

What Would They Look Like?

Kids rely on parents to care for them, protect them, love them.  Sometimes parents don’t care.  It takes only one unfortunate event for a parent, annoyed and irritated by a kid who refuses to shut up, to lose their patience and strike their child, hurting her, humiliating him.  Yeah, that shuts ‘em up – but it also shuts them down.

How do kids get back on their feet?  They take care of themselves – not in that brutal way they were treated, but from a way that says, “this is how you should have treated me.”

If those parents saw me now, some fifty plus years later, on one of my not so good days, I like to imagine the conversation would go something like this:

Parents:  “Hey you, why so down?  You look like you don’t have a friend in the world.”

Me:  “I don’t have any friends.  I mean, I have friends, but they’re only so deep.  I’ve been on my own for so long, and I’ve felt for just as long, maybe longer, that I’ll be alone my whole life.”

Parents:  “Really?”

Me:  “Really.  Intellectually, I know that’s not true – but that doesn’t change the feeling.  I don’t know why I feel this way – I only know that I do.”

Parents:  “Wow.  We don’t think we’ve ever met anyone who’s hurting like you’re hurting, for such a long time.  It doesn’t look like many people know this – it’s not like you’ve been beaten up, physically, so people can see the cuts and bruises.

“We don’t know why the people who meant so much to you didn’t think you were important enough to listen to, to pay attention to, to love you in ways you wanted to be loved.

“But here’s something you need to know:  It’s not you.  You are one of the most caring, loving, funny, charming people we’ve ever known.  And even more than this …

“Every human being on the face of the planet deserves to be cherished, to be protected, to be cared for, to be loved.  Not because they’re special, or deserving, or have earned these things.  They deserve it simply because they exist, they’re here – they are enough.

“Kid, you are enough.  We know you’ve been hurting a long time, carrying this hurt, never free of the pain, trying to go on in spite of it.  But it’s okay.  You don’t have to hurt like this anymore.

“You are loved.  You’ll feel lonely now and again – hey, we all do, sometime – but that’s okay.  We’re not really here to tell you that you won’t die alone – that’s a real possibility.

“We love you, kid.  We want to take care of you.  We want to protect you from this pain.  And we’ll be honest with you – we’re not sure we can do it.  But we are sure we want these things for you.”

They’d look like that.