When my youngest daughter was around 18 months old we shared an experience that taught me a valuable lesson about how our attitude is everything.
With six daughters, quiet Saturday afternoons are a rarity. But my eldest was at her part-time job, Kylie (my wife) was out with our next two girls, and I had the three little ones at home. It was so unusually peaceful. Children four and five were playing happily (I know! Amazing, right) in the garage with some toys and the baby was asleep in her cot. And me? I was indulging in a favourite pastime: reading.
Emilie, our baby, awoke and began to make those happy baby sounds. Anyone who has been a parent knows two things about that moment. First, it’s one of the happiest sounds you can hear. Savour it. And second, never go to get the baby too soon. She’s happy. You’re happy. Leave things be!
After a few minutes, Emilie started to make sounds to suggest she required more attention, so I walked into the room. Her smile lit up as soon as she saw my face. And she held her hand out toward me.
“Ta” she said, indicating I should take what was in her hand.
I immediately respond. “Ta to Daddy.” And she smiles as she tenderly and lovingly places a rolled-up little ball of poo into my palm. Obviously, to keep herself amused, she had reached back there and pulled it out while I had left her unattended but awake in her cot.
In that moment I had a realisation: Life surrounds us with people who hand us their “unwanted output”, and it’s up to us to determine how we’re going to react to it.
Epictetus put it more delicately.
Men are disturbed not by things, but by the view which they take of them.
In other words: attitude is everything. Life serves us up a pile of fresh poop from time to time. It might be the kids behaving in challenging ways. It could be a boss or neighbour or mother-in-law or ex-partner/spouse or whatever. And what they do might be odorous. It could be stinkingly rotten and unfair.
But then again, it might just be them being them.
And our ATTITUDE in that moment is EVERYTHING. Do we become the person who grabs hold of that cr*p and start flinging it around the room, yelling, “What are you giving me this cr*p for!”? Or do we roll over and say, “Sure, I deserved it. Lay it on me.”? Or is there a different approach?
If the view we take of things (i.e., our attitude) is what matters, may I suggest two ways that we might respond when life gives us a steaming pile of poop?
1.1.Science and experience show that force creates resistance. When someone is feeling lousy, they act lousy. When we try to tell them they’re faulty, we fail them and we fail the situation. Rarely, a person hands over that pile of poo and responds kindly when we say, “What do you think you’re doing? Don’t give me that cr*p. Shape up. Fix it and fix it now!” But we do that to people in our lives all too often.
When we simply accept that this is where they’re at right now we respond better ourselves, and we respond better for them.
Here’s an example. Your partner (or child) is having a big fit. They’ve had a bad morning and they’re blaming YOU. Actually, they’re blaming everyone and everything except themselves. You can resist, trying to convince them that if they just took responsibility and spoke kindly, everything would work out ok. Or you can acknowledge to them that “It’s been a rough morning hasn’t it. I’m sorry nothing’s working out the way you want it to.” And then leave it be. Watch things calm down!
Something I’ve discovered is that people who are challenged tend to be the most likely to behave in the most challenging ways. They don’t need us to add to their challenges with our tirades, our threats, or our “I’m a victim of you putting that cr*p on me” responses. What they do often respond to is compassion.
Compassion comes from two Latin words: com (which means together) and compati (which is “to suffer”). It literally means “to suffer together”. If you come across someone who is struggling, challenged, or being painful, perhaps you might see their humanness in their struggle, their challenge, or their hurt. If you reach out to touch their suffering and suffer with them, your attitude of compassion might change their world - and yours.
The easiest way to have compassion is when they hand you that fresh poop, to say, “I can see you’re having a rough time. Maybe I can be helpful?”
This is not a natural response, but an attitude of kindness, service, and compassion changes lives. Make it about them… and offer to help, not hurt.
Taking and accepting, compassionate view is unusual in today’s polarised climate. Yet it might be the key to unlocking the humanity in others and bringing us closer together.
Attitude is everything. An attitude of helpfulness and service will make you more valued - and thus more valuable - to those you work with, live with, raise, and travel life’s journey with, no matter how short the time shared together is.