What healthy looks like
I spent the night at a friend’s home. I woke up before the married couple who lived there. Their dog was awake and eager to be uncrated. So I opened the latch and then opened the sliding glass door to let him go outside to do his business.
This is how it worked with my dog and I assumed it would work with Kapu. He panted and yelped a bit, he made circles in his crate but wouldn’t leave it. I coaxed him to come out and eventually he put a paw outside the crate, followed by another. Clearly agitated, though, he didn’t romp outside the way I expected.
At about that time, the “man of the house” and long term dear friend descended the steps and noticed the dog’s confusion (and mine!). He saw that Kapu was hovering near the sliding door. Bill turned to me and said, “You know dogs. They have their habits. Kapu is used to eating in his crate right when he wakes up before we put him outside.” Then he turned to his dog and with the kindest, friendliest voice urged Kapu to go outside, “Go on Kapu. I know. You’ll get your food after. That’s a boy! Go on!” He chuckled lightly. Kapu obeyed and returned to the house ready to eat. Bill scratched him behind the ears.
Unremarkable moment in Bill’s life, I’m sure. But for me, it was one of those “Oh wow!” moments. A routine event didn’t go the way it was supposed to, and that break in routine was greeted with gentleness, humor, and a kind spirit.
I stood there in Bill’s kitchen watching his gentle guidance offered to Kapu and I thought to myself: No one has to get angry just because something isn’t going the way it should or because the other party is confused or momentarily off balance. It’s possible to bring clarity and support to another with kindness. No sternness required, no assumption of nefarious motives.
How much our children deserve that kind of sympathy! How much anyone in our lives does!
I made a list of what “healthy” looks like to me a few years back:
Curiosity over accusation. When you find someone’s behavior strange or upsetting or simply different than you expected, ask questions, show interest. Don’t make assumptions, accuse, or assign intentions/motives.
Kindness over force. Kindness means a quiet voice, a gentle tone. Force is coercive—it uses an urgent (sometimes loud) tone to create anxiety in the other person to provoke an action. Kindness assumes that the person can be reached through support rather than control.
Trust over suspicion. As a friend says, “I look for reasons to trust people.” A disposition that trusts creates open lines of communication and freedom to take risks. It creates a willingness to own up to mistakes or poor choices. Suspicion kills creativity and it drives shame underground. Secrets grow in an atmosphere of suspicion.
Acceptance over control. To truly accept means that you are willing to receive what is offered without judgment or interference. Control means the other person needs to match my expectations before I can accept what is offered. (Your five minutes at dinner with me before you head out the door again is enough because you gave it freely; not: Because you didn’t eat a full dinner with me, I won’t be friendly to you during the meal.)
Owning personal limits over imposing personal limits. If I need something to be a certain way, I make it happen or take responsibility to make it happen. I don’t require others to create the space I need to live in. I create it for myself. I don’t blame others for my lack.
Expressing my disappointment over calling you a disappointment. When expectations surface and aren’t met, sharing my disappointment as an unmet need rather than assigning you the label “disappointing” is healthy.
Asking for help over requiring it. It’s risky to say “Would you help me….?” because the person might say, “No.” But to require “help” is to remove the possibility of “gift.” A requirement of help can become a source of festering resentment. To share what you need and ask for help means a person has the chance to be good to you. People love to know that what they do is genuinely appreciated as a free gift, not as an obligation.
Surprise me over “that’s who you are and always will be.” I like to find out you are more than I know or thought I knew. Labels limit people and we stop being surprised and amazed by them. If when you risk sharing a new way of seeing or being with someone you love and you are met with skepticism “You don’t like X” or “You’re not that kind of person,” it shuts down the adventure of living… for both of you. Give your children the gift of being delightful surprises to you.
Passion over discipline. Discipline fuels passion, true enough. But you can’t get to passion by starting with discipline. Knowing a person’s passion and supporting it does more to create a climate of enthusiasm and joy than all the rules, systems, structures, and good ideas in the world. Discipline alone is soul-stealing.
Yelling never works. Unless your house is on fire or a semi is about to crush your car.
Affirm over suggest. Find traits to affirm, look for ways to validate the other person’s judgment, thought processes, ideas before offering your own. Only make suggestions when asked.
What others can you think of?
If we treated the people we love (and even those we don’t yet know) as intelligent, reasonable, logical human beings, whose insights, practices, yearnings, and hopes made good sense (given who they are, where they live, how they got to this phase of life) rather than as dangerous, misguided, self-centered, or illogical, we’d discover so much more to love between us.
If we listened well and showed interest, if we held back judgment and attempted to see through the eyes of the other, if we kept a cheerful tone (or at minimum, a gentle one), and waited patiently for more understanding before slapping on labels or expecting someone to be who we say they are…we could avert so much emotional punishment…the feeling that you are scorned for being yourself.
The image that comes to my mind is a huge WELCOME mat. I welcome you to my space, as you are, ready to serve you and enjoy you. How about tea?
Cross-posted on facebook.
Image © Alina Shilzhyavichyute | Dreamstime.com