Lesson Learned

I once had a college instructor tell me a mind can only absorb what the butt can endure.

I fully subscribe to that philosophy.  Suffice it to say my greatest lessons were not from butt numbing, brain overloading lectures (for which I owe apologies to my own kids).   I don’t sit long, very well.  What I learned best I learned while doing, watching, or being in the middle of.  The things I learned well, obviously made better impact, were tools I could pick up from that lesson and carry with me.

I learned to say “I’m sorry for your loss” by watching a denim clad motorcycle gang member with chains on his waist, holding his wife’s hand at a funeral home.  He leaned down to the sitting grieving widow, with his free hand he clasped the widow’s hand in her lap, very gently and softly said with the deepest sorrow “I’m sorry for your loss”.   It was genuine.  It was truth.  It was simple.  It was all she needed.  And it taught me that is often all we can do, is simply be there in genuine sorrow for others, without being able to do for others.

I learned to say “thank you” from someone while I was tripping all over myself after being given a compliment.  The giver stood amused.   Finally the giver said “just say thank you”.   Since that moment, I’ve not only said “thank you” I’ve said to others “just say ‘thank you'” as I am the one standing there amused.

Though I grew up being taught responsibility no one really teaches how to take the sting or embarrassment out of saying “it’s my fault” or “I screwed up”. Maybe you can’t take the sting out of it.  But maybe how to handle it.   No one shows you how to look graceful while taking on the fault of something failing or going wrong.  Until I watched, and heard, my supervisor in the middle of explaining what was going to be done to address a situation say – “I own it”.  Hey.  I did this.  It’s done.  We’re moving on and addressing it and dealing with it.  You’re not blaming anyone for this because I’m telling you what happened, and how it happened.   It was owned and powerfully so.  And by owning it, no one else could grab hold of it and use it to blame.

Years ago four of us sat in a room.  We were  strongly discussing a situation.   The wisest of us, a professional woman with more experience and wisdom than the other three of us combined sat there for the most part.  She participated in our conversation.  But in hindsight she did seem to be observing us mostly.   We were all discussing the exact same situation and what to do about it.   There was no resolution, accord or compromise to be seen in the near future.  Our wise professional woman sat back and said, isn’t it amazing how so many intelligent and bright people can see the same situation and because of perception, have a different opinion about how to handle it.   We were all very silent for a moment.  When we resumed our discussion it involved more listening and processing and included acknowledging the perceptions to see if they were part of the resolution, or part of the indecision.   A resolution was come to.   Over the years I have reflected on that incident more than once.  If I’m lucky I remember it during a difficult discussion where an impasse seems to be at hand and I can try to shut myself up and listen more.   Sometimes it may come to me after the fact and I may have to revisit a discussion and return to a situation and ‘own’ my inability to get past my own perceptions to hear out another’s.

I hope this wasn’t butt numbing or brain over loading.