It feels like the world is on fire right now. We are reeling from a global pandemic, skyrocketing unemployment in its wake, and racial tensions and desperate cries for social justice are reaching a fever pitch. There’s a thick cloud of anxiety, disgust, confusion, sadness, and fear looming over it all.
I will try to stay in my lane here and stress this first. Grounded in Good is a safe community for anyone who wants to be a part of it. If you want to stay grounded in the good stuff, if you want tools for healthier relationships, and if you want to be encouraged in the hard work of showing up well for your partners, families, and communities, you have a place here.
I believe with all my heart that the hardest, most important work we do is at home (which ripples into our extended families, friends, communities, and workplaces). How do we cultivate relationships with partners who are often very different from us and who know all the right buttons to push? How do we parent when we are out of patience and out of ideas? When life gets busy and hard, how well do our words and acts align with our values? Respect. Dignity. If we can’t do it at home, we’re going to struggle mightily to do it anywhere else.
My two cents: racism isn’t born, it’s raised. I have a 4-year-old who walked into preschool every day holding hands with all the girls in her class – a literal rainbow of ethnicities. That kind of innocent love and unconditional friendship is a lesson to all of us. There’s no hate or contempt there. These kids know their skin colors are different and they don’t have any feelings of judgement or value tied to it…yet. What comes next is largely a product of how we do our job at home, and how we counter the messages they receive outside our homes. If you’re a parent, it’s go time right now. It’s time to lean into important conversations about race, mutual respect, and loving your neighbor. Just like we discuss sex and consent, bullying, death, heartbreak, poverty, and any number of things that are a part of raising kids who can understand and engage responsibly in their world. Will we drop the ball sometimes – of course. But we fail our kids and communities more by not trying at all.
ENGAGING IN CONFLICT
Directly and clearly communicating concerns and needs is a relationship skill very few people learn in school, or at home. Training to engage in conflict and difficult conversations productively is practically nonexistent coming up, too. So on the whole, we are struggling to find peaceful, effective ways to work through heavy stuff of this magnitude together. I’ll get up on my soapbox quickly to say this is another reason relationship and communication skills aren’t “soft skills” to be thrown into a pool of elective credits like underwater basket weaving. They are about as hard as they come, and they should be mandatory in school curriculum from elementary up.
When I teach conflict resolution workshops, this Max Lucado quote often comes up: “Conflict is inevitable, but combat is optional.” While we associate conflict with destruction, that’s only one form…and a cheap one at that. When we engage with difference and disagreement in a way that allows us to listen, to show genuine curiosity and interest, to seek to understand and expand our perspective, and to hold safe space for people – that type of discourse has a better chance of moving the needle. Change is needed, but the million dollar question is how to best go about changing hearts and minds. [Spoiler alert: I’m not a millionaire].
As a relationship educator, I have to believe people can grow and change, or I’m sunk. It’s the whole premise of what I do. But I also know people have to be motivated to change and willing to acknowledge the areas they could use a boost before I can really help them. They have to see a benefit to doing things another way. We all have to own our stuff: our baggage, past hurts, bad habits, faulty thinking, biases, quick tempers, and the defenses we wrap ourselves up in for protection. Whatever those things are for each of us, once we understand that they hinder meaningful connection with people, and even our self love, we can begin to lay them down. If we can see our shortcomings more clearly and acknowledge them, we free ourselves up to choose a better path forward. Progress. Baby steps in the right direction.
“I did then what I knew how to do. Now that I know better, I do better.” –Maya Angelou
I am not a perfect partner, parent, daughter, sister, friend or educator by a long shot, but I really want to get better. Luckily, my husband shares that pursuit of progress mentality. I know when the world is literally on fire and we’re wearing masks to evade an invisible virus and so many are unemployed and alone and suffering it’s hard to see the good in this moment. It’s hard to remember that it will get better. It’s hard to remind ourselves that conflict and adversity, when engaged in constructively, can actually be catalysts for growth, change, progress, and connection.
But if we all want brighter days on the other side of this…more justice…peace…equality…stability…connection…understanding, what do we choose today to set us on that path? The emotional drivers we collectively allow behind the wheel right now will largely determine where we end up, and what shape we’re in when we get there. On the one hand, anger is incredibly valid and important; yet, it’s typically considered a “secondary emotion.” There are often more tender, vulnerable emotions below the surface fueling it. Getting down into that stuff…that’s where the real transformations and shifts begin to happen. That’s where bridges are built and hearts are softened.
THE NEXT RIGHT THING
We have a long way to go as a country, as people, and as partners and parents. Our choice in this moment is to decide what kind of people we want to be, decide what we value and believe, and align our thoughts and actions accordingly. As I often tell couples, saying you’ll change or try harder isn’t enough. We are reaping now what has already been sown. It’s time to plant better seeds and let the slow work of rebuilding families and communities from the ground up begin. If you’re waiting for an impetus for change, looking for a reason to do things differently and break bad habits or get your priorities right, the time is now. It is never too late to change course, to right a wrong, or to do the next right thing (in the wise words of the Frozen princesses).
What’s on the other side of all this? I wish I knew. I think the first step involves hard inside work. Own our “stuff,” lean into discomfort, listen better, and commit to doing more good, every single day.
I vote we set the world on fire with that kind of light.