September 21, 2019 – Feast of St. Matthew, Apostle & Evangelist
There’s no such thing as a bad joke, right? Only grumpy people? Even if that’s not exactly true, let’s pretend while I start out this week’s post with a good old ‘knock knock’ joke.
A: Knock knock.
B: Who’s there?
A: Control freak—Now you say control freak who!
All: [riotous laughter]
And that’s exactly what I am trying to overcome in myself. I’m not necessarily a control freak (unless you ask anybody I have ever worked with or taught), but I do organize and plan in order to accomplish whatever goal may be in my sight. When those goals require the cooperation of others, it is far too easy for me to move into the mode of trying to manage people.
I can justify this tendency to myself in different ways. After all, classroom management is vital to teaching success. To work with people, you need to work with people. Both of these assertions are true. There are right and wrong approaches though.
A couple years ago, I had a student with a good heart and a hot temper who would often act out. I liked and respected this young man because he would always own up to his actions. Several times when I saw him before school and could tell he was in a foul mood, I would approach him pre-emptively, asking him to be extra careful with his choices today in order to avoid poor choices. Again, this was before he had done anything wrong—I was trying to look out for him and prevent problems before they started. Even though my intentions were good though and I had his best interests in mind, he interpreted these interactions as me antagonizing him.
Although he misunderstood my intentions, I am beginning to better understand where he was coming from.
Even though it was for this young man’s own good that I wanted to prevent these potential problems, my energy was directed toward end results that would benefit the student, rather than toward the student himself. A lower-key approach that was more person-centered than problem-centered may have been more effective at helping him cool his head and actually been better suited to helping him with his behavior. People want to be treated as people, not as issues.
A few imperfect analogies come to mind: Pharmaceutical medicine treats illnesses, whereas much traditional medicine promotes wellness. If you want to dribble a basketball well, you’re going to have to stop looking at the ball. Telling you a funny joke to make you laugh is a lot different from you laughing because I told a funny joke.
I think I am rarely co-dependent in my relationships anymore—except in the few that I bungle. The best and most natural friendships I have are the ones in which I don’t worry about the other’s reactions to me. I am not nice to her to make her happy, but rather because she is my friend—whether she is happy or not is outside my control. No matter what Coldplay says, we can’t “fix” other people, precisely because we are people, not machines. That is why psychotherapy relies on the cooperation of the client—through therapy, the individual is empowered to fix himself.
I will make an effort to invest less of myself in the reactions and feelings of others—not because I don’t care how they feel, but rather because I need to recognize my own limitations both for my own good and for yours. Truly honoring your feelings means accompanying you in them, not trying to change them for you. Sharing your sadness has just as much value as inadvertently transforming it into happiness (and much greater value than deliberately taking your sadness from you).
Sorry for those readers who find this to be pretty basic stuff, but here’s the kicker: I have realized that these same issues have been playing out in my relationship with God as well. Without even realizing it, I have tried to define my relationship with God on my own terms instead of abandoning myself to God’s terms. Trying to reorganize my human relationships seems *relatively* easy because I can compare those with whom I already relate healthfully to those with whom I should relate more healthfully. With God though? Because I only have one relationship quite like that, it is hard to know what “better” looks like. After all, just like I’m not God, most of my friends aren’t either.
I know I need to let God do the heavy lifting as we redefine this relationship; I just need to stay out of the way while still showing up. I’m not sure how to walk that line, but I have a feeling it’s not up to me to figure this one out. There’s a dance I’m being invited to, and it’s not my job to lead this time.
A lot of introspection this week (again). Sorry, not trying to punish my readers! To recover, may I suggest this week’s “ear candy”, a song well-known and well-loved. And if anybody else might relate a tiny little bit to what I have written about control, check out the “brain food” for some ideas about how to get over yourself.
Ear Candy: “Let It Be” by the Beatles
Brain Food: “6 Ways to Let Go of Control & Enjoy Life More” by Raven Ishak
Come back next Saturday for a new post!