Category Archives: Philosophical Counseling

Living Graciously…

 Graciousness was once highly prized in our culture, especially in women. Simple courtesy became second nature for girls by an early age; and manners were cultivated alongside music and languages in every true lady.

The practice of this esteemed virtue often resulted in prejudice and oppressive. And yet, I wonder if in this case, we have thrown out the baby with the bathwater. As we have thrown off the chains of forced grace, have we limited our ability to live graciously by choice and intent?

Allow me to give an example.

A few days ago, while checking out at the grocery, I was greeted by a young cashier who could best be described as snotty. Approximately 17 years old, her rude demeanor and unrelenting scowl put only one thought in my mind. “Honey, didn’t your mama raise you right?”

Such behavior is so commonplace these days that I am typically desensitized to it. However, this girl’s attitude struck me that day because it came on the heels of another encounter with a cashier.

This time, I was rude one. Sparing you the gory details, suffice it to say this woman bent over backwards to get me what I wanted in just the way I wanted it in spite of the fact that I was, shall we say, undeserving of her help.

Most importantly, she did all this with a smile on her face, a pleasant demeanor and an ease that let me know this was no mere public persona. Grace was as natural to her as breathing. And her positive behavior was contagious, infecting my face with a smile before I left.

The contrast between these two incidents gave me pause. The second cashier acted as a mirror for my own lack of grace, and a reminder of the frequency with which disrespectful clashes occur in our world. Cashier number one, on the other hand, was a role model for far rarer path of politeness. I began to think about what is it that causes even women who should know better – my mama did teach me a thing or two – to so easily forgo graciousness.

The results of my informal poll suggest that women are less gracious today due to a lack self-confidence. A confident woman would have no need to tear down another person regardless of the circumstances. She would have a strong enough sense of self to deal with another’s negativity without succumbing to it. Disrespect of others is a sign these women lack respect for themselves.

A couple of women suggested that gracious indicates weakness. In a world where women are too often still striving to be taken seriously, being gracious might be mistaken for a lack of assertiveness. Women, they posited, become overly assertive to avoid being seen as vulnerable.

Two respondents thought women today are too busy to be polite. Rudeness, they said, comes about when women try to do too much in too short a time. When overwhelmed with schedules and obligations, graciousness takes on a low priority.

Finally, one lone woman said that people today are simply more interested in their own lives than they are in the lives of others. If being respectful to another produces a consequence that a woman wants, then she will do it. If not, she will do what serves her interests even if that means someone else gets hurt along the way.

All of these positions have merit and may be true to some extent. But I would like to suggest another possibility that my friends did not explore. Gracious living is less common in our culture because we are socially lazy. We are used to making the least effort possible in our social interactions and often cringe at the thought of being expected to try harder.

This should come as no surprise to us. After all, the very forces that were designed to make communication easier also make much of our communication increasingly superficial. Why write a letter when you can e-mail? Why make a phone call when you can text? Why read the book when you can see the movie? Why speak to a real person when you can play a video game? Why go out when everything you need can come to your computer screen?

It does not take much time from even the busiest schedule to smile or offer a kind word. “Have a nice day” is hardly a phrase that signifies weakness in its speaker. Instead, it’s far more likely that we fail to give one another basic human respect for the same reason we hesitate to get out of our chairs to change the channel on the TV. When we are primed to expect and prefer easy interactions, it takes a great deal of focus and commitment to do otherwise.

Much as easy fast food meals will not nourish our bodies in the healthiest way, lazy social manners that center on the immediate gratification of our own needs will never feed our souls, or those of the people we meet. They will, however, often reveal the worst elements of our individual characters.

Just as we must flex our physical muscles to make them stronger, we will only become more gracious by acting more graciously. Begin to challenge social laziness with one small step. Spend one entire day with this resolve. “No matter what others give to me, I will give them respect. I will live graciously.”

Your graciousness just may become contagious too!

Dr. Janice Staab is a philosophical counselor and life coach. For more information on her services or to schedule your free consultation, e-mail info@lifesignscoaching.com. You can also visit her at www.lifesignscoaching.com or on Facebook at http://facebook.com/lifesignscoaching.

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The grass is rarely greener in anyone else’s yard…no matter what it seems

Yesterday, amidst a mini pity party, I chanced to think a stray thought of a guy who ended his life a few years ago. I was not particularly close to this person. Despite that, he was one of the last people I would have thought would take such action.
You see, “Matt” was the golden boy. He was class president and captain of the football team. He had above average intelligence and, over the years, learned how to use it. He was married to his high school sweetheart and had beautiful, successful kids.
“Matt” was beloved by many friends and community members. He devoted much of his time and energy to our alma mater and other community programs. He was the kind of guy whose life just seemed to be blessed from the ground up.
“Seemed” is, I suppose, the key word here. We looked in at this man’s life from the outside and saw green grass and blue skies. Yet, something led him to believe that his life had no meaning or only negative meaning. That something was powerful enough to make him ignore the blessings and embrace only the pain.
The day he chose to be his last was also his child’s birthday. Ample opportunity for celebration existed in that day, as it does in every day that we open our eyes to see the sun. But concentration on the things in his life that seemed suddenly and irrevocably overwhelming prevented any joy to peek through.
I thank God that I do not understand that mindset from the inside out. Like all of us, I have experienced challenging times and sad times. I have done some really foolish and nasty things at times. And I have reels of mental tapes which I would love to selectively erase using my best Watergate tactics.
Through it all, however, I have never believed that the bad times I caused or endured were permanent. I always had a tremendous inner faith that good balances evil, that healing happens even when we do not seek it, that God is in His heaven and all is essentially right with the world.
Even when I did not feel empowered to make changes for the good, I knew they were on the way. You do not cry for help without a belief that someone who wants to help you is listening. And I always knew that my sorrow and weakness was a shared experience.
“Matt” did not have this faith. Perhaps it was because he was the golden boy to whom others looked for support. Perhaps fear and pain robbed him of the strength to cry out to anyone.
Then again, perhaps “Matt” did cry out and was not heard. After all, we had the same expectations of him that he did. We expected him to be able to handle his own problems as easily as he seemed to handle the rest of his life.
We believed that he was strong and empowered. That was the “Matt” to whom we could relate. If we had met the “Matt” who exhibited weakness and made major mistakes, we might not have recognized him.
In an essay called, “Is Life Worth Living,” William James said the following. “Be not afraid of life. Believe that life is worth living, and your belief will help create the fact.”
James was right. Believing that life contains beauty and worth compels us to seek after those things. On the other hand, believing that live is worthless blocks the beauty of life from our view.
Believing that we must put on a front of perfection for the world can blind us to the depth of our own pain. Masks, however, can only hide our pain for a time. When circumstances and tides shift beneath us making it impossible for us to ignore that storehouse of inner tumult any longer, the result can be complete overwhelm.
The moral of the story is this. Ditch the unrealistic expectations that you place upon yourself or those you love. See your life and theirs for what they are, not what you need them to be.
Doing so may be painful in the short run. Glancing in the mirror to find the core of your humanness staring back at you can be daunting. But it will also be healing … and far easier that the crisis that avoiding the truth could one day cause.
If for some reason you are not able to see the beauty and worth of your life, please know that this is only because your vision is clouded … like mine was during the aforementioned pity party! All human life has beauty and worth regardless of the circumstances in which it occurs.
Give yourself the gift of believing this is true. Then share it with others!
Dr. Janice Staab is a philosophical counselor and life coach. For more information on her services or to schedule your free consultation, e-mail info@lifesignscoaching.com. You can also check out her Web site at http://www.lifesignscoaching.com.

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