It is natural to find fault with things. It can be very frustrating for responsible people to witness irresponsible actions and attitudes. If we’re not careful, we can become cynical and bitter about the world and life in general. Then, we tend to not like people. This is a tragedy.
This article could end up being a deep dive into the psychology of focus or an attempt to guilt us into “putting on a happy face.” Neither of which would be beneficial in my opinion.
Many years ago I listened to a corporate trainer who shared a paradigm that suggested that we are able to see only what we are prepared to see. I couple that with numerous teachings from other mentors and even Christian Scripture that instructs people to think about good, positive, pure, and encouraging things. I’m not naive and understand we have to deal with and often mitigate negative experiences, but I fear that our present culture wakes up daily with the mantra, “let’s see what’s gonna be wrong today.”
There are a few recipes, that if mixed on the right day, can make me very frustrated with a cynical bent. A little over a year ago, I allowed other people’s foolishness to overcome my joy, and in turn, I lost my motivation for everything, and I lost my health. Like all lessons worth learning, this one was very costly and painful.
I know of many remedies for this, and during that time, I ignored some of the effective truths that I have held my entire life. It wasn’t until I had the gift of being still and having to deal with very traumatic and life-changing personal matters that my mind was freed from the less important. We often spend the majority of our time on things that we cannot control, thinking about the problem with no solution, and internalizing everything. This is not living.
A good friend said jokingly, “knowledge is knowing that a tomato is a fruit but wisdom is knowing not to put it in a fruit salad.’
I could debate that, but the simplicity of the statement resonates.
When we face cynicism and bitterness we have to remember a few key realities and practice several key disciplines:
Negative Things Are Not Going Away
I hate to say something so negative, but it’s true. There is more “bad” in the world than we want to admit. And negative stories, reports, and people get the most attention because like a tabloid, nasty gossip and vitriol get noticed over peace and positivity. Knowing this, we now can make disciplined choices on not only realizing we are not going to rid the world of bad things, but that we are not enslaved to focus on them.
Emotions Are Not Truth Tellers
What we feel should be understood like a dashboard in a car. We see the lights and gauges as information guides to be noticed, reviewed, and acted upon intentionally in order to keep the trip on the road. If every time we saw our low fuel light come on we spun the car around on the highway and drove into the ditch, we would soon experience disaster. Yet, in that same way, we often allow our emotions to take control of the wheel. For the most part, our emotions show us something needs attention, then we are to handle the response with clarity and focus. If we do not do this, we will succumb to the false narrative that emotions inevitably present. Then we believe a lie. This is what wisdom is all about. It’s something our world needs more of.
Reasoned Interaction with Thoughts and Feelings Is Mandatory
This heading speaks for itself, but I didn’t want to just merge it with the previous point so that we can think about the practice. Reasoned interaction is having the discipline to deal with anything as we are able to control it. Letting go of what we cannot control is part of sanity. We also must keep this important practice at the forefront of our minds. When we do, we are free from the mental anguish and foolishness that drives us to despair and destruction. Our ability to reason and engage anything with soundness enables us also to set boundaries that enable us to stay focused on our destination, or with any problem, the right solution. I find it very interesting that so many people of ‘faith’ ignore the practical teaching that encourages this very idea.
Find Expressive Outlets with Those Who Care
Focusing on NOT doing something often brings with it a level of negativity. I mean the best way to think about an orange cat is to be told not to think about an orange cat. Replacing the focus is key. One healthy way to engage in this is to put energy into things that are creative and expressive outlets. Finding these outlets is vital as is making sure they are beneficial to our growth and joy. This is best accomplished by sharing experiences with those who share our passions. For instance, with my renewed focus on writing, I want to be sure I am sharing solutions and expressing things in a manner that promotes by values and goals so that many of you will join the conversation.
Hold to what Has the Greatest Value
We keep safe that which is valuable. We lock our homes, we put jewels and cash in safes, and we take care to prioritize taking care of things that hold worth. For instance, we may pressure wash our homes and maintain our cars, but we won’t spend the same amount of effort wringing out and drying the paper towel after drying our hands. (Although I do use a paper towel several times and keep them in my back right pocket all day long – then I throw them all away at the end of the day.)
Sometimes we have to make judgments on keeping one thing at the cost of another. This includes real estate, personal property, clothes, ideas, beliefs, and relationships. When we constantly engage in the bitter-breeding circles of life, we are saying that these things have greater value than others. (I may need to write more on this matter). Are the trolls on Twitter more valuable than the engaging supporters? Does the complaining neighbor who rants about everything hold more importance than reading to our children? Is the new Netflix series so important that it costs you the ability to play the piano, relate to your spouse, or learn a new language?
See, a trade-off is in play at every step. — side note —
As a child, there were certain areas of my grandparents’ home that were off-limits. Certain furnishings and table decor would afford us quick fierce reprimand if we sat or touched. Delicate Tiffany lamps, Japanese china, and linen table clothes were guarded against the hands of wild beasts (kids) because they were costly and breakable. As my great-grandmother used to say, “These are nice, now, very very nice.” (emphasis in the Southern drawl on “niiiiiice”)
In this economy, when my children came around, I had the same tenacity to protect these valuable artifacts. One particular item was an antique, hand-painted, Japanese candy dish. I can recall vividly how every child in the family would be scolded for lifting the lid on this so as to not drop and break it. Visiting my grandparents with my own children one day, my oldest child, did what I was never permitted to do. Opened the jar, slammed down the lid, and broke this priceless tether to Japanese royalty into six shards of trash.
Taking this into my grandmother made me feel 9 again. Here I was, a grown man, a father of three at the time, walking into the sewing room to reveal this disaster. While I knew there would be no anger or consequences, I still feared that this had value and survived five generations until mine, the final generation! As I walked into the room, she was sewing on her machine, finishing a hem on some window treatments. I held these shards in my hands, she peered left, never stopping the machine, paused, reached down under the table picked up the waste basket, and said, “Here, put that junk in here.”
“I don’t think you see what this is”, I replied.
“Yes, it’s just a piece of glass and it has no eternal value at all, PUT IT where it belongs!”, she retorted.
Casting that glass into the bin, the sound of her Janome roaring back to life, and my pulse being stuck in my throat… a moment of learning that I will never forget. This thing had value, but not that much. And in the scheme of things, me and my family were much more valuable than any glass dish.
We have to know what is important over what is in the way.
Know the End
The old adage, “Begin with the end in mind” will never lose its priority. If we do not know what we are living for, if we do not know our goals, if we do not have the ability to see how everything is either marching us toward what is valuable, if we do not know what has value, then we are just being carried along by every idea, iteration, and idiot that comes our way.
Knowing what we want and desire overall and in each small niche is paramount. I think Jesus made this very clear in His teaching. He kept His focus and never swayed. No matter the cost.
Look in the Right Direction
Here is the key difference between those who are stuck in a cycle of fear and frustration vs. those who live in a state of rest and freedom. The former look through the lens of emotionally-driven experiences while the latter stays focused on the goal, the end, and the point. For some of us, we hold to spiritual truths, key religious promises, and the hopes of a world where there is no night, death, or disaster. In the meantime, we are also able to live life by seeing where we want to be today, tomorrow, and ten years from now, making detours to get back on track when we realize we’ve looked in the wrong direction.
As long as we are looking for the bad, it’s all we will find. When we look to see how we’ve come through other hardships, managed other problems, and maintained intimate friendships in spite of the bad, we have a marker to look back on and are empowered to march forward knowing we can do it again.
What other practical things have you employed to help you keep your focus? How have you successfully managed a difficult situation? What advice would you give me and others in addition to what I’ve said already?