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Small Shifts, Big Changes

This can be a stressful time of year. Extra activities. Added tasks. Elevated expectations. High hopes. And people. Ah, people. Family gatherings. Parties with friends. Get-togethers with coworkers. Decision-making with spouses. If only people weren’t so human, we think. If only people would behave as we would like them to. If only people would behave! We often think of this season as being one of peace… gentle, snow-covered lawns with soft, twinkling lights making magic in the extended darkness of the night. A warm fire inside with patient and loving people helping one another. Ah, if only…

We know in our heart of hearts that we cannot change another person. We might want to, and we might even offer our suggestions with the best of intentions. But the other person must choose to make changes… or not. Well-known writer Max Lucado says it this way: “Each of us has a fantasy that our family will be like the Waltons [but] we can’t control the way our family responds to us. When it comes to the behavior of others toward us, our hands are tied. We have to move beyond the naive expectation that if we do good, people will treat us right. The fact is they may and they may not – we cannot control how people respond to us.”

What we can manage is our response to others. There’s a world of difference between a response and a reaction when it comes to relating to others. While gathered at the family dinner table one evening years ago, my mother commented, “That light fixture really needs a good cleaning.” My father nearly exploded with a volatile “Well, when do you think I’m going to find time to do that?” It wasn’t a Walton-esque scene. If only my mother had expressed herself differently and if only my father had responded rather than reacted. If only. If only they had made small shifts in their language and in their listening, there might have been a big change in the outcome.

Small shifts in attitudes, in listening, and in speaking often yield big changes in our relating to others of our kind. Even if others still react to us rather than respond to us, we may have the peace within ourselves that we have sought to relate kindly and respectfully with others. Not a one of us is an expert in interpersonal relations but we do have it in us to think about our words before we speak them and to listen to the words of others with compassion. Such small shifts just might bring about big changes in our experiences of this stressful time of year… and at all times during the year!

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