This year, I took a slightly different approach than the previous years. It seems to me that, when I react badly to something, there's usually a cause or a trigger. So one of my goals this Lent was, every time I found myself reacting badly to a situation in a way that I could recognize as unkind or unloving, I would make a point not to justify my reaction by blaming the person who wronged me -- and, yes, they may have genuinely wronged me -- but still my goal would be to track down why that particular situation made me struggle or fail at kindness. I wanted to determine what about that situation made it difficult for me, so I could look for a way to handle the situation better the next time it came up.
Here are some samples of things that triggered unkind/unloving reactions:
- Someone suggested that I didn't know what I was talking about. My pride was so offended that I was tempted to go on a know-it-all binge in order to make it very clear that I was deserving of respect on that topic. I'm sure I've failed that temptation before. I expect that, if I ever go on a know-it-all binge, it was probably a trigger-reaction of that type. Sad to say, my pride came up more than once this Lent in relation to areas where I have professional or personal expertise. In addition to the temptation to go "know-it-all" in reaction to a perceived slight, there is also a more general temptation to one-upmanship that I'm trying to resist.
- Someone had requested information about a topic which I then researched and prepared for her; she didn't come to receive it at the scheduled time, or contact me to let me know she couldn't make it. So my efforts were not only unrecognized but (it seemed at the time) wasted. In general, I probably resent when my efforts go unrecognized, unnoticed, or unvalued. Writing this, I wonder how often I fail to recognize the efforts of others. So noticing my own resentment here may help me "do unto others as I would have them do unto me". It could help spur me to pay more attention to other peoples' helpfulness. On a related note, it would be good for me to become skilled at the art of praise and encouragement, in order to be able to recognize other people properly.
- I found myself hesitating to recognize or acknowledge the good in someone who I believe, in general, does more harm than good. I know this hesitation is a fault that I have; I also know I'm not alone in it. But if we're preventing ourselves from noticing the good that other people are doing, then we may well wonder whether they're really doing more harm than good, or whether we just don't notice the good that they do.
- I struggle with even wanting to love a specific person who has done a great deal of harm to various people on a personal level, and is an active member of several groups that I have seen promote hatred and misinformation about their opponents. Here I tried to stop and recognize -- even if just within my own mind for now -- anything that person (as an individual) has achieved, endured, or overcome in her private life. If we're to love our neighbors, our enemies, everyone -- then that's a step.
- I rediscovered that I could work on my skills for confrontations and how to keep them civil. It's not really an optional skill set, for those of us who want to be able to remain gracious in all situations. At a crowded store, I did everybody's usual routine of carefully choosing a line where, yes, the "line open" light was on and the line was the most reasonable length I could find even though that was still long enough. I waited patiently til I got to the front of the line, only to have the checker flip off her light as I got to the front and say that this line is closed now, effectively sending me to the back of the line again in some other lane, after I had already spent considerable time waiting my turn. I'll give myself a mixed review on this one as I managed not to shout at the checker but shot her a disgusted look as I left, definitely angry. If I had managed to leave graciously that would be one thing. And I think that, even from the checker's point-of-view, it might have been kinder if I had stood my ground and said that the light was on when I got into the line, that I had waited my turn, that I had a small number of items and that I expected to be checked out. (It turned out to be a good thing that I thought through that situation and some ways to react better. It was scarcely a week later when roughly the same thing happened again at another store, and this time I was far better equipped to handle it calmly and graciously.)
My basic premise is this: that when I have a noticeably bad reaction to something, that there is some kind of malware of the mind -- some character flaw -- behind my bad reaction. And that if I set a watch on my own reactions to catch the bad ones, then those bad spots will make themselves known. At that point, instead of justifying them, I can go after them with prayer, humility, or whatever else may be required. If it's a serious quest to love my neighbor in all circumstances, then I want to level out those rough places.