I’ve had my fair share of ‘trouble’ with this post. I had been working on it, on and off, for over 6 months – and several drafts and countless revisions later I still hadn’t gotten beyond the opening paragraph! I think that’s because it’s about anger and frustration – and however lucidly and intelligently expressed, these are feelings that tend to make people feel uncomfortable – so I wanted to take great care in articulating mine. I got really bogged down after a while!
But this morning, while lying in bed listening to the rain, it occurred to me that perhaps the writing would start to flow if I began this post by first sharing my definition or understanding of the word “gracious” to set the tone, context and direction of this article.
I define it as the embodiment of many other qualities beyond the obvious virtues associated with the word. I think graciousness suggests transcendence, humility, understanding and forgiveness…
It’s about rising above the petty and the small and taking the proverbial high road. It’s also about gratitude and generosity of spirit: giving thanks for even the littlest things; occasionally allowing someone to win an insignificant argument or contest because their ego craves the victory more than you need to make a point; or giving someone the opportunity to salvage their pride or dignity when they realise their mistake. Graciousness stems from respect: it’s about indiscriminately extending the same courtesy and measure of civility to everyone you meet, irrespective of status or perceived worth; having the self-respect to endure humiliation, defeat or being put in your place from time to time; defending your belief or point of view while respectfully acknowledging your opponent’s right to do the same and knowing when to shut up, listen and introspect…
I could go on and on, but I’m sure you get the thrust of it.
Yet, anyone who’s aspired to living their life in such a high-principled way will tell you that being gracious doesn’t come easily or all that naturally. It appears to be in our nature to be protective and reactive. Prevailing over a powerful self-preservation instinct, social conditioning or first impressions is a conscious choice – and requires a concerted effort on one’s part. You’re at pains to always put yourself in the other person’s shoes, look at the bigger picture and factor in any extenuating circumstances that may have informed their behaviour.
Putting it simply, being gracious can be a real chore!
But I don’t mind that part. No sir, effort and diligence aren’t the trouble with gracious. I rather like putting in the work. It makes me feel like a better version of myself.
The real trouble with batting for the G Team is the fact that it frequently allows the other squad – who play outside of the rules – to get away with all kinds of trespasses and atrocities. And therefore, they’re seldom under any pressure to own up to any of it. Trying to be the bigger person is like getting into a brawl with your hands tied behind your back. The injustice of it all really grates!
One day, during a conversation with my closest friend and confidante, I was venting on the subject – with particular reference to a member of my family who has played havoc with the lives of the people he claims to love – and she re-echoed something I had said to her years before…
“If anyone can afford to be gracious in this situation, it’s you.”
Glenda has a (slightly annoying) tendency to be right a lot of the time, but in this particular instance I felt that being magnanimous was just going to let this pathetic, weasel of a man off the hook – yet again. What he needed was a sobering wake-up call to the pain he was causing. If he was blithely unaware of it, then perhaps the information would have been useful in prompting him to alter his behaviour (Yeah, right!). On the other hand, if he was well aware of it, then being confronted on it would have made it explicitly clear that someone was on to him and wasn’t going to stand for any of it. Now, I don’t derive any pleasure from punishing people for their actions (no really) but I do demand that they be accountable for them. In other words, I will call them on it. I refuse to take part in perpetuating the problem by making it easy or convenient for folks to brazenly play out their dysfunction – scott-free and with an unhampered conscience. If we don’t reflect people back to themselves, it’s unlikely that they will ever come to fully understand the impact (positive or negative) their conduct has on the people around them.
No one in my family had seriously challenged this person before, because he was a brute (albeit a very charismatic one) with a turbulent childhood that left him with a major chip on his shoulder – and a talent for playing both the victim and the bully. A ‘Victim/Bully’ see-saws effortlessly between the two extremes to adapt to the situation or when it suit his/her ends – so you won’t get anywhere if you adopt a warlike stance.
And in any case that’s not my style.
I’m of the opinion that all monstrous behaviour conceals a vulnerable core that’s remarkably easy to uncover if you possess the right tools. My approach is to stealthily observe, decrypt and mirror people back to themselves. It may seem benign but, as I’ve discovered, the consequences of doing so can be incredibly devastating – because when you unmask someone it leaves them with little or no recourse for saving face. It’s brutal, confronting and humiliating.
I don’t enjoy watching people claw and squirm, so on most occasions I bite my tongue – while a silent prayer plays over and over again in my head…
“Please don’t make me expose you for what you really are.”
Those are the moments when the gift of graciousness feels more like a curse. And the capacity for being the ‘bigger’ person is as much a burden as it is a blessing.
But I choose to not have it any other way.
That’s the damn trouble with gracious!