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In a conversation recently, I had a disagreement with an acquaintance around my age (53), and I was struck by how civil we both were. “If I may,” he interjected, as I made my point, “That’s not the case.” He continued for a moment, and then I interrupted politely, saying, “I’d like to point out…” and I made my argument. At the end of the conversation, we were still cordial.

It made me wonder if civility is actually an extinct language. It may have gone the way of Latin. It still exists, but very few people are fluent.

It can be difficult to remain calm when you’re talking to someone who’s being decidedly uncivil. Being civil doesn’t mean you’re not allowed to say what’s on your mind. Bluntness may even be required, but never belittling, or using pejorative or profane terms.

When I feel angry, hurt or offended in some way, I try to put it into words immediately. My son knows that when I come to him and say, “You know my policy; I have to tell you how I feel about what you just said”,  that’s the time for him to speak plainly as well.

Recalibrating my communication settings to say what I mean freed my soul from the clutches of grudges. That toxic energy only takes up space that’s meant for grace. Once you clear that parking spot, you’ll find you’ve made room for incoming blessings. Who knows? They might be circling overhead right now, waiting for you to wave them into your life.

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Once upon a time, I was a world-class grudge bearer. I’d harbor ill-will toward people who’d wronged me for years on end. But when I found faith again about ten years ago, I realized that there’s only so much space in your heart. If you only store the broken china and the ratty old throw rugs of the past, there’s not much room left for good things to come.

So I came up with a couple of personal policies.

  • If you say something to me that is factually accurate, I won’t get mad.
  • If you say something factually accurate, but say it in a “jerky” way (as we say in Jersey), I’ll respond immediately, while (hopefully) keeping my cool. I won’t harbor it in my heart ad infinitum, but will make sure you know that how you said it was not acceptable.

Get it out, or you store it up. Say what you have to say. If not? You put it on layaway.

Before you know it, that person will be doing that same thing again in the same way. But at that point, you’ll really be steamed. Why do they keep doing this? Don’t they know better?

Sometimes they do.

But what if they don’t?

Could it be that they don’t realize that most people don’t stand two inches from your face in a conversation? I had to gently correct one of my son’s friends who had that habit when he was younger. “Personal space, please, son,” I said. After that, he gave everyone space. I actually did him a favor by giving him this advice.

When somebody crosses a line, you’ve got the right to speak your piece, for your own peace of mind. You may even help them break bad habits they didn’t even realize they had.

Have a Mary Little Christmas

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