Healthy self-care leads to an attitude of gratitude, and gratitude leads to graciousness. We’re so happy to be alive that we become less demanding and more understanding of others.
Last week I talked about gratitude as a sure sign that you’re taking good care of yourself. When your routine includes regular doses of healthy self-care, it’s hard not to feel thankful and glad to be alive. That’s true in good times and in bad. Tend the garden of your soul and you’ll harvest gratitude as one of the first fruits.
Mixed in with the harvest of gratitude you’re sure to find sprigs of graciousness. The two grow well together. One might say they have a symbiotic or mutually beneficial relationship. The more thankful we are to be alive, the less demanding and more understanding we can be of others.
Instead of obstinate, we can see them as strong. Instead of ugly, we can see them as nervous. Instead of prejudiced, we can see them as scared. Instead of self-serving, we can see them as thoughtful. Instead of slow and lazy, we can see them as deliberate and careful. Instead of spendthrift, we can see them as generous. Instead of weak, we can see them as humble. Instead of extravagant, we can them as fashionable. Instead of spiteful, we can see them as frank. Instead of foolhardy, we can see them as shrewd.
Such willingness to give another person the benefit of the doubt and to respond with understanding rather than impatience is the essence of graciousness. The gracious person suspends his or her judgment of others in order to focus on where the other is coming from and what they’re going through.
I’ve had countless opportunities to ponder this mystery. When I was in the parish ministry, I would frequently become privy to people’s secret lives and pains. Walking down the sidewalk or riding in an elevator, you may have no idea that the person next to you just lost a loved one, a job, a relationship, or a fortune • let alone their health, integrity, trust, or home. You may also know nothing of the exhilaration, expectation, or triumph they may be feeling. Yet all these things and more factor into who they are and how they act at this point and time.
Gracious people understand this and conduct themselves accordingly, both one-on-one and in groups. They embody the 800-year-old wisdom of St. Francis, when he prayed, “Lord, make me an instrument of your peace … grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled, as to console; to be understood, as to understand; to be loved, as to love.”
Stephen Covey picked up on this ancient wisdom when he flagged it as the fifth habit of highly effective people: “seek first to understand, then to be understood.” Covey calls this habit the practice of empathic communication. “(This) involves,” Covey writes, “a very deep shift in paradigm. We typically seek first to be understood. Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply. They’re either speaking or preparing to speak. They’re filtering everything through their own paradigms, reading their autobiography into other people’s lives.” (The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, Simon & Schuster • New York, 1989).
That’s not the way of gracious people. Gracious people patiently seek to get inside another person’s frame of reference. They are so thankful just to be alive, that they graciously extend courtesy and respect to others. They neither look down upon nor condemn. They simply bring the spotlight of their undivided, nonjudgmental attention to the joys and sorrows, the ups and downs, the triumphs and tragedies, the twists and turns of life. In the process of doing so, and often without any particular agenda to serve as change agents, they become powerful conduits of transformational energy. It’s no wonder that Covey calls them “highly effective people.”
Are you a gracious person? If you are, then you’re probably taking good care of yourself. When we feel neglected or abused, stressed or tired, chaotic or crazy, rushed or hungry, then we really can’t extend a gracious presence to others. But when these basic needs are met, and when we allow ourselves to appreciate that fact, we can stop demanding and start understanding others. We can shift our way in the world to a softer touch. We can let go of irritation and resentment in order to hold on to love.
May you be filled with goodness, peace, and joy.
Bob Tschannen-Moran, MCC, BCC