It was a rough weekend. I was presenting at a conference in Rhode Island, and from the beginning – actually, from before the beginning – things just weren’t going right. I won’t go into the details of all what was wrong…but things were just off. Not in terms of individuals – everyone I met with personally, working for the convention, for the hotel, people attending my classes, reunions with old friends and even a couple of meetings with clients and colleagues were wonderful.
There were, however, many logistical difficulties. Email mixups, lost itineraries, unexpected costs…and it added up. There was a moment, early on, when I started having a very bitter and sarcastic reaction – in fact, I was this close to making snarky social media comments (the equivalent of the British “I’m going to write a letter!“).
I caught myself just in time, and I remember saying out loud to Natasha as we traveled through the hallways: “Active constructive. Active constructive. ACTIVE CONSTRUCTIVE!” just to try and put a different spin on things.
Not terribly successfully. I managed to stay polite, but as the errors and poor planning by committees began to compound, I found myself losing my ability to find the bright side of anything. At a certain point I was following Natasha towards a classroom where I was to present on cigar mannerisms – and things were getting worse. We’d hoped to recoup some of our expenses for the weekend by selling some merchandise, but that’s dependent on class size and traffic. But she’d located the classroom earlier, and I could tell by her expression that she wasn’t expecting me to be happy.
Sure enough, we passed through the crowds…then the occasional few people…then just maybe a hotel staff member here and there as we moved further from the lobby. Down a dark hallway, past the out-of-order elevator and the stacked maid’s carts and and down a flight of stairs (marked Keep door closed at all times) and I finally started laughing.
She turned back to me with a questioning look. I smiled at her. “You know what?” I said. “I’ve just lost my last f*&k. I have no more to give. That was it, I’ve run out completely.”
Natasha gave me a bit of a worried look – I don’t normally say things quite like that – but I was also smiling and laughing, so we continued to the classroom. And there, before a group of about twelve people, I gave a fun presentation on the history and practice of cigars in social and theatrical contexts.
It was amazing how much easier it was to reach the active constructive response when I no longer was trying to control things, or even have any expectation of them going as expected or, really, well at all. It reminded me of a recent essay by Mark Manson which is as full of brilliance as it is of profanity, and if certain words offend you, you might NOT want to click on that link. I have put a filter on the pertinent section, though, because it is truly wisdom:
…in a strange way, this is liberating. We no longer need to give a **** about everything. Life is just what it is. We accept it, warts and all. We realize that we’re never going to cure cancer or go to the moon or feel Jennifer Aniston’s ****. And that’s OK. Life ****ing goes on. We now reserve our ever-dwindling ****s only for the most truly ****worthy parts of our lives: our families, our best friends, our golf swing. And to our astonishment, this is enough. This simplification actually makes us really ****ing happy.
And yes, that’s exactly what happened. The key to the active constructive response when everything – even the weather – seemed to keep me from it was being able to lose my last bit of hope. To give up and just go along with whatever was coming next.
Not sure if it’s possible to authentically reach that state without lots of meditative practice and probably a few episodes of satori. But I can tell you that it felt great. Certainly something worth cultivating in our efforts to reach that ACR state.
1 thought on “The Secret Key to Active Constructive Response”
I usually go with the shorter version “Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity.” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hanlon%27s_razor
Makes it much easier to put down anger and frustration toward people and situations I encounter that are no fault of mine or even the person I’m dealing with. Everyone has their own lives of which I am a teeny tiny momentary blip.