by Elisebeth VanderWeil, Ph.D.
It is very easy for us (humans, that is) to slip down the spiral of negativity and "dark vision" when faced with on-going distress or confusion. Our animal nature is very good at preparing us for potential threats, creating scenarios and activating reactions that position us for survival in a crisis. The problem is there very often is no crisis or threat at all, or anything as bad as what we imagine. Thus we are left depleted, depressed – possibly looking for or creating a fight just to act out our preparations.
I have recently experienced significant upheavals in life - particularly a new marriage, a new house-sitting situation and new responsibilities at work. I have felt at the whim of fate; confused in the midst of changing or absent information and direction. As these situations went on for a few weeks, I noticed my growing tendency to cast those around me in a "dark light" – assigning malevolent motivations, nasty character traits, and emphasizing how wrong they are in almost every aspect of their behavior. Consequently, I was becoming darker myself; I was less happy, felt heavier, and had little energy to do the work before me.
I didn't like me and this wasn't working. I remembered that we still have power, even when we don't have control.
So I changed the story.
Stories are very powerful - leaders use them all the time to inspire, create, and motivate the people who look to them for guidance. However, stories are especially powerful when we don't know we're telling them. The human imagination is capable of creating our realities to a great degree: we can take a compliment and make it an insult, we can see a mistake as an opportunity, and we can choose connection over conflict when disagreements arise. When we perceive feelings, motivations, assumptions, and values in others, we meld them with our perceptions which have arrived at our awareness after moving through a lot of filters (experiences, histories, values, and emotions). Our imaginations can create entire worlds around us and it is up to us to set intentions and forms, to lead the worlds in which we want to live.
So here's my new story:
The people who appear chaotic or distant around me are under a lot of stress themselves. They are doing the best they can in this situation and are coming from a place of depleted resources because of past crises. I am here to help them live the way they truly want to live, how they would be conducting themselves if they were functioning as their best selves. I have been given the opportunity to be their gift, no strings attached.
What story can you give yourself and the people around you in order to open the gifts that are present?
VanderWeil works as the Director of Organizational Leadership at Mountain State University and holds a Ph.D. in Leadership Studies from Gonzaga University. Her seemingly disconnected yet thematic work experience has provided her with the skills and experience to remain curious, flexible, decisive, and knowledgeable in many realms.