On one of those lovely sunny evenings in the Pacific Northwest, a girlfriend and I enjoyed supper before dashing off to a concert together. Although I’d known Nancy for a couple of years, I was only familiar with her role as a teacher and PhD student in an exotic European travel program. As we munched on crusty home-baked bread, veggies and raw pesto dip, she spoke about her kids and two-decade long marriage that was just now ending in divorce.
I empathized and said, “You have your very own perfectly horrible thing.”
The words resonated with Nancy and she smiled as she repeated them.
“These events we live through are genuinely awful,” I said citing a challenging divorce where people can go seemingly nuts once money is on the table, or in another situation, witnessing your home destroyed by fire.
“A colleague at work shared how one of his family members had barely escaped the firestorm in Los Angeles a couple years ago. Although his wife and sons dashed from the fierce rolling waves of fire, all that they owned was enveloped in the flames. He shared a pic of the impeding wall of fire as they sprinted down the street, and believe me it was terrifying.”
We can list a myriad of horrific events: a devastating war—the Gulf, Sudan, Vietnam, WWII—and, inside each of these occurrences are thousands of separate incidents that are psychologically disturbing and destructive physically, emotionally and spiritually. We have all the recent incidents: the Gulf Oil Spill, Japan’s Tsunami and the Fukushima nuclear accident still ongoing with challenges to halt radioactivity to our earth and sky. Then, add diseases like cancer, heart conditions and learning disabilities like autism to the list of personal traumas that touch our lives.
These are extreme personal provocations, and we all experience one or several during our lives—our own perfectly horrible thing that’s customized just for us. Each challenge facilitates our spiritual growth, softens our hearts and most of all, enables us to be more compassionate, for others live just as we do—the gift of unity is closer within reach.
Understanding and being understood
When we realize that we all have our own frightful confrontations, and open up with a softer heart, this is one way we practice Steven Covey’s fifth Habit of Highly Effective People that states:
Seek first to understand, then to be understood.
Steven often says that of all the success principles, he could teach an entire day on the fifth.1
For understanding others and being understood is one of the cardinal human needs. It underlies the five human values of peace, love, truth, right action and non-violence. It’s the intimate need to be recognized, and “I am, I exist, I count” is a desire that fuses our core with the universe.
So, embrace your own horrible terrible thing, and know that it will lead you into being the more compassionate and loving you.
- Covey, Steven. The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. Provo, Utah: Covey Leadership Center, Inc., 1994. Print.