What it means to make the choice to see others—and other late-night lessons I learned from my seven year old.
My daughters are two and seven years old. As you can imagine, our younger daughter often wants to play with the older, but the age gap can cause this to be difficult. Multiple times their playtime together has ended with the youngest breaking, ruining or knocking something down, quickly followed by tears, blaming and distancing from my older daughter.
I share the following account with you as it exemplifies how easily we can switch to an outward way of seeing and behaving and the dramatic change that very shift has on ones well-being, one’s impact (aka others’ well-being) and a reshaping of our objectives.
Immediately following bath time a few nights ago, my older daughter was bothered that her younger sister was in her bathroom drawer going through her (play) make-up bag. She began to shout, threaten and scold her little sister for getting into her things.
You can get a sense of how my wife and I felt the rest of the night would play out. We would end up taking each child in separate ways for the bedtime routine in an attempt to instill some order and peace in the house. There may certainly be continued hard feelings and the potential for one child to want the other parent to read to them, requiring us to continue to “manage” the situation. More distancing, more ill-feelings. Clearly lacking a sense of togetherness.
But that didn’t happen. In fact, in one moment everything changed (with no prompting from me, might I add…)
In the midst of her scolding, my older daughter stopped and took a second to see her little sister. “Can I show you what is in there?” my oldest asked, pointing to the makeup bag. “Yeah!” exclaimed the younger.
She then took out her various make-up items, lining them up, showing and telling what each one was and even going as far as pretending to paint the little one’s nails. While doing this, she suggested they really paint their nails the next day. Excitement lit up on both of their faces.
She then took her little sister by the hand, dressed her in her pajamas, and asked to read her a bedtime story. She led her to the bookshelf, asked which book she wanted to read and, with two books chosen, they went to the couch, hand in hand.
I could see that my older daughter had no agenda in that moment other than to simply be with and reading to her sister. No distractions, negative emotions, or even being put-out that she’s not reading a “big-girl” book. Her objective in that moment was to just be in response to her younger sister's needs. This was evident when, after the reading was done, she asked her younger sister if she wanted a bed-time snack. Thereupon, they went to the kitchen, got some craisins and nuts and sat and ate….peacefully.
As they were finishing up their snacks I hear, “Can I take you to bed and sing you a song?” Off they went. A tuck of the blanket. A song. A kiss on the head. A wish for a good night sleep…. And that was that.
My daughter walked out of her little sister’s room beaming. Again reaffirming that being in response to her sister, became her “agenda.”
This exemplifies how our entire experience in life is shaped from a choice.
I can choose to see the world from a view of how “others are impacting me”
I can choose to see the world from a view of how “I impact others”
This choice not only reshapes our experience at home, it reshapes the way we see and go about our work. Our objectives and tasks at work don’t occur in a vacuum—our work impacts others. And until we can consistently and continually see our work in that way, we will experience the blame, distancing, and ill-feelings that accompany an “others-impacting-me” mindset.
May we all learn this lesson from a seven-year-old. Look for ways this week, both at home and at work, where we see how we can impact others. In that moment, when we are thinking about others in our lives, we will get a sense of their needs, challenges, struggles, concerns and hopes. It is there that we can be in response. It is there, that we can all find hope and lose ourselves—without feeling like we lost anything.