Character and Choices

April 14, 2014 § Leave a comment

It was sunny, upbeat kind of Saturday. International Women’s Day had brought 150 smart, talented people together to celebrate and give recognition to the power of women in Silicon Valley. This was a group of awesome women with amazing stories of strength and courage. I was honored to be invited and in awe of the company around me. I had come this day to listen more than contribute. I wanted to soak up the stories and be totally anonymous in the crowd.

At lunchtime I joined a table of three other women where the conversation was in motion. There was an easy cadence to the exchange, a gentle ebb and flow of polite conversation among smart, successful women. As one woman completed her story I gently touched her arm, looked into her eyes and acknowledged the strength and courage her personal story had demonstrated. She paused, and started to cry. This is not what I had intended, nor expected. But what unfolded next was a release of pent up emotions, stories and grief. She had been seen, for the first time in a long time. I listened and I stayed with her until she was ready to move on.

This kind of thing happens to me pretty regularly. A random encounter at the ballet leads to a woman disclosing she is a victim of abuse, complementing a person’s haircut while on an elevator ride somehow opens the door to hearing about their abusive childhood and teen pregnancy. Most of us long to be seen, really, truly, deeply seen by another human being for the person we are and the person we aspire to be. When we are seen it touches and opens our heart. And when we misunderstood the pain stabs deep into our soul. These are parts of the human experience.

As the Chief of People for Mozilla my job is to help our organization be its best by enabling the best in our people. Helping others to realize their fullest potential and expression has been the work of my life. This work is not for the faint of heart. Especially when dealing with tough issues. And we’ve been dealing with some tough issues.

Working with people requires boundless patience, acceptance and respect for differences.

I have two grandchildren, one not quite two and the other not quite four. They bring true joy to my life. And they are a lesson in patience. They walk slower and run faster than me. They experience each new day less than 30” from the ground, and much of it is experienced for the very first time. Each moment is a new opportunity. Flower petals become beds for plastic insects, kitchen pot lids are filled with magic power, and clapping three times while calling softly can make skeet appear in the dark. They see the magic and potential and beauty in life that after five decades can be mistaken as simple, mundane and harsh. I feel more alive and excited about life when I am with them. Truly being with people, young or old, requires patience.

For me, patience is a practice. It is not a muscle that comes easy for me. When I am practicing patience I pause, I breathe, I suspend judgment. Being patient helps me explore and understand “what’s happening here” from different perspectives, even when I don’t like what has happened. Pausing helps me see things from different angles, consider new options to an issue, and most importantly, it provides time and space to get into relationship with others.

When we are challenged, afraid, or don’t like what is happening, our natural tendency is to react. It’s the place we go to protect our self-worth and our identity. It takes patience to stay in relationship with another human being through the tough reactive moments. And it’s hard to stay when it feels too much, too close, too personal, But when we stay, stay in relationship with the other person there is an opportunity to find deeper meaning, connection and understanding.

Staying can provide perspective and perspective enables acceptance. There are things I deal with everyday that hit my buttons and trigger my reactive tendencies. Once the breathing kicks in, my lens is focused on really seeing the other person. What’s happening for them? What do I need to understand? What’s my role here? How can I help them feel seen? It’s not about me, it’s about them. Acceptance lends depth to human interaction, breadth to my own understanding, and richness to relationships.

We are each well into our journey of accumulating life experiences that have shaped the person we have become. We are each filled with gifts, and goodness, frailty and fears. We want to be seen for what we have to offer, accepted for who we are and supported on our journey to be the person we have yet to be. I have profound respect for each person’s life experiences. They have shaped us into the person we are today, and the person we can become.

In your own journey this week I encourage you to have patience with others, spend time in a perspective other than your own, and appreciate the richness, and complexity, that is part of our humanity.

 

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