Now, from a title like that, you may be thinking I’m talking about those lifetime events that mark our place in history – ala Bill Gates selling DOS to IBM, or Lawn Chair Larry.
No, I’m talking about the moments that define our character, and as a result, ultimately us as human beings.
It breaks down like this. Anyone can be magnanimous, compassionate or loving in good times. What truly defines us is how we behave when things go wrong.
That’s right, when something or someone pisses us off. The neighbour runs over our dog, our girlfriend runs off with a leper or someone just doesn’t quite behave the way we want them to (which is really a control issue on our part, but I digress).
I once heard the definition of maturity as “The difference in time between our emotional & rational responses to a situation.”
That’s succinct, but I don’t necessarily believe that what’s rational is always what’s best.
Is it rational to be unconditionally loving towards someone that is treating you like shit? No, but it sure as hell is the fastest way to defuse the situation. See also: Gandhi. It worked out pretty well for him, except for, you know, right at the end.
A less succinct but more accurate definition might be “The difference in time between our fear & love based responses to a situation.”
As we get more mature, our love based responses get closer & closer to the surface, and that time delay between fear & love gets ever shorter until it disappears altogether.
For example, I know when I was younger, kids screaming or leaving mess everywhere used to drive me mad. I mean, really crazy. Growing up as the oldest of eight might have done that to me. Heh. These days though, I watch myself, & my first reaction is just “Is it happy screaming? Ok, that’s cool.” As for mess, well, they’re kids. You gently guide & provide a consistent example over a period of years, & eventually they’ll sort it out, but there’s no rush, they’ve got a ton of other learning to do too.
This is where those minor daily upsets are actually a good thing. They provide feedback in two ways:
- Are we still instinctively reacting badly?
- How long is it taking us to calm down afterwards?
The first tells us whether we still have more healing/growing to do in this area, while the second is a quantifiable measure of the progress that we’re making.
This doesn’t mean I think you should welcome bad/upsetting events into your life, but given that these sorts of things tend to happen anyway, why not take advantage of them?
Ultimately, it’s this ongoing collection of upsetting or unexpected situations & our reactions to them. That’s what defines us as people.
As we grow & improve, these things bother us less & less.. & we become better people.
I guarantee you one thing. If you can remain positive & loving when everything is falling apart around you, you’re going to be incredible when times are good.