Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Embracing the negative –v- preserving the “good self” – Integrity part 6

About a year ago, while at the ISTE Conference, I broke a crown on one of my back teeth.  As I was in the USA, I knew it would be expensive to visit a dentist, so I opted to wait a few days until flying to Italy.  The tooth was jagged and rubbed against the inside of my mouth and my tongue.  I stuck blobs of chewing gum over the rough bits to tide me over.  In Italy I went to a hospital, where the dentist told me that as well as a broken tooth, I had an abscess forming under the tooth.  He asked me if I wanted him to pull the tooth out.   This did not seem to be a good idea at the time – so I told him to simply do a temporary filling and that I would take antibiotics and painkillers until I got back home to India.  Once in India I went to another dentist who said I probably needed a root canal – but since I wasn’t in pain by then I opted instead to simply have the crown fixed up.  Several months passed.  The a week before I was due to fly to South Africa for a conference I was hit by terrible toothache – a pain like nothing I’d ever had before.  I couldn’t sleep, it even hurt to lie down.  The dentist didn’t say “I told you so”, but I had to have the root canal anyway and it was probably much more painful than if I’d had the original problem dealt with 5 months previously.  I tell this story because it shows something about my character – that in terms of integrity one very weak spot I have is embracing the negative.   I didn’t want to deal with the pain, so I simply avoided getting the treatment I needed.  What I should have realised is that the pain of the root canal would have been the price I needed to pay to avoid 5 months of problems.  I chose the easy option – which led to it being hard in the long run, whereas I should have chosen the hard option which would have ultimately led to an easier long-term experience.

At the end of my last blog post I wrote about needing to shed an old skin to make way for a new one.  This is something that personally I find very hard.  Successful people, however, have a different mindset:  that facing a problem, embracing the negative, will be a good thing in the end, as it is an opportunity to make things better.  Like many people, I enjoy living in the “comfort zone”, and I don’t enjoy facing negatives.    This character flaw has previously led me to stay longer than I should in a job that was wrong, simply because I enjoyed living in the country.   Reflecting on this now, I realize that there were many other colleagues who made a similar choice.  We used to call one of the employees there “Mr Nasty” but we didn’t ever choose to deal in a productive way with this person who was obviously hurting many of us.  Just like putting off having something done to my tooth, I put up with working in an unproductive situation.  Over time I lost optimism, motivation, hope, drive and many other things that I’d always assumed were part of my character, leading to a situation where it was hard for me to move forward after this bad experience.   I’d fallen into a situation where I was making excuses and blaming external factors for what I was feeling inside.

Blame it on the rain
In Cognitive Coaching we work with the 5 states of mind – one of which is efficacy.  Coaching enables us to become more efficacious and to know that we have choices and also the capacity to make choices, be a problem solver and take action.  During these years I definitely lacked efficacy and wasted a lot of energy blaming something outside of myself for what was happening.

In his book Integrity, Dr. Henry Cloud writes “blame is the parking brake for improvement”.  He tells us that successful people don’t worry about who or what is at fault, but instead embrace the fact that they need to do something differently – this knowledge in fact is what gives them control.  However many people don’t want to change:  they are “performance crippled” as they want to preserve “the good self”.  It’s this wish to see themselves as good, flawless or perfect that he refers to as “one of the sickest traits that we can have”.  These people cover up their feelings by trying to perform well and be seen as awesome and wonderful – the praise they get helps them to feel good.  However Cloud warns us, “there are just not enough trophies to cure narcissism.  The cure is always to find acceptance and love in one’s weakness and failure.”  His advice is to give up being perfect, to go through the pain to improve, and enjoy the benefits.  He writes, “The good self is not worth hanging on to because it won’t produce real results.  Let it die and an competent self emerge.”

You get what you tolerate
Last year, during our PYP Exhibition, students worked in groups.  We taught the students about the process that teams go through to become productive (forming – storming – norming – performing).  What Cloud writes about confrontation definitely fits into the storming.  He writes “you get what you tolerate”:  if you don’t confront problems but instead tolerate them, then problems are what you will have.  On the other hand, “confrontation adds structures to teams and projects, structure adds security and in security people thrive”.

Go hard on the issue and soft on the person
Now this was quite a hard read for me.   I know I’m not good at confrontation, and I’ve been in situations where people have confronted me in very negative ways that have been designed to cause fear, not to resolve a problem.  Cloud writes, “If you fail to confront, you will lose.  But if you confront poorly, you will also lose.”  Looking back at times of negative confrontation, it’s clear now that the person who confronted me was doing it out of anger or possibly even revenge, and doing it to make me feel bad and to make himself feel better.  This person clearly did not have any of the first 4 characteristics of integrity (care/connection, truth, getting results and embracing/resolving negatives).  The situation had deteriorated into one of me –v- you, and not you and I –v- the problem.  The real outcome of confrontation should be facing a problem and finding a solution together.

Letting things go
At the same time that I was dealing with my own problems,  a colleague was dealing with something different in that a family member of hers was being treated extremely unfairly.  She was definitely a bigger person than me because she was able to confront the bully directly and tell her that she forgave her.  At the time I was in complete awe of this, but looking back her actions made perfect sense.  Once you have solved a problem you have to let it go, otherwise you are simply carrying it forward.  It took me a lot longer than my friend to be able to forgive, but it was necessary:  had I taken all the negativity into my new job, then I would not have been able to move forward, which leads me onto my next post: the 5th important characteristic of integrity is an orientation towards growth.

Photo Credit: tanakawho via Compfight cc

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