In our previous chat, I shared an old story to illustrate the contrast in perspectives experienced and expressed by the parishner (“I have been taken for a fool)” and the Priest (“There is no dying child”). We have talked about Victor Frankl and his important teaching that (paraphrasing) choosing our response is our ultimate and only freedom. (See Man’s Search for Meaning for more.)

Relating this back to thwarting negative self talk, so often our reactions are less rooted in an actual event, and far more securely rooted in the narrative we create around a situation. Our brain fills in gaps where we don’t have answers to decrease our insecurity that we may have no idea why something occurred.

Making up a story sometimes helps us reconcile the (perceived as negative) outcome while simultaneously providing a false sense that “Since I know why that happened, I can protect myself next time.”

The illustrative story I shared highlighted two responses to the “news” about the family lying and taking money under false pretenses. The self talk and reaction of the parishner, we could imagine, may have gone something like:

What evil people, how could they just lie like that!? Who do they think they are! I am so stupid, we are all so stupid! We believed all the lies and were used up! This is the exact reason I never give money to beggars or donate to charities, they are all a fraud! I will never forgive that family for lying and never give someone money again!”

By contrast, the self talk and reaction of the Priest, we could imagine, may have gone something like this:

Loving God, thank you that your child is not riddled with pain, suffering and a body that doesn’t work. I believe God, that You waste nothing, and that the presence of that family may have served a purpose greater than our human understanding, but we are Faithful! I have seen our congregation come together around this family. The child’s illness brought out the best of our community, igniting generosity, compassion and grace. For this I am grateful.

The smiling Priest understood that the sincere intentions of that Parish collectively, were profoundly more important than some money scheme carried out by one or two individuals. He focused on their aggregate goodwill, faith and acts of kindness. The fact that no child was actually dying was an added bonus. 

Have any plans that didn’t work out quite like you intended? If you are reading this post the answer is “Yes!” Part of our common humanity is aiming for all kinds of targets and missing theIr marks. 

The message in this story is that we need to keep the bigger perspective of all things. Not to say we won’t have feelings about outcomes, especially if someone has deceived us. But if we show up fully, with the genuine intention of doing good, even if (we later learn) it was under false pretense, we have done our part.

Never mind that someone else didn’t (again, common humanity – we all experience disappointments by the choices of others) show up as their best. We may not “fall” for a scheme like that again, but we should be proud of our well intended effort to hit our target and resist the inclination to ”self talk” ourselves into a reality that is a fantasy.

Next time your brain is tempted to “insert here” unknown details about a situation, try to pause and step back. Tell your brain to hold on a minute, as you breathe deeply and allow the unknown to be ok. Forgiven, even.

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