By Chaplain (Lt. Col.) David Berube, 102nd Intelligence Wing Chaplain
/ Published May 22, 2012
OTIS AIR NATIONAL GUARD BASE, Mass. -- I once received a phone call at the police station from a community member who was, to say the least, disgruntled. Before I said hello he launched into an obscenity-laced, high volume diatribe about an injustice committed against him. He made it very clear how he felt, and how angry he was that I wouldn't do anything about it. I let him vent for about thirty seconds. When he took a breath I said, "Sir, is there any particular reason you're swearing at me?" This disrupted his rant, and I continued, "Have I done or said something to offend you? You're yelling at me and I don't know why." The man became less volatile and more rational. He said he wasn't mad at me, but someone else and he knew I wouldn't help him. As he became calmer I explained that if I knew what the issue was, and could legally help him, I would. He finally lowered his voice and anger, and told me about his issue. As it turned out he had a legitimate gripe and I was able to help him. Because we both adjusted and controlled our attitudes we were able to work together to resolve a relationship problem, even in that short and superficial relationship.
Dr. John Van Epp, in his Marriage L.I.N.K.S. (Lasting Intimacy through Nurturing, Knowledge, and Skills) training, talks about attitude. In his session on trust he shares a three-part process to refresh your attitude. Refreshing our attitude can help keep our relationships positively focused, and I share this as a tool for all our personal and work relationships:
First, Admit Your Own Shortcomings. None of us is perfect; we all have parts of our personality that hold us back. When we accept our imperfections it becomes easier to accept the imperfections of others. Then we can let go of unproductive blaming and defensiveness. Admitting our shortcomings helps us work to improve both our relationships and each of the partners in them.
Second, Remember Your Partner's Strengths. We've been trained to focus on weaknesses and shortcomings in others. Because of this we can forget to look for their positive strengths. Our attitude and our relationships improve tremendously when we shift focus to remembering (or finding) strengths in others. (Another benefit of strength-finding is that strengths are great tools for working on shortcomings.)
Third, Focus On Ways Your Partner Helps You. This is a constant reminder that we need each other. Others' strengths complement our strengths and cover our shortcomings. In relationships of mutual trust, respect, and partnership there is continual balancing of strengths and shortcomings that makes the whole relationship stronger.
We are social beings. We have all kinds of relationships at work, home, and elsewhere. They vary from long-term and significant to short-term and superficial. The constant in all our relationships is that we carry our attitude into each one, and the attitude we choose matters.