While we aren’t quite at the “look back” point for the year, 2016 has certainly been eventful enough to warrant reflection entering the home stretch. For me, there has been an interesting dichotomy of relationships, be they personal or professional, that has echoed from the beginning of January. While it isn’t uncommon to pick up on patterns emerge in the world around us, even those that don’t really exist, 2016 has been remarkable in the recurring theme of grace, or a lack of it, in how people behave. The end of the election cycle frames it up nicely, I think, as the two major candidates are almost ideal personifications of this. (Full disclaimer, #ImWithHer. But that isn’t the point here, and I’ll try to not linger on the election or the candidates themselves. In fact, I won’t mention them by name so you can draw your own inferences.)
Watching the debates, there was a clear pattern that emerged in the indirect communication patterns of the two candidates. Candidate 1 talked in specifics, mostly on the topic at hand, and gave fairly direct answers to questions as they were asked. (They are politicians, of course, so “fairly direct” is a relative term.) Candidate A (see what I did there?) spoke in broad generalities, and when the moderator made an effort to get a specific answer, they responded by talking about Candidate 1 instead. Candidate 1 made mistakes, admitted them (at least to some degree), and then went on to explain why the mistakes weren’t exactly what you though. Candidate A made no mistakes, instead explained why you made mistakes in thinking they made a mistake. Candidate 1 spoke of unification, rising above, and moving past. Candidate A spoke of their greatness, the shortcomings of others, and how they managed to rise above the norms and values of society to do what they wanted.
I’ve had to deal with both of these personalities throughout the year, embodied in those around me to different degrees. I’ve found that trying to talk to a Type-Candidate-A personality is maddening. I found myself saying repeatedly, “That’s not what I asked you,” in almost every conversation. (It’s an interesting pattern, really, to watch someone be so incapable of admitting wrong that they can hear one question, answer a different one, and not even realize they’ve done it. Cognitive dissonance is fascinating to watch in real time.) Their opinions are never wrong, and can always be taken as fact. Evidence to the contrary is irrelevant at best, manufactured at worst. And regardless of having plenty of people who are “on their side” tell them they are wrong/out of line/out of control, they are convinced that they are the only sane one in the asylum.
Type-Candidate-1 personalities can also be difficult, but in a different way. They may take fault and apologize, but it is often done to open a path to explain why they were actually right in the first place. And because their background is full of complicated dealing and decisions, they spend most of their time doing just that. (Being paired with a Type-Candidate-A personality can create an incredibly damaging dynamic, as the A attacks and the 1 defends constantly, with the A never taking ownership of their own missteps.) A long-term relationship with a 1 can fall into a never-ending loop of questions and explanations, which may feel very unsatisfying for those who just want to sit on the porch with a mojito and watch the sunset.
I’ve seen these personality types echoing through my life for the last year (and probably longer). There’s another type, though, that we don’t see enough of. That’s the type that takes feedback and processes it, without arguing or denying the validity. The type that can admit their faults and their missteps, and work to repair a relationship that gets damaged.
I think of it a grace.
Those who act with grace understand that their words and deeds not just matter, but echo. That the people with whom they associate helps define who they are, and they choose their companions accordingly. They recognize the faults in themselves, and can acknowledge them and work to improve. They recognize the faults in others as well, and can find ways to move past them, which often means being the one to reach out to repair a rift, even if they don’t feel any ownership of it. Mostly, they are the people who can truly move past that rift when given the chance.
We live in a world that is defined by division in too many ways. As a society, we seem to lack the ability or tools to de-escalate, to re-engage, to repair trust, and to work towards healing. While these will be important long term to the country, it has to start at the individual level. I’ll admit that I’m not great with these things. My pattern is to try to work through an issue when it arises, but I also know that my expectations of others are defined by my expectations of myself. When I’ve been in the wrong, I’ve taken the responsibility to reach out and apologize. But that’s when I feel that I’m wrong. When I don’t feel that way, I have a hard time putting ego aside and reaching out. And when I’m able to do that, and it isn’t accepted or acknowledged, I generally consider that transaction complete. I take those as signals to reframe a relationship, and move forward accordingly, very often with regret.
Some of that is self-protection. Some of it is a way of dealing with disappointment and hurt. And some of it is simply deciding when the emotional return in a relationship is no longer worth the investment. Is it the best approach? Probably not, and for sure not in all cases. But there it is.
Investing in grace means being able to see those patterns and striving to be better. The irony is making those efforts, changing your patterns, will sometimes drive other people mad. There are some who will see every action as an attack or manipulation (which is a good sign they are a Type-Candidate-A). I’ve come to realize I can’t control that, don’t own it, and shouldn’t be controlled by it. I can only work on my own grace, not develop it for someone else. And even if I recognize someone else lacks it, I can’t fix that either. Nor should I try.
As much as anything, I look at what we will go through tomorrow, and hope that we, as a country, can handle it with grace. We’ve not done that in a while. Maybe think about that as the results start to come in, and focus on your own grace, no matter how things go, when talking to those who are on the other side. If we work to be better for ourselves, in the aggregate, we can be better for each other.