The other day I had something of an epiphany. For me, these are intuitive perceptions or insights into the meaning of something or, more frequently, how to do (or not to do) something. Of course, they are not really epiphanies in any true sense; most often, they are just sporadic breakthroughs of common sense. Most of these aha moments, when the light comes on, have to do with me recognizing some better, faster, easier, or smarter way of doing something − like not watching the news right before going to bed, or keeping extra face masks in my car, or staying away from the ice cream aisle in the grocery store.
But recently, I had an idea − an epiphany, if you will − that particularly resonated with me. It offered me a way of improving my daily interactions and relationships with those I am close to during a time when my levels of anxiety, fear, and uncertainty may be exacerbated by the challenges of COVID and other current events (plug in your own definition of “other current events”).
The story behind this idea began when I heard a friend share his thought process in choosing between two courses of action. He decided against one option because the desired outcome was, for him, simply not worth the effort. Or, as he said, the juice ain’t worth the squeeze. What a catchy little aphorism! It seemed to me like a great way of capturing the idea of personal action and consequences.
As I thought about this, my mind quickly jumped to how I communicate with others with whom I am close and frequently interacting. In these COVID times, these others are few and my interactions are many (think family). Lately I’ve noticed that, all too often, someone says something to me that I don’t like, am bothered by, resent, disagree with, or take exception to. Being occasionally thin-skinned, but quick with a pithy and sometime caustic retort, I frequently find myself having to make a split-second decision (and I do mean split-second!): Is the momentary ego satisfaction of verbally demonstrating my wit and displeasure going to be worth the likelihood of escalating a civilized conversation into an argument, which may become vastly disproportionate to the originally perceived slight? In other words, is making the pithy retort really worth it? Surely, I might enjoy it in the moment, but I almost certainly would not enjoy the ensuing 30 minutes or 2 hours or 24 hours of angst or conflict possibly created by my failure to restrain myself.
COVID has affected each of us in myriad ways. Unsurprisingly, current psychological and social research clearly demonstrates the potential mental health impact that the pandemic is having on our well-being, not just as individuals, but also on our relationships with those people most important in our lives. It’s a good reminder to me − one I sometimes too easily forget − that I am probably not at my emotional best (or most restrained) when my own anxiety, fear, uncertainty, or general irritability interfere with exercising prudence in making that split-second judgment call of whether to be heard or to be quiet.
This is not really the stuff of epiphanies; it’s just common sense. Great writers, thinkers, and academics have counseled us for centuries to give thy thoughts no tongue, pause when agitated, count to ten, practice restraint of tongue and pen, and, of course, silence is golden. I have yet to find any sage advice that witty retorts and caustic comments are an effective way to further a conversation or improve a relationship. This is hardly a new or revolutionary concept. It’s sort of an eternal truth − but one that is easier to parrot than to practice.
At the end of the day, the question is not about the truth of these axioms, but rather how we can apply them to our lives and relationships. A practical use for these pearls of wisdom is especially relevant today, when our anxieties and fears – triggered and heightened by so many variables and uncertainties in our current environment − can easily sabotage our better instincts and intentions to communicate wisely and with respect. One of the most fundamental tools we have to facilitate prudence when communicating with those we are close to and care about is to engage in healthy and consistent self-care practices ourselves. First, it is something we do have control over. And second, because the better our own well-being, the greater the likelihood our judgment will be unimpaired, our emotions better regulated, our responses more thoughtful, and the fewer times we will have to ask ourselves, is the juice worth the squeeze? The OAAP’s blog, Thriving Today, has many helpful suggestions about how we can nurture our well-being and, by extension, our relationships with those we care about.