It happened to me three times this week, and although I am not given over to numerology, I’m starting to wonder, especially now at Easter. Three times this week people showed me how victory comes out of surrendering to others and being the bigger man or, in two of these instances, woman. This has made me recall the times when I was less than the bigger man. Most of the time, things went sour faster than that container of buttermilk in the back of my refrigerator.
What happened, exactly? In the first case, instead of reacting negatively, even with hostility, to an email I had sent, this particular person wrote back calmly, explaining herself and why she questioned a decision I had made. I was taken aback. Granted, I shouldn’t have been worked up in the first place over something as minor as an invoice, but it’s been a rough week. I responded just as calmly, even in a friendly way, which has not characterized most of our interaction. There has been friction between us. The trials of office life continue, it seems, even without an office.
The second instance involved a woman whose consulting business has suffered as a result of Covid. She had to lay off three employees, one of whom was not very happy about it, or understanding, and took legal action. The owner confided in me that it took everything she had not to lash out at this person, especially since she felt attacked personally. After thinking how best to respond, she contacted the employee and offered to give her the help she needed. The employee reacted favorably, and the owner plans on taking her back once business picks up again. This may be one of those rare occasions when “it’s not personal, just business” works for everyone.
The third instance concerns a man in an estranged relationship with his sister. The family got together at a beach house to celebrate the wedding anniversary of his parents, and this man was essentially living with his sister for an extended weekend. He told me that he had expected the worst, a “near meltdown,” but went anyway. To his surprise, his sister acted as if nothing had happened and never mentioned their five years’ of not speaking to each other. He followed suit and decided to ignore the past, treating her not as his sister but a guest who had been invited for the weekend. He was much more polite than he would have been otherwise. When I asked what changed, he thought about it and said, “I guess I gave in.”
What’s interesting about these three situations is that they easily could have gone the other way but for a change in attitude of the three protagonists who stepped out of their accustomed patterns of behavior and did the unexpected. In the first case, the woman did not respond to my email with her usual curtness but took the time to explain herself and her intentions. In the second, the business owner could have met legal action with legal action but responded with concern for the employee’s financial situation. In the case of the sister, even my friend has no idea why she took the high road or, for that matter, why he did. All he knows is that for four days it worked and they left promising to keep in touch. He intends to do so.
At their core, these stories are about surrender, an intention to stop the familiar but limiting behavior of the past to achieve something new. What causes this surrender? What made the email respondent, the business owner, and the brother react in a new way? Dissatisfaction may be part of it as well as weariness with the routine. It could have been their attempt to become moral agents by recognizing that change was up to them. Or maybe they did it just because it was Tuesday.
Whatever it was, something made them cross the line as surely as Caesar crossed the Rubicon. I’d like to think it was what Jesuits refer to as magis, or more. They wanted more and realized that in surrendering their will to a greater good they would find it. As St. Paul says, “I will boast all the more gladly in my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest on me” (2 Cor 12:9). That’s a pretty good Easter story.
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