Superman never made any money for saving the world from Solomon Grundy

Thursday, February 5, 2009

I-5 and the art of disagreeing without being disagreeable

Isn't there a way to point out things in need of correction without complaining? Can't we seek to improve something without tearing down what's already there? Or even if we seriously don't like something, can we speak against it without being insulting? Can we be firm without being mean?

Of course we can; it's just a goal easier said than done, and honored more in the breach than the observance.

It's been on my mind a lot lately, in this year of positive energy. You see, last year, what with all the stress and sturm und drang of the first year on the tenure track, and with a really wacky fall start, and with some problematic issues on campus, a bunch of us teachers fell into a negativity trap. You know the drill: complaining all the time, always expecting the worst, sabotaging ourselves to make sure it happens, and then reveling in our gloom.

Perhaps the most acute example was our relationship to Running Start students: we basically hated them, at least as a class. Then, somewhere towards the end of the year, someone pointed out that we couldn't just keep cursing "those damn runners!" - it didn't make the situation any better, and they weren't going away. We needed to change how we interacted - with the situation and with the students themselves - and actually start working toward positive change. The school put together a training summit. And, mirabile visu, it worked. (Starbuck and I even did a follow-up workshop on it this quarter.)

So, when September came rolling around this year, NatDog and I made a carpool promise to each other: rolling down Lake City Way, we sang Accentuate the Positive and vowed to have a better attitude this year about all aspects of our jobs, which, we reminded each other, we really loved. And, mirabile dictu, it worked. We take the bumps in the road without breaking stride, we own our own stuff without worrying about it, and we address problems with a realistic optimism. And we have much better days.

And so, not just at work, but in all aspects of my life, I'm trying bring gloom down to the minimum, as it were. A decision may be ill-considered; that doesn't make it the worst freakin' idea of all all time. I may disagree with a conclusion; that doesn't mean it's the stupidest thing I have ever heard. A policy or process may be awkward or unworkable; that doesn't mean that the boss is a evil sumbitch or that the system is completely rotten or that there is a conspiracy to cheat and confound me. I'm a tough guy; I should be able to meet life's little obstacles without flying off the handle, picking a fight, or making a federal case of it.

I'm not a polyanna; I don't for a second imagine that life will always be peaches and cream or skittles and beer. But I do know that, if I so choose, I can meet the struggles with equanimity and resolve rather than agitation and stress. And I'd like to make that choice more and more.


Courtney Putnam said...

Hear hear!

Yojimbo_5 said...

Just don't mess with Mr. In-between.

WV: "grooph" - Smokey's "Good Morning" greeting.