In the previous post I reflected on our mistakes as opportunities for learning. But other’s mistakes also provide that potential as well. Obviously, we don’t learn from other’s mistakes in the same way as our own, but we can still learn. While it would be great to learn from other’s positive actions towards us, its often in people’s negative actions (of hurt or wronging) that provide fertile ground to reflect on ourselves, our personalities and culture.
Here’s an approach that I have found helpful and hope to use in Cambodia. As I reflect on another’s actions towards myself, I view it through Three “I”s and then ask, What do they do better? The first part of this approach contains three potential ways to summarise someone’s actions toward us. Sometimes (although, probably very rarely) people intend injury. Most of the time, their actions that hurt us come from either ignorance or incompetence.1 Generally, people don’t operate in the first “I”, but in the second two. What this reminds us to do is to lessen our reaction of injustice from “They’re out to get me,” to “They didn’t realise,” or “They couldn’t help it.” This is not to excuse their actions, but just to put them in perspective. It should also be said that ignorance and incompetence isn’t a full assessment of someone’s actions, but a catchy phrase to see wrong doings as unintentional rather than intentional. The second part of the approach is more positive. Everyone does things differently. Difference can be viewed as bad, but if we approach it as difference is a chance to see a better way, we may learn even in the process of being hurt or wronged. This should be obvious, but in the moment we easily forget.
These two approaches to other’s actions work well together. The first approach helps to take some of the heat out of our reactions towards what others do. With the heat reduced we may be able to take another look at what was done. The second reminds us that there are positives to the way someone else does something that we haven’t seen and that we can learn from. As we go to Cambodia, hopefully these two lenses will characterise our reflections as we process the different ways that people do things to us. Its often in the hard interactions that we learn about ourselves and others. Hopefully three “I”s are better will be the way we navigate our new culture.
The other night I was taught some major lessons in a chess game with a good mate. My conqueror said, in loving instruction, “Keep an eye on the whole board and watch out for the forks.” As I peeled back the many layers of my competitive spirit, I found something odd underneath. Failures and mistakes are a chance to learn. I should know this implicitly and yet it came home to me in a new way. As I played chess a second and third time (still losing), I took those lessons with me. Mistakes and failures are a chance to learn and grow, an opportunity. If I’d been more concerned about my pride and focused on the results I would have missed the gold that is found in our mistakes and failures.
The importance of this reminder for me is timely as we move to Cambodia. I’ll move from a culture where I can delude myself that I’m not making any mistakes. That ability to deceive myself of my abilities will be destroyed in a culture where I will make many, many, many mistakes and fail in very obvious ways (often with the locals laughing at me in a lovely sort of way). Mistakes and failures as opportunities means there’s a freedom to our learning and living. Failures and mistakes aren’t obstacles, but opportunities. In this sense there’s a real freedom in failing.
God in his wisdom has set up being saved by grace so that, after being saved, we don’t exist in this life of perfection (or need to aim for it). Instead grace means the causal link between our lives and salvation is severed. We are freed to fail. Not to aim at failing, but freed when we do. Freed from the condemnation that one wrong move may cost our eternity, or that the sum of our good will be weighed against our bad. There is a wonderful recklessness that frees us up, not fearing our failures, but learning from them. I’ll need this reminder as we learn to be Cambodian – there are things to learn from my mistakes and failures.
Who is more patient, a parent or their child? Being a parent, I’m easily inclined to go with where I’m at. That is, as a parent, we need to be patient with our kids. And there’s a truth to that. Kids are learning to control their emotions and we need to be patient as they grow in their own capacities.
Yet transition has brought a new perspective to me. As I’ve been thrown out of normal rhythms and routines, with the stress involved, I’ve noticed something else. My offspring are having to put up with a lot from me. I think I kid myself if I try to tell myself that I’m the patient one. They have to put up with plenty. They put up with my times of crankiness, the times I don’t come through with what I said and the times when I get super focused on something unimportant at their expense. And often they are patient without even realising it. Certainly there are times when they’ll chuck their tanties. But alongside these outbursts, they are also putting up with a fair bit from me. Who is more patient? There was a time when I would have said, parents, definitely. Now I’m not so sure.
The purposes of a person’s heart are deep waters,
but one who has insight draws them out.
Curiosity may have killed the cat, but curiosity can have life-giving results. Curiosity is not only useful when exploring new places or things, but it turns out that curiosity is a good way to explore ourselves as well. We see this particularly in relation to our feelings. Being curious about our feelings enables us to grow in our self-awareness; something which will be all too necessary for our family as we are thrust into a new culture and place, bringing with it a whole set of feelings.
Feelings in this case, are more than just a chemical reaction. They are bodily forms of knowledge.1 My main point is that feelings can function as sign posts. They can give us clues about what we are thinking and valuing. For example, feelings of anger may highlight that I feel like an injustice has been committed or they may point to a love that I didn’t know I have (or have to a such an intensity). Rather than quickly dismissing our anger, if we are curious about it we may learn new things about ourselves. Not only may we get more insight into the situation, but we can also learn about what we were thinking and valuing and we may even learn about what another person is thinking and valuing as well. Questions like, why did I react that way, or what does my anger tell me about ‘me’ may help draw out what is going on underneath or behind the scenes. Curiosity regarding our feelings can help shed light on who we are and what we love. Curiosity may have killed the cat, but it can be a useful approach to growing in self-awareness.
One of the key applications from my time at St Andrews Hall (our CMS training earlier this year) was on the topic of journalling. I’ve been journalling for a number of years now. But this new insight was really helpful. The suggestion was to have two concurrent journals; one journal for what you observed on a particular day, the other journal for your state of mind, your feelings that day; basically where you were up to. The point is that our observations are affected by how we are feeling, how we are travelling.
Now this isn’t necessarily a new insight, but its easy to forget. The real value of this double journal (or you could just have both aspects in the one entry), comes from a distance. We won’t necessarily remember how we were feeling as we read back over our diary entry. But having insight into how we were going enables us to assess our observations and read them through the way we were feeling. Normally we associate double vision with blurriness and inaccuracy. But this kind of double vision actually aids the accuracy of our observations as we interrogate our own state of mind. The highs and lows of entering into a new culture will affect the way I observe things and the conclusions that I draw from those observations. Whether in the honeymoon phase of entering a new culture, or further down the track when home-sickness hits, this second journal (or recording feelings) may help me to read my own observations well.
Including next year, our family will have transitioned 5 times in 4 years. We will have moved intercity, interstate and soon overseas as well. Transition has become the new normal for this season of our family life. There are both joys and challenges. But particularly transition provides an opportunity to grow in self-awareness. We are thrust into new situations constantly and are learning much about ourselves (often painfully).
One of the benefits of our training in St Andrews Hall is that it can be seen as a dry run for next year. Moving interstate (while not as hard as moving overseas) still mimics that process for our family. Taking note of how Sam and I and the kids reacted and related will give us clues about what to watch out for. The way we solved things at St Andrews might provide good strategies to implement in Cambodia. Practice won’t make us perfect, but hopefully we’ll learn from our mistakes for next time. In that sense a ‘practice’ move is gold.
The first series for this blog will be on self-awareness. We’ve seen the necessity of growing in our own self-awareness over the past few years; in ministry, study and transitions. However it’ll be vital as we arrive and settle into a new culture. So stay tuned for a self-awareness series, shortly.
I should also say that much of this series material has come from the wonderful mission teachers down at St Andrews Hall in Melbourne. Anything abnormal in these posts is my distortion on their wonderful work.