Did you ever stop to think that every action you perform and every word you say becomes building material? Every choice we make—good or bad—paves a road that leads either to someplace wonderful or someplace we’d rather not be. Take weight-loss, for example. Let’s say you’re trying to watch what you eat and slim down. You’ve had some success, but then you have company from out of town. They invite you out to eat. You know this will throw you off-track, but it’s an exception, so you have a nice high-calorie meal. After all, you hate to pay so much for a small salad with vinegar and oil dressing. The next day your boss brings bagels and cream cheese to work for everyone. And not just any cream cheese. No, this cream cheese is loaded with honey and hazelnuts, and the bagels are flavored with cranberries, blueberries, and cinnamon raisins. She plops one on your desk, and you feebly thank her while silently vowing to eat only half now and save the rest for later. You eat half. It’s so good and this is an exception and you decide that “later” can be in two minutes. The following day your husband says he’s taking you out for dinner since you seemed so glum the last few days. You don’t have the heart to tell him it’s because you’re depressed that you’ve gained three pounds. But it’s an exception, right? Wrong. Those exceptions became pavement on the path to plumpness.
In a similar fashion, our words and actions are building materials in all our relationships. They either become bricks that erect walls or planks that construct bridges. Let’s look at some bricks that put up walls between ourselves and others (children, spouses, friends, or co-workers):
Losing our temper
Playing the martyr
Finishing someone’s sentences
Acting agitated and frustrated
Everyone has a bad day now and then, and it’s easy to feel grumpy, but has it become a pattern? One critical remark among a dozen affirmations isn’t the end of the world, but if it’s consistently the other way around then we’ve got a huge problem. We’ll end up with no one wanting to talk to us about important things. We’ll see our friends gradually disappearing from our lives. We’ll find ourselves estranged from our loved ones.
What builds healthy, vibrant relationships? These are the things that build bridges:
Words of affirmation
Seeking to understand
Being sensitive to the other person’s needs and feelings
Apologizing for wrong-doing
A GPS system makes course corrections if you turn down the wrong road. You can make course corrections too as you go along in your interactions with someone. Sometimes you just have to say, “Hey, we got off on the wrong foot. I’m sorry. Can we start over?”
The other day my daughter wanted to stop at the Sonic Drive-in for a milkshake. I was tired and cranky. I’d been on-the-go since six that morning, and after picking her up from school all I wanted to do was get home and relax. We parked in one of the spaces and pressed the button to order the shake. We waited over five minutes and no one asked what we wanted. I figured the intercom was broken, so we drove to a different space. Same deal. We went to a third. By now we had spent a good 15 minutes and still had not been able to order a milkshake. So my daughter asked if we could try one of the spaces on the other side. I sighed loudly and said, “I’d rather not.” And then I felt bad for my lousy attitude. So I chose to make a course correction. I pulled out of the space and headed for the other side of Sonic where I could park in a fourth spot.
My daughter said, “What are you doing?”
“Going to the other side,” I replied pleasantly.
“I’m confused. First you made it sound like it was a big deal and you made me feel guilty for asking. Now you’re going to another space anyway.”
“Well,” I said, “At first it felt like a big deal, but after I thought about it I realized that it really isn’t a big deal and I was wrong.”
So it ended up that we both got shakes (yum!) and went home fat and happy. Okay, maybe not fat (yet), but definitely in better moods. Also, it turned out that the intercoms weren’t broken. There were only two people working due to a shortage of help, and here we were playing “musical intercoms” adding to their frustration, as well as our own!
It’s not easy to change negative patterns that we’re entrenched in, but it’s possible, and the rewards are tremendous. Everyday we’re engaged in paving the roads we’ll travel. Where will they take us? It’s not too late to change their direction. You can start with your next conversation, exchanging bricks for planks, tearing down walls and building bridges one day at a time.