1/22/08

The Joy Stealers

I was talking to a colleague the other day about a leader we know who has a habit of stealing joy. He has a knack for sucking the air out of a room by taking the big stick approach to just about every problem or circumstance. I'm convinced he's from the Lombardi school of leadership and am amazed at how deftly people who work for him have learned to thrive in a bullying environment. They share a hunker down mentality - much like family members do when there's a crazy alcoholic at loose in the house. This may sound abysmal and it must have its moments but I suspect one learns in environments such as these to make the best of things. They say there's nothing like group suffering to bring about a spirit of solidarity. Didn't Paul the apostle insist that one can hold onto personal joy while being treated shamefully?

The more difficult situation, at least for me, comes in the form of the unreasonable customer who despite every effort I make to address her concerns, insists I am incompetent and useless. They thrust a picture of me into my face that does not true to the way I see myself. I find myself feeling three strong urges simultaneously - the urge to attack, the urge to resign from my sense of calling, the urge to appeal to reason, common sense, or some version of what I define as rational problem-solving. In my line of work, it's nearly impossible to make everyone happy and yet for some insane reason, I try. When I find my best efforts are met with scorn and that redoubling my efforts only makes matters worse, I sink into a kind of despair that makes my most cynical and dark side emerge. My joy gets sucked into a vortex of shame so profound and powerful that I believe (if only for a minute or three) that it's futile to try to make a difference through service and devotion to one's calling, fellow person, or other platitude.

I was feeling that way recently after a particularly nasty individual I'll refer to as customer X pushed every button I have by refusing to meet me on any rational ground to address his problem. As I started to give in and let myself be swallowed another voice (perhaps God, perhaps me, perhaps the two of us together) said, "Don't let him steal your joy." My response was, "How?" The answer came quickly and simply, "Do good." It's been a long time since I contemplated the verse "Do good to those who use and spitefully use you." But the answer "Do good." goes beyond the the admonishment in the verse because it suggests that the remedy for any circumstance that threatens to make you feel irrelevant or useless is to do good. There are so may ways to do good and each has the potential to protect the joy that sustains us through so many of life's difficulties. So what good did I do?

I smiled at my co-workers and customers. I hugged kids. I complemented people for their efforts. I laughed at myself. I gave time to someone who felt worried and anxious about a meeting she had where her child was diagnosed with autism. I said please and thank you. I observed a colleague and gave feedback. I didn't vacate my life because someone wishes I were not in theirs.

Next time you find yourself faced with a circumstance that threatens to steal your joy, do good!

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