Choosing to See the Silver

by | Sep 13, 2015 | All Blog Feed | 0 comments

The last, and some would say, ultimate freedom we have as individuals is to choose how we respond to situations and circumstances that cross our paths. In fact, one of my favorite authors and philosophers, Viktor Frankl, argued that this freedom of choice and choosing one’s response, were perhaps the only things that couldn’t be completely stripped from a person.

Most days, I find this notion uplifting. However, some days it feels like a heavy responsibility to bear. Not surprisingly, it’s usually on those latter days that I find myself more and more grounded in its profound truth. Easy and natural choices are convenient.  But their lessons are too often left unharvested.

Life’s lessons are my silver lining, and I choose to see them… eventually. I choose to see silver.

Pollyanna Wants a Cracker
Choosing to see silver and harvesting lessons can sound like some pretty fluffy stuff.  I suppose it sounds that way because, welI, it is.

At the same time, fluffy is not a synonym for bullshit.  

And it doesn’t mean that you have to walk around [strikethrough] with your head stuck [/strikethrough] in some perpetual state of Pollyanna, saying “Thank you” for every horrible thing that happens to you.  Choosing to see silver means that you commit to – at some point – taking something useful from the stuff you’ve already endured.

Need an example?

choosing or not

[Cue overly dramatic reading voice]

<dramatic rant>
It was the Monday to end all Mondays. Forget “A Case of the Mondays,” I felt like I had contracted the super antibiotic resistant MRSA-infection version of the Mondays. I mean, I actually felt contagious. I even shut my office door in an effort to quarantine this infectious funk and spare my coworkers my miserable company…
< end dramatic rant>

Even though it was only a few hours ago, I can’t actually remember all the individual moments that culminated in this freakin’ nightmare day.

I do remember the highlights included:
– By 10 am I was certain that I should’ve had what I lovingly call a “human burrito day” – wrapped up in a blanket, binge-reading or watching Netflix.

– By noon I had RSVP’d for my own pity party.

– And by 4pm I was overly aligning myself with the martyrs of antiquity. (Okay, I guess I’ve always had a bit of a flare for the dramatic).

Yup, sometimes even therapists get the f-bomb blues.  In the moment, choosing to see silver wasn’t even on the radar, and God help the person who tried to remind me.

As I sit at my kitchen table now, looking back at that schedule rife with self-pity, however, I’m tickled by the fact that I got ANYTHING accomplished at all. But somehow, I did. I actually had a really productive day. Sure, my negative self talk was off the freakin’ wall, but in terms of productivity? Shoot, it wasn’t that bad at all.

In fact, maybe I should start closing my door more often from time to time. As much as I love being a safe space for my co-workers and volunteers, I didn’t realize how much I missed the rhythm that comes from working in blocks of uninterrupted space. I take a minute to breathe and enjoy the memory of being completely absorbed in a task.

This is where I find my silver.
“So what? I’m supposed to be grateful or something for all the bad stuff that’s happened to me?”

Whoa.  Let’s back up a second.

First off, let’s not confuse choosing to see a lesson, or “choosing to see silver,” for gratitude. Yes, gratitude is a huge psychology buzz word at the moment. And there is a lot of benefit that can come from rooting ourselves in a position to be grateful for people, things, and experiences.

“And while someone could argue that gratitude and choosing to see silver often go hand-in-hand, I would also say that they are not fundamentally tied together.”

 

That being said, I work primarily with a population that has endured unimaginable abuse that I would never, ever expect someone to be grateful for. And while someone could argue that gratitude and choosing to see silver often go hand-in-hand, I would also say that they are not fundamentally tied together. I can still choose to get something or learn from a situation without being grateful for that situation.

An example that immediately comes to mind is Randy Pausch, the Carnegie Mellon professor who became famous for his speech (aptly entitled Last Lecture: Really Achieving Your Childhood Dreams), and subsequent book by the same title, on being diagnosed with terminal pancreatic cancer and his journey to accept his fate.

One of my favorite moments in his lecture (which you should immediately go listen to online as soon as you finish reading this, and then go read the book) is when he says,

“You cannot change the cards you’re dealt, just how you play the hand.”

This is the essence of choosing to see silver.  

From what I read, Randy Pausch was not grateful for his cancer.  In fact, in his book the word “grateful” appears ten times.  And never once in reference to getting cancer.  He even addresses this issue specifically.

“Some even say they are grateful for their disease. I have no such gratitude for my cancer, although I’m certainly grateful for having advance notice of my death.”

It’s About Choice. 
Choosing to see silver is not about being grateful for the bad things, the unfortunate things, the evil things, or the painful things. It’s about saying, “Well, now that I’m here, how the heck am I going to deal with this?”

Of course if someone wants to be grateful for the bad stuff, I don’t think it’s my place to tell them to withhold that gratitude. Again, it’s all about choice in the banalities of everyday life and in the face of painful tragedy.

Although I am far from perfect in this practice, I still choose to see silver.

What do you choose?