Gandhi said, “You must be the change you wish to see in the world.” It’s a beautiful reminder that an effective way to make the world better, is to behave like an example of what we expect, instead of only waiting for others to change. This quote (viewed from a completely new angle) made a huge impact on my journal-writing one night. Now I say, “You must write the voice you most crave to hear.”
I had worked a long day at the office, and I was infuriated with Amy, a coworker who always seems to be criticizing me, and not understanding my best intentions. I was tired of her arrogance, her lack of compassion. I began the journal entry with lots of terse, frustrating comments. And even though it felt somewhat satisfying to vent my anger, I realized that I could go on and on writing nasty things about Amy, without really making any difference in the situation … or, more importantly, for myself.
I realized that if I wanted a good night’s sleep, and return to work the next morning feeling refreshed, and authentically complete with the situation, that I would save a lot of time if I could just identify the words I wished Amy would have said. And from there, I wrote sort of an “unsent letter” from Amy to me. Here is an excerpt:
“Nathan, I’m really sorry about the way that I treat you. I don’t mean to be rude, and you know that I put a lot of pressure on myself when it comes to my job. I know this sounds crazy, but most of the time I’m talking with people, I feel as if they are just wasting my time. I have so little patience, even with myself, and this is probably an issue I’ll have to deal with at some point in my life. I don’t mean any disrespect to you personally. You have so many great ideas, and I know that you are very good in your work. But honestly, I struggle to find ways of complimenting people. It just doesn’t come naturally to me. When I pick out the flaws in what you say, even if they are only minor, it’s my only way of relating to you. I don’t expect you to like me for this. I’m sure we’ll never be great friends. Just please accept that I’m flawed, and I need tenderness but I’m simply incapable of asking for it.”
These are words that Amy would never say out loud. But having written them down, as if she were baring some innermost secret thoughts, without changing who she was, or re-writing her character, created a sense of relief for me. And the next day, though nothing changed between us, I sensed an unexpected compassion for Amy.
Give it a try sometime. If you find you have some unfinished business with someone, here are some guidelines for an exercise in “Writing The Voice You Crave To Hear” from them:
- Open your journal to a clean page. Write the date, and the person’s name.
- Be still and spend a quiet moment to mentally go back to a situation with that person which left you feeling sad, incomplete, angry, dismissed, or uneasy. Write down just a brief summary of the situation, and a few words that express those negative feelings.
- Now listen for any words that you wish that person could say to you. Imagine that they knew everything that you know: how their actions have impacted you, how you’re feeling. Write down what you’d love to hear from that person. An explanation? An apology? The exercise works best if you write it in their words, and from their perspective.
- Close with gratitude. Write them back a short note to thank them for sharing this secret.
If you find this useful, I’d love to hear how it has helped. In closing, I am reminded of a quote by Robert Brault: “Life becomes easier when you learn to accept an apology that you never got.”