Gold and Diamonds or Scrap and Charcoal
I just read a piece by one of my favorite authors and preachers, Carl Lentz, and he got me thinking about how our viewpoint on various life experiences can determine how we react and what we take away in our hearts. So many things in life are open to interpretation and our in the moment attitude can taint and often dictate how we perceive an experience. We also tend to see the world positively or negatively. Some people are just naturally (as a result of genetics, upbringing, spiritual outlook, …) more positive or negative about life and the things that happen to them and others.
One of my favorite people is my cousin Jack. He is a person who naturally sees the good in almost everything. He’s no Pollyanna. It’s just that when Jack shares his perceptions of the world, he is so happy and ready to forge forward that you can’t help but be swept up in his zest for life and all its possibilities.
For instance, if we were to find ourselves at a crowded event or location, instead of complaining about the crowds and the shoving and pushing, Jack would comment on the energy and the popularity of the event. If you persisted in pointing out the annoyance the crowd was causing you, instead of commiserating, Jack would look around and find a less crowded spot and suggest relocating. He can see the gold and diamonds in just about any situation.
The article I read by Carl Lentz and my cousin Jack remind me that most experiences in life can be viewed and reacted to in two ways. We can choose to see scrap and charcoal or gold and diamonds. Just about any life experience affords us this choice of view.
Say you get a ton of critical feedback on something you wrote and you are surprised because you thought it was pretty good. Well, you could see scrap and charcoal by supposing that your editors are being too harsh and mean. And you could let it bother you and make you feel bad about yourself and your capabilities. Or you could see gold and diamonds by embracing the opportunity for what you will begin by assuming is honest and well-meaning feedback. You could try to grow from the experience and improve. And even if you still believe that the feedback is over the top, you can ask the people who gave you the feedback to explain their thinking and ask what they think you could do first to improve. And if it turns out to be unhelpful and maybe coming from a negative place, then you could just choose to ignore it, move on, and marvel at your thickened skin.
As someone who writes, I’ve found myself in that exact situation. And I’ve had both reactions. The later worked out better and, in fact, I found that the person who was hyper critical at times was really being more honest and helpful than other people who were trying to save my feelings. I had to go through some self imposed hell before I chose to see the gold and diamonds.
The point is that almost every event in our lives (even really bad stuff) begs us to rise to the occasion and learn from the experience. And even if something makes you deeply sad, you can also recognize the scrap and charcoal but determine to change some to gold and diamonds in the way that you learn from the event and utilize those lessons to come to the aid of another person who later experiences something similar.
Carl Lentz tells a touching story of how his wife has a recurring reminder on her phone to find gold in a person every day. In this age of rampant criticism and social media flaming, I think we have to embrace that kind of deliberate action item to see the good in people and life experience.
Too often, I find myself criticizing various circumstances in conversations. I’ll have a chat with someone and afterward, I’ll ask myself if I had anything positive to say (even if the apparent reason for the conversation was a bitch session.) If not, I double down on reminding myself to make a conscious effort to talk about things in a positive way and at least offer constructive and positive problem-solving in those seemingly ever-present complaint sessions.
I notice that when I inject positivity into conversations, many people pick up on this and carry the theme and the conversation turns from being a drain to something uplifting. Too often it is easy to mistake the excitement and initial energy of commiseration for rousing and exciting. But inevitably energy levels flag after the conversation is over and people go their separate ways. I think that might be why these complaint sessions can last so long. No one wants to leave and go be alone in their misery. Thus the saying, “misery loves company.”
Misery does love company and tends not to look for the gold and diamonds and that is why it is often an uphill battle to point out the shiny to a group of people determined to sift through the rusted, mangled scrap and dirty charcoal of life. And it can be easy to get sucked into the false energy of those kinds of conversations. So it takes extra effort and a little force of will to break through. If it becomes clear that no headway is possible, then it is better to walk away.
It takes an effort to rise above the negativity blanketing contemporary life and see the gold and diamonds in every person and situation. And it is even harder to bring positivity to life’s more difficult situations (like illness and death) but it is worth it. Because at the end of the day, life has to go on. We all have to make the most of what we are given and that which we encounter. The reward is more energy and greater happiness, something greater than gold and diamonds.