Most of the time what couples fight about, what families quarrel about, what individuals complain about is what is right in front of them. Whatever is up close and personal, perhaps it’s a lack of money or a spouse coming home late or a child using an ugly word – this is what gets our immediate attention. And, this is what grabs our energy. With the child we might say sternly, “Don’t you ever talk to me that way again!” When money runs low we might say to ourselves, “Why can’t I ever get ahead; what’s wrong with me?” To the tardy spouse we might say, “If you’re going to be late again, don’t bother coming home at all!” All of these thoughts end up in the same place – being disconnecting.
Why? Because all of these responses makes someone the problem, instead of making the problem the problem.
So – how do we change this situation?
The short answer is by looking past the problem into the background. Let me share a story about “Big Money” to help you understand the power of context, which is best explained as that which is going on in the background, not the foreground.
A small child, let’s say she is four-years-old, goes to the hairdresser with her mother, who is kind of in a grumpy and distracted mode. The child is given a seat in the front of the beauty salon where she can pretty much see everything that is going on. So, the child does what she does best at four years old – she pretty much watches everything that is going on while she pretends to be looking at a book.
When the child’s mother is finished and comes to the register to pay, the child says, “Mommy, you look beautiful.” The mother responds with a smile from this collision with an unexpected compliment. But the smile goes away quickly and the mother returns to her routine and pays for the hairstyling. At the very end of this transaction, the mother reaches into her purse and gives a dollar to her daughter and asks her to give it to the hairdresser. Not understanding the purpose of this extra step, the daughter asks what the money is for and the mother says it’s a tip. The daughter, true to her observant form, asks “What’s a tip?” The mother replies, “It’s something you give a person when they make you feel good.”
Instead of walking directly to the hairdresser, the child detours back to her seat and reaches into her sparkly pink purse for something. After fishing around for a long moment, the child finds what she is looking for and then goes to the hairdresser and gives her the dollar and a quarter.
Becoming curious about this transaction, the mother asks the daughter what the quarter was for and the child replies, “I liked the way she made me feel when she turned you beautiful so I gave her the “biggest” money I could find.
Obviously, this child has a poor concept of the value of money. Or, does she?
Perhaps the child’s ability to see what is going on in the background allows her to more fully and honestly appreciate the “context” of the moment. By comparison with the mother’s tip, which was given out of habit, the child’s gift was more proportionally generous because it was given from a different context, it was given from her perspective of big-hearted generosity.
How might the concept of “big money” change your point of view as related to a lack of money, a husband who comes home late, or a child that uses an ugly word?