There was a mom who came in the library recently. She picked out a bunch of books with her young son and then came up to the front desk to get a library card. Then she found out that because she lives in a different county she would have to pay a $50 annual fee to use this library.
She handled it perfectly. Some people get indignant. Some will shout “This is a free public library!” This is illogical. The books have to be paid for somehow. They don’t magically appear. Some think they are being clever and ask if they can use their relative’s address in this county. Or they ask to use the address on their license, which they have already admitted isn’t where they live.
Don’t try to get me to help you lie. It isn’t going to work. I’m not going to get fired for something stupid. I’m ok with bending some rules, but not the ones that I totally agree with. This one I agree with. You get what you pay for. Library funding in this state comes out of property taxes. You have to provide proof of current address to get a library card. It isn’t much to ask for to get to read all the books you want for free.
This lady not only took it in stride, she helped her son with it. He was distraught that he couldn’t get these books. He was sobbing, and his voice was going up in pitch and volume. In his mind, we were stealing from him. Some parents have not known how to deal with this strong emotion from their children and turn it back on the staff. Some have actually spun on us and said “you tell my daughter why she can’t have her books”. This is bad parenting.
We are strongly discouraged at work from saying what we want to say. Sometimes we are provided scripts for tricky situations. This is not one of those that we have a script for. I’m pointing out the ways this interaction has gone wrong in the past to illustrate how surprising this one was.
This mom picked up her son and hugged him. She patted him on the back. She made consoling sounds. And she totally took the blame. She realized that she should have checked about getting a card before she got the books with him. And she let him cry it out. She didn’t distract him. She let him have his emotion.
We are not comfortable with strong feelings. We are so afraid of them in ourselves and in others that we often try to cover them up or run right through them.
Breathe through them. Let them happen. If you push them down or shove them aside they will resurface in uglier ways, with terrible faces. Resentment becomes alcoholism. Being abused becomes incessant pain, stomach upset, or road rage. Feeling left out or ignored produces a bully.
It is ok to not get your way all the time. It is the mark of a well adjusted person who can handle that. It isn’t the feelings that are the problem. It is what you do with them. We’ve either forgotten that, or we never learned it. We want to push through the bad feeling straight to the good feeling. We shortchange our growth when we do this. Our society teaches quick fixes and instant gratification. Nothing good comes of this. There is no abiding sense of satisfaction that comes from this.
I remember once I’d spent the day hiking the dry riverbed at Fall Creek Falls state park with a friend. It was a bear of a hike. What would have been a 6 mile hike was more like 11 because it wasn’t a straight path what with climbing up and down the boulders in the riverbed. We were sore. We were exhausted. We hadn’t quite prepared for this.
When we finally got to the end, we went to the restaurant and had a fine meal. We were surrounded by people who had just driven there. We’d spent the day hiking, and they’d spent the day driving.
I have a strong suspicion that we appreciated our meal more.
The same is true with maturity. It takes the long path, and a lot of hard work. There are no shortcuts. And part of getting there is pain. But pain can be transformative. It can be alchemical. Work with it, and through it, and because of it. You’ll savor life more. Sure it hurts. But as Carl Jung says “There is no coming to consciousness without pain.”