Life lessons are theoretically wisdom we’ve gleaned by doing things the hard way. At some point along our journey of colliding with reality, we arrive at an “ah-ha” moment. Explaining how you gained moments of clarity is a great way to connect with loved ones. (See also my book, Lessons Learned and Are You Older and Wiser?).
However you received your moments of clarity, the circumstances come back to you whenever you’re confronted with a similar situation. If you’re like me (and in this instance for your sake, I kind of hope you’re not), sometimes you come out of an experience with a lot more sleepless hours of fog, bewilderment, and what-iffing, than moments of clarity. Sometimes it takes a good friend, confidant, spouse, or therapist to help us deconstruct.In fact, the stories of learning those lessons are also stories of the people in our lives that help us through that process. And chances are, each time you’re confronted with a similar situation, you’ll hear that person’s advice echoing in your brain.
Moments of Clarity à la a Friend
Yesterday, reading a fellow blogger’s story of encountering meanness brought my friend Gabi to mind. Some people refer to the bullies of the blogosphere as trolls. Gabi would call them blöde Kühe, or stupid cows. In fact, I can almost hear her voice saying it.
Working in Schwieberdingen, Germany, I had a wonderful group of co-workers. We enjoyed a lot of lively conversation in our cubicle-free office. (My American friends always giggle when I say I worked in Schwieberdingen for a Herr Hugendubel. I’m not making it up, though Herr Hugendubel wasn’t a direct report. His name just sounds more stereotypically German than Herr Merkle.)
Gabi, who sat directly across from me, could be counted on as a sounding board for everything from perfecting my German to dealing with difficult people. And sometimes she could deliver introspection on a silver platter. Naturally, coming back from a vacation in Italy, I told her about my difficulties with a fellow traveler. When I finished my tale of venom and woe, I didn’t get the empathy and outrage I expected. Instead, her reaction came down more on the side of incredulous.
Here’s what happened: On the train back from Italy, an older Italian woman took the fact that I had placed my back-pack in the seat beside me as a personal affront. No amount of apology could appease her. She occupied herself by haranguing me. Despite her husband (and mine) imploring her to stop, she’d only pause. Although my husband quickly came to the conclusion that she was totally off her rocker—no DSM required, she got under my skin.
And, if you knew me, it would come as no surprise to learn the thing that always happens when I get really angry, happened. Tears came. The woman practically crowed with victory and gloated. Humiliated, I left the compartment and stood in the crowded, smoky passage way for an hour or so until she finally left the train.
After hearing my saga, Gabi was more confused than comforting. She summed up, “So, you let a stupid cow make you cry?”
She was right. She served up the conclusion I should have come to myself. I ceded my emotions over to a crazy woman. I gave that power to a woman I had never seen before, had no relationship with and who I would never see again. A stranger—perhaps even a certifiable one. I reverted to the little girl on the playground wearing corrective shoes and being the last picked for kick-ball.
And I learned from it those moments of clarity à la Gabi. When I encounter a truly unpleasant person, I quickly start asking myself if they pass the blöde Kuh test. Though I still get annoyed, I’m able to keep some perspective.
Who helped you gain moments of clarity? What do you recall about the person as you think back? Write it down (or at least tell someone your story)! And tell me about you stupid cows!
 Not her real name.