Still Angrily Impatient…But Not Always

A bunch of years ago, when I first started working on changing, or better, working on the whole me, a friend described me as angrily impatient. That’s still true. It’s something that has both caused me grief and served me. Probably more of the former than the latter.

For about 10 years, I was a photojournalist. During that era of my life, my opinion is it definitely caused me more grief, than helped. My last job in this capacity was in Cedar Rapids, IA. I can recall four distinct times being angrily impatient was not in my best interest. In the first, I had just started my job. I received an assignment to photograph some kids at a local event. It was in an auditorium. I remember getting there, and kids, being kids, it was difficult to get the attention of those I was supposed photograph. I really didn’t want to shoot this. Out comes Mr. AI, and in a manner not conducive to working with kids or persons in general, I did what I thought was necessary to get the picture done and out of there. When I returned to the paper, I was called into the managing editor’s office. He’d already had several parents call about “the rude photographer.” Strike one.

Another time Mr. AI showed up was a portrait I’d been assigned  of some guy who’d been responsible for updating a local theater. When I was working with the fellow, he kept wanting to ‘direct’ the photo. After several minutes of this, I finally said something to him akin to, “I’m the professional here. We’ll do it my way, understood?” Another phone call to the editor, another lecture. Clearly, Mr. AI wasn’t earning anyone’s welcome and causing me many more problems then he was solving. Strike Two.

The last time in Cedar Rapids this happened was the straw that broke the editor’s back. I was shooting a University of Iowa football game. It was raining pretty hard and in those days, maybe still, Iowa used Astroturf on their field. Funny thing about Astroturf and rain, they don’t play well together. In fact, there’s usually a pretty good lake that forms on the field. As a sideline photographer, I knew I was supposed to get on my knees to shoot, but with a field that wet, it would have been like jumping in a pool. An Iowa state trooper came by and ‘ordered’ me down on the field. Maybe I squatted, maybe I didn’t, I really don’t remember. What I do remember was standing, not kneeling. Up comes this state trooper, grabs my jacket, starts pulling me down with a “I said get down!” command. As you might imagine this went over like a lead balloon. Not only did I not go down, I told this guy if he put his hands on me again I’d file assault charges. A pretty good shouting match ensued. Unfortunately for me, the assistant sports director of the university is witnessing the whole thing. Not only did I get called in to the editor’s office, I was fired. Strike Three, you’re out! I remember him saying, “Donny, when I hired you I told you I would stand by you. I have. For three, long years. I just can’t anymore.” There was no begging forgiveness or another chance. It was to be the end of my career as a newspaper photographer. There’s almost never a day since I haven’t wished I knew then what I know now. I might still be shooting. It was one one of the most painful lessons ever. To this day, I don’t photograph much of anything. There’s still a stigma about what was lost. Maybe some day.

Did I learn anything from this? Yes. Many years later, I was in a situation with a K-12 school official. This guy, a former principal, and clearly someone used to getting his way, approached me on a project we were working together on. He asked me a question about an area of the project I was not responsible for. When I answered his question with that information, he began screaming at me. I mean screaming. In olden days, I might have strapped on my six-guns and invited him out to the street at high noon. This time, I stopped, caught me breath, and asked myself what this guy really needed. I knew his boss could be a real handful, he was likely under a lot of pressure from her. So, what did I do? I told him he was correct and asked him what I needed to do to make his life easier. The change was almost immediate. His anger deflated, we finished up what needed to be done with success. No one died. No one got fired.

While I’m nowhere near as angrily impatient as I was back in Iowa, I’m reminded how true it still is when I think about my relationship with my friend, Bruce. He is one of the most loving, caring men I know. He learns, he says, by asking questions – lots of questions. And that’s where I become angrily impatient with him. I can always feel the onset. It’s like I want to strangle him, never would of course, but the urge is there. I ask myself, “Who else in my life asked a lot of questions? How did I feel about it? Why does it make me angry – and is it really anger or my old friends fear & sadness? Another question might be, “Who didn’t ask me questions?” Right now, that seems to be the more relevant question. The answer would be Dad. He wanted me to be the way he wanted me to be, not the way I was. Another answer might be Mom. At the times Dad was raging, why wasn’t she asking him the questions of why he was taking his frustrations out on me.

With Bruce, I think it’s about how I’m processing his questions. Seems like (to me) he’s asking variations of the same questions repeatedly, so my frustration is, “He’s not getting it. Either figure it out, or stop with the questions!” It might also be that there’s a part of me which doesn’t want to allow somebody (Bruce) to get to know me that intimately. Because? Because if he does, he won’t like what he finds out about me; therefore, he won’t like me.

There’s a ring of truth to all of the above. Not enough question from Mom & Dad. Not wanting someone to know something about me which might cause them to dislike me. Nothing I can do about the former. For the latter, I want to be willing to accept whatever the outcome is. If someone doesn’t like me because of something they learn (I’m not a criminal, after all) that really isn’t my problem. It’s theirs. All I can do is be myself, warts and all. That’s either acceptable to someone else, or not, based on their own preconceptions. I don’t have to change the parts of me I like, only the parts I want to change.

I imagine, I’ll carry angrily impatient the rest of my life. How I choose to deal with it, well, that’s How Am I Changing?

 

Interrupting (Or, How I work harder to keep the attention focused on Me)

I’m really not sure how or when I started interrupting, but I do know it’s been a part of me for a very long time. I also know how it has not served me well for a very long time, as well.

Interrupting, among other things, is a sign of not listening to the person I’m talking with. It’s also another, of many signs, of my impatience. It seems as if there’s a part of me crying out, “Oh, look, I’m smarter than you are. I can add more to this conversation than you can.” It’s about that part of me saying, “Look at me! I’m special! More special than you! I know more than you! I’m more deserving of attention than you!” It comes from that part of me still not wanting to believe I’m enough just as I am.

Here’s an example: I remember during my short marriage always wanting to chime in. Never really wanting to listen to my wife. Even though I’d waited until I was in my 50s to get married, I couldn’t wait for Robbie to finish whatever thought she had. Particularly when we had a disagreement. All of the voices I’ve delineated above had to have their say, and they had to have it right away. It was as if, knowing this was one of the smartest persons I’d met, I didn’t want to take the time to learn from her during a time (the disagreements) when I might have learned the most. If I’d just kept my mouth shut, and my ears open I might truly have gained some insight which would have proven useful. Alas, it was not to be in that case.

It is said, those things I dislike about myself are the very things I dislike in others. Knowing how much I interrupt, I’ve started paying attention to how it shows up in my life in my interactions with others.

Not interrupting is really about not paying attention. And, that has been something of a challenge for me. I have a tendency toward living my life at the speed of sound – the sound of my own voice. Listening, means staying focused on what the other person has to contribute to the conversation. It also means letting go of the insecurities and voices which, for whatever reason, say, “You’re not enough.” The truth is, I am enough and when I slow down, and listen to what others have to express, I can actually do some amazing things.

The other day, for instance, I was having a conversation with one of my students. He’d come to me with a  question. I couldn’t help but smile as I would begin to answer his question  I never had the opportunity to finish a sentence! He would always interrupt with his own bit of information! I think I had a smile on my face from the instant the conversation moved in the direction of his interruptions. It occurred to me how much work it really must have been for him to not only ask his questions, but to interrupt with the answers I began as well. And, moments after that, in a conversation with another student, where the second student was, in my opinion, frustrated and lashing out, I was keenly aware of wanting to not allow him to finish his sentences, but to interject my own thoughts during his dressing me down. Still, having been interrupted so many times just a few minutes earlier, I was keenly aware of how important it was to allow this man to express what was bothering him. I believe it served me well, to not interrupt my second student, as uncomfortable as it was to hear him criticize me.  In fact, I attempted to use what I’d learned in Imago teaching to repeat back to him what I’d heard in order for him to feel heard. It seemed to have worked well, because later when this student had a conversation with the training center administrator, he never mentioned the blow-up he’d had with me. I like to think he considered his point made and deemed I had indeed paid attention to what was bothering him. If only all of life worked that easily when someone feels frustrated.

A bigger part of listening, not interrupting, has made me aware of a great gift the Universe has provided me. I am by no means a psychologist, a therapist or any other kind of ‘ist’. I have learned, though, when another person is willing to trust I am paying attention to what they want to express, especially when what they are saying has to do with a painful event in their life, I have the means of walking through a healing with them, hand-in-hand. There have been many times in fact, during the course of the men’s work I began doing in December of 2000, where I’ve been able to guide another, either gently or more vigorously, to a place where the pain can be put aside and something beneficial can begin. I always feel incredibly humble the Universe has decided to use me as a conduit to allow such events to happen. To see another person on the other side of suffering is a gift the likes of which exists no where else in my life. It was never easy, but learning to listen is truly a reward to be grateful for.

Listening, without interrupting, additionally allows me to stay present in the moment. John Lennon once said, “Life is what happens when you’re busy making other plans.” When I’m listening to another person fully, it’s about living life in just that moment. The interruptions are really saying, “Hey, I’ve got something else to do. Let’s get on with this, can we?” Staying focused on what’s right in front of me, and giving the other person or persons my attention without interrupting keeps me focused on living life right where I am. An exercise I did in a training once, asked the question, “I am right here, right now. Any doubts?” I’m working to always be able to say, “No doubt.”

How Am I Changing?: By listening, without interruption I not only become a better me, I allow you to become a better you.