Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Action and reaction

This week is the anniversary of perhaps the most horrific moment of my professional career. I was working for a small family operation that fought for years against a competing firm owned by a huge corporation. The owner of my company passed along to us his deep distrust and perhaps even hatred of our big competitor. I believe I was a good soldier in his little army; in many ways I still consider that huge corporation a blight.

This week a few years ago, the owner drew us all together to tell us he had given it all he had and it was time to sell the company — to the huge corporation.

What they say about fight-or-flight is true. It did feel like the room was spinning. I was torn between fleeing the room in anger and disillusionment or staying to defend the remnants of the family company that was my home-away-from-home until, it turns out, a few hours earlier when the sale was finalized.

As I stood along the wall, I glanced down at a woman who was taking notes: At the top of her pad were the words, "In 100 years, none of this will matter."

The words settled me down dramatically. I didn't exactly laugh, although the moment suddenly felt more humorous, but I did grasp that although I had no control over the action that had just been announced, my reaction was entirely under my control. The situation still seemed untenable, but calm reason started to flow back into a corner of my heart.

Courage to change the things I can; the serenity to accept the things I can't; the wisdom to know the difference. At least I had the serenity down. Mustering the courage is always the dicey part of that equation.

Looking back over developments since then, I have mixed feelings. I could have and perhaps should have mustered the courage to turn over a few money-changing tables in the temple. If I had indeed fled, I would have worked through the consequences of that action by now. But again, those moments are past and today presents its own challenges.

From the news of the world to our own backyard, we will be presented today with actions that no doubt will challenge our core — on the grand scale, tyranny is afoot in the world and nation; on the smallest of scales, no matter how we plan to spend the day, something unexpected will divert us from that course. For the most part you can't control those actions, only your reactions.

A practical example: My coffeemaker malfunctioned and the day began with brown liquid all over the kitchen counter instead of in the pot where it belonged. As I sopped coffee off the floor, I found the seeds of this little essay. Now, let me see if I can find a way to tackle that tyranny ...



Anonymous sunni said...

You've been on a great streak lately, and this post really caps it nicely for me. Thank you very much for the helpful reminders.

10:39 AM  
Anonymous Brian N. said...

That picture is a screen cap from Ikiru, is it not? Seems very fitting, to me.

10:24 AM  

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