My father, Ernest Lewis, often would recite his favorite portion of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s poem, The Psalm of Life. I heard it many times as a youngster, a teenager and a young adult. Sadly, I didn’t fully understood its significance to him or to anyone who has seen both life and death and who is aware that there is much less time ahead than the time behind. I wish I had talked to him about it–one of those many regrets I have (and with which you may be familiar). One thing is certain: Now I understand.
I’ve especially thought about Dad’s favorite lines since the tragic events last week in Aurora, Colorado, where I live.
FROM THE PSALM OF LIFE
…Art is long and Time is fleeting,
And our hearts, though stout and brave,
Still, like muffled drums, are beating
Funeral marches to the grave.
Lives of great men all remind us
We can make our lives sublime,
And, departing, leave behind us
Footprints on the sands of time;
Footprints, that perhaps another,
Sailing o’er life’s solemn main,
A forlorn and shipwrecked brother,
Seeing, shall take heart again
Let us, then, be up and doing,
With a heart for any fate;
Still achieving, still pursuing,
Learn to labor and to wait.
There are many things about life and death that we can’t choose. However, we can choose whether our march is purposeful and cheerful or indecisive and sluggish–and whether we are still achieving and pursuing right up to the end of our journey in this earthly life or still dragging our feet and complaining. What tempo is the beat of your muffled drum?
Try Straight Talk
Many of the problems at work and elsewhere could be reduced dramatically if people would tell the truth in appropriate ways. Instead, problem solving is stalled by those who hint, pretend to joke, talk in round-about ways or try to avoid having conflict.
What’s worse is that often it is done in the name of not wanting to start an argument, not wanting to hurt someone’s feelings, not wanting to sound like a complainer, etc. etc. But, while others are silent the situation gets worse.
If something is weighing on your mind,
If you want to say something about a problem,
If you wonder what someone meant,
If you are confused about instructions or directions,
If you have an appropriate thought or feeling you want to express,
If someone has a habit or a way of communicating with you that makes you grind your teeth in frustration…..
….Communicate directly in a courteous way. You will also save a lot of time and you will get to the core of problems, rather than dancing all around them.
If the person you need to talk to is higher than you in the organization, you may be limited in what you can say–but you still can seek to clarify an issue or express a feeling. If the person is a peer, friend or family member, you should be courteous and appropriately caring. However, if something needs to be said, say it. You’ll feel better about it and you can get a subject cleared up and out of the way much more quickly.
If you don’t really care enough to deal with a problem or it happens so infrequently that it really isn’t an issue, maybe you can leave it alone. If you complain about it repeatedly to others, either give them a break and stop complaining or do something effective to bring the frustrating situation to a halt.
You’ll dread it but once you start talking you’ll feel better. You’ll probably find that straight talk would have been the best response all along.