It’s time for the Summer Olympics, and it is a real treat watching so many athletic virtuosos gathered in one place. Olympians of course are there because they are the best; they are at the top of their game. Even so, occasionally an athlete will make a mistake, will underperform, will botch a routine. While I hate to see the heartbroken face of a young Olympian from any country, it does serve to remind us that even the best and the most talented among us can make mistakes. Winston Churchill defined success as the ability to go from failure to failure with enthusiasm. He knew what he was talking about. Other successful people who at one time experienced significant failures were Abraham Lincoln, Michael Jordan, Ludwig van Beethoven, and Thomas Edison. Our mistakes and failures are just as much a part of who we are as our achievements, and we should embrace them as such. To do less than that diminishes our humanity. And by doing so we give permission to those around us to do the same. To lie, betray, or demean others – these behaviors are wrong and are evidence of character defects. But mistakes, even those that are a result of carelessness, they are something quite different. If you make a mistake, try owning up to it immediately. You will be amazed at the personal and relational power that is set in motion if you do. And then tuck away your mistake for safe-keeping; what you have learned will come in handy next time.
Relationships are not for sissies. Understanding the nature and the dynamics of relationships, and learning how to negotiate them requires a proficiency that is not easily acquired. I must be introspective and self-aware, and also receptive to and perceptive of the other. When problems arise either outside of a relationship or in the context of a relationship (and they always do), we tend to develop habitual patterns of responding to the uncomfortable feelings. One of these patterns is called pursuing and distancing. When the anxiety or stress level goes up, some people feel better with more companionship, more closeness, and a solution-based approach to the issue. They figure, if there’s a problem, let’s talk so we can resolve it. For other people, when the stress level goes up, more intimacy is the last thing they want. They are more comfortable with more distance, not more closeness. At this point, they want their space, and would prefer time with a hobby, TV, or the like. What results is an unholy yin/yang of approach and withdrawal, to where the doomed efforts to solve the problem become the problem. Whether or not we are a pursuer or a distancer is influenced by factors such as ethnicity, family history, gender, and past relationships. Neither one is evidence of an emotional deficit. Within all of us resides a pursuer and a distancer, because all of us, to a greater or lesser extent, fear abandonment and fear intimacy – it’s part of being human. The trick is to notice the patterns and, with wonderful irony, for us to learn to imitate our partners. When pursuers practice distance and when distancers practice pursuit, communication can improve dramatically.
This week I found out that Reality TV doesn’t have to be mind-numbing. This was thanks to the first episode of a new series called Push Girls. It’s standard Reality fare – about breakups, hookups, stalled careers, friends and frenemies, babies yes or babies no – all served up with an occasional meltdown. But on most reality shows I have trouble keeping the female characters straight – they all look alike to me. The Push Girls are stunningly beautiful, but without the cookie-cutter sameness of most reality stars. I wasn’t even thrown off by the fact that all four women are wheelchair users. A savvy producer has introduced the chairs as a subplot, as something secondary to dating, work, budgets, and all the other things that absorb the lives of young women. Difference is not presented as defective. Even in a world where no two snowflakes are alike, that can still be a difficult concept to embrace. Generally life is easier if one can walk, and see, and hear, and think. But the assumption that the absence of these automatically entails a lesser life stems from fear or misinformation, not reality. And it seems this particular reality show aims, along the way, to demonstrate just that. Here’s hoping the Push Girls start a wave. So that at some point the lowest common denominator is no longer the only reality on Reality TV.