Let’s face it, the people closest to us can frustrate the heck out of us! We all get triggered and upset from time to time. But, we can all be redeemed. I don’t mean that in "a religious way." I mean it in "a strengths way." When you realize you have acted poorly, in a way that is not your best self, you have a choice. You can continue the path of isolation and disconnection or you can swallow your pride and redeem yourself.
I’m reminded of a story awhile back when I was struggling to turn out of a downtown parking garage onto a 1-way street. Growing impatient, I forced my car into traffic so I could get on with my day and return home to my family. In doing so I cut off another driver and I became the recipient of a short barrage of honks.
As luck would have it, the other driver and I met up at the next traffic light. Simultaneously, we rolled down our windows and my heart began to race. I, the initial guilty party, decided to wait to see the approach the other driver would take. Although I felt tensions rise, I also experienced flashes of curiosity, wondering what was imminent.
Well, she had certainly not forgotten it. She dove head-first into yelling and blaming. The anger on her face was intense and hostile. I took the bait and decided to argue in return. And back and forth we went. As we argued throughout the red-light, I thought to myself how silly I must look since I was the original one at fault. Eventually, we hit a stalemate and the light turned green. We drove off.
I felt worse.
I wished I would have admitted I was in error. I thought about how things might have been different for her if I would have apologized and given her the opportunity called forgiveness. Instead, I took the non-skillful, mindless approach and I fueled her anger with further arguments.
No doubt her day had gotten worse.
I will never know the degree to which this situation impacted the rest of her day – did it cause a negative ripple effect in each person she encountered until bedtime? Did it bring her to harshly judge drivers in Cincinnati, the city we were in? When she tells the story to others, will she be digging into and recycling her own internal negativity? Will it cause her additional suffering?
As I drove off, my mind meandered around these questions and my lack of character strengths use – it was an underuse of kindness, judgment and perspective for sure. I became determined to use greater mindfulness the next time a similar situation emerged. Ten minutes later after picking up my wife, I saw a homeless woman at the corner asking for money. I’d previously driven passed this woman several times but this time I felt compelled to give her money and a packaged granola bar. So I did. She thanked me and I drove off.
When I was giving the woman money and food I was drawing no conscious connection between the “bad” and the “good” incident. It was only afterward that I realized there was a redemptive quality to my act of kindness.
Did my awareness of my flawed behavior coupled with my intention “to be better next time” spur an attitude toward strength use? I had committed a small tear in the web of human interconnectedness, and I then somehow sought to repair that tear as soon as possible through character strength expression. I refer to this as strengths redemption.
Without those three steps – awareness of the mistake, intent to do better, use of strengths – I would probably have harbored anger for the rest of the day. I most certainly would not have supported the person in need and I likely would have been more tense and conflictual with my wife and others I encountered that day.
These three steps are easy to remember. In some situations, they will be easy for you to implement. In others, less so. It may take a heavy dose of bravery, honesty, or self-forgiveness to take the best action.
"VIA strengths consciousness is a consciousness about being good,” says Dr. Neal Mayerson, Chairman of the VIA Institute, "When you express your strengths for goodness:
- You are a better form of yourself,
- You create an opportunity for reciprocity of goodness from others, and
- You elevate those who might be witnesses to the expression of human goodness."
Try out the three steps of strengths redemption in your life. Have you made a mistake recently? Caused someone grief? Shown a lapse in judgment? Acted rude or simply underused your kindness?
Bring benefit to yourself, to others, and to the world, by practicing strengths redemption!