Many moons ago, back before kids and when I still did the 8-to-Whenever corporate thing, I attended a seminar on Emotional Intelligence. I’d been to many workshops over the years, but that one resonated with me on a deeper level, and all these years later, two main messages stick with me.
There was this frog—Fred. Fred was a great little frog, born with all the promise that comes with every new wiggly little tadpole. He spent his early days playing, like most good frogs do, learning the world and testing his limits. But with time Fred began to act differently, and soon it became apparent he was sick. Poor Fred was removed from his pond, taken to a rehabilitation center and cared for 24/7. He was watched closely. He was given every chance to not only survive, but thrive. And he did. With time Fred perked right back up, returning to his happy, healthy frog self. Problem solved, Fred was returned to his pond.
A few days later he was dead.
The problem wasn’t Fred. The problem was the pond. You could remove Fred from the pond over and over, you could fully rehabilitate him, but unless you did something about that icky, stagnant, grungy, polluted pond, poor little Fred never stood a chance.
We live in ponds, too; and our ponds can get pretty polluted, as well. So what do you do? How do you clean your pond?
In the seminar, the presenter talked about thermometers and thermostats. Thermometers reflect the world around them. They tell you what is. Thermostats, however, CHANGE the world around them. If you’re too hot, you turn down the thermostat. If you’re too cold, you turn it up. Thermostats have power.
We have power, too. We can be a thermometer, reflecting the pond around us; or we can be a thermostat, changing the pond. Maybe you can’t change your entire pond. Maybe it’s just your little corner of the pond, where your family lives. But all change has to start somewhere, and as your corner of the pond begins to thrive, the folks in the rest of the pond begin to take notice.
All these years later, that message has stayed with me, and I’ve come to see the simple beauty of its truth. There are some difficult people in this world. We all know them. They don’t act the way we wish we they did. They’re hard to be around. Maybe we’d like to avoid them, but we can’t. They’re family members or work associates, neighbors and friends (because yes, just because someone is difficult doesn’t mean they aren’t loveable!) And one thing I’ve noticed is how easy it is to slip into thermometer mode and treat these people as they treat me. To reflect them. And yet, when I do that, I invariably find myself unhappy, because that’s not who I am. I’ve realized I’m much happier in thermostat mode, acting in a way that’s true to my heart…and hoping that maybe it makes a dent in theirs. And a lot of times it does.
Be the change you wish to see in this world. This quote attributed to Mahatma Ghandi has long been one of my favorites, but after some fact checking, it seems there’s no evidence he ever said that. He did say this, however:
“If we could change ourselves, the tendencies in the world would also change. As a man changes his own nature, so does the attitude of the world change towards him. … We need not wait to see what others do.”
Different words, same message: Be a thermostat. And then there’s this, which I heard on a commercial the other day, and it stopped me so cold I rewound to hear it again, then physically wrote the words down.
Be the person you want your child to become.
Whoa. That’s powerful, and so much more actionable than being the change for the whole world. Be the change for your child. The thermostat. Be mindful of the example you’re setting. Because they’re watching. And absorbing. Everything. As my daughter nears ten, she has many friends whom we have known since they were babies or toddlers, and it’s stunning (and sometimes funny, sometimes sad) to realize, now, how much these children reflect (thermometer) their parents. My daughter is so much a mirror of me, the good, the not so good, and all that’s in between.
But here’s the deal. Whereas children start out as thermometers, we’re their thermostats.
If you want your child to be polite, then you must be polite.
If you want them to pay attention, then you need to pay attention. Look at them. Make eye contact. Be in the moment. (It was unbelievably sobering when my son began answering my summons with “hang on!” and I realized that’s what I, all too often, said to him.)
If you want your child to trust, or be honest, or respectful then you must trust, and be honest, respectful.
If you want your child to roll with the punches, then yup, you gotta do some rolling, too.
If you want them to laugh….
To be generous….
To be compassionate…
Loving is easy for me, but saying what’s in my heart, how I feel, never has been. (Great irony for a writer, right?) There’s an incredible vulnerability to say what’s inside, and I hate the way I stumble when it matters most. Growing up, our family just wasn’t like that. But I have a choice now. I can continue to model what was modeled for me, or I can be a thermostat and make a change for my kids. I can tell them I love them. I can admit when I screw up. I can tell them I’m sorry. And hopefully, in doing so, I’m being the person I hope my kids to become…
To be the change I wish to see in this world…
By being a thermostat.
And creating a healthy corner in my pond…
Facilitating happy, healthy, thriving little frogs.
Funny the circles life makes. Never in a million years could I have realized at that long ago afternoon seminar, that all these years later, I’d still thinking about Fred.