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day 79: challenging the default

April 21, 2011

It is such a perfect time of year.

Warm enough to relish a leisurely outdoor dinner, it is also too early for the menace of mosquitoes.  The fuzz of chartreuse pollen, having dusted all it touched for a solid week, is now gone; washed clean by Saturday’s storms.  Everything feels new.  From the time I wake up in the morning until I fall asleep at night, I find myself looking through windows.  This year, I promise myself, I’ll remember to enjoy the spring.  This year, I will stretch out the glittering space between complaining that the weather is too hot, and then too cold.  This year, the eleventh spring we have spent in North Carolina,  my default response will be to appreciate these transient, beautiful moments.

On Day 79, I thought a lot about my default responses.  I began the day troubled by a conflict between two of my work colleagues, one of whom is under my supervision.  As a general rule, I am totally conflict-averse.  While, intellectually, I understand that discord is a necessary — and often productive — part of human relationships, my default response to conflict is to just make it go away.  Fortunately, early in the morning on Day 79, I had absolutely no way of smoothing over the situation between my colleagues, and I was forced to sit with my discomfort.  I’m sure you can guess what happened as I stewed through a few strained hours:  the two adults involved readily worked through their issue without any intervention from Yours Truly.  I was pleased to learn that they had done so, but irritated with myself for wasting precious mental muscle worrying about the situation.

Later, I attended an awards luncheon at the university honoring a beloved colleague.  My colleague (and friend) had been nominated by our office for an award commending years of dedicated work, and at the luncheon we would learn that she won this much-deserved accolade.  In conversation prior to the event, she’d said (in typically modest fashion), “There’s no way I am going to win this, but it felt so affirming to have been nominated by my peers.”  When the dean announced her name as the winner, I was sitting in the chair right next to her.  Her default reaction was priceless.  First, she looked behind her — no joke — as if their were someone standing there who shared her name and was the actual recipient of the award.  Next, when she realized that she was, indeed, the winner, she high-fived the table.  At this stuffy, proper luncheon,  she reflexively threw out high-fives to her cohort.  It was the most authentic default response to joy I’ve seen in a long time.  I’m so glad I was there to witness it.

At the very end of Day 79, we took the children outside for a post-dinner walk.  All of our neighbors, it seemed, had shared this same good idea, taking in the April dusk on bikes or scooters, or walking dogs.  My husband and I chatted with friends as our kids played catch in the cul-de-sac, stopping to inspect an ant pile or a dandelion as they did so.  In the midst of this spring reverie, my default response was to check my watch and consider that my children were out past their bedtimes.  Luckily, at the end of Day 79, reason beat out default.  I kept my mouth shut and let them play.

My gift on Day 79 was a card of congratulations to my award-winning colleague.  In it, I enumerated the reasons I love working with her.  I included, of course, my appreciation of her default high-five response.

An unexpected gift from Day 79 was a renewed commitment to both observe and challenge my own default responses.  I’m so grateful for Day 79’s reminder.

Today, I hope you throw a few high-fives without even thinking about it.  Thank you, always, for showing up.

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