Writer Isabel Allende is known for her passion. Passionate stories, like The House of the Spirits. Passionate romance, like her famous crush on actor Antonio Banderas. And passionate opinions. Anytime her passions were taking over, she would call her daughter, Paula, for advice. Paula would listen thoughtfully to her mother’s fiery arguments and then would say, “Mother, what is the most generous thing to do in this case?”
Let’s be honest: It’s hard to set enthusiastic opinions aside. But it’s exactly what needs to happen if you’re going to find the middle ground, the topic of the March series, The Third Way. Getting to neutral is about more than making smart choices. It’s how we move through struggles quickly rather than getting rooted in turmoil.
This is what happened for Jana. I thought our lunch might be filled with stories about living in a construction zone. But her kitchen update hadn’t even started.
I was dumbfounded. “Back up. I thought you said you had worked with this contractor,” I argued.
“Oh yeah, I have. A couple of times. But Shaun told me he was restoring a 1920s house, top to bottom. I know that’s much tougher than my project,” Jana said with resignation.
“So you followed up, and?” I asked.
“He’s almost done. I should have a bid this week,” Jana answered.
“That’s it?” I asked, stunned. Jana wasn’t the kind of woman to let grass grow under her feet. I waited for a story about a snappy email. Or how she chased three of his competitors for a counter-offer.
“Yeah, that’s it. At least for today. He’s done quality work for me in the past, and I trust him to do the right thing now. Calling him on the hour won’t help,” Jana said. She shrugged and joked, “The last thing I need is a contractor with a chip on his shoulder!”
Jana had the wisdom to understand an important universal truth: You vs. me always fails. That means finding the third way relies as much on cooperation as it does on concessions. Sometimes the best thing we can do is give our passionate views an afternoon off, step back and let the pieces fall into place.
Think about it this way—did you ever thank someone for blowing up your phone or inbox? Of course not. Saying or doing the craziest thing that comes to mind may feel justified, but it highlights a painful reality: Panic is never pretty.
When you find yourself in a tough spot or two this week, think whether the actions you’re considering line up with your current intentions. Is this your year to become a better communicator? Then you have the perfect opportunity to be clear without blowing your top. Are you determined to practice compassion? Then entertain the possibility that someone is just having a bad day and move on without inflicting harm.
If you feel like your third way entails doing something, remember Paula Allende. Act, but before you do, ask yourself, “What is the most generous thing I can do?”