My coaching client Gregg told me that he was trying to figure out his identity as a husband and father. “I grew up with two fathers,” Gregg explained. “One was my biological father, and the other the man my mother married after she divorced my father for cheating on her.
“My first father was a real player, a high-roller,” Gregg went on. “He loved to make money and spend it. He was generous with me and everyone. When I saw him after the divorce, he always had a new car and a different girlfriend. He seemed to be having fun, but I never saw him have a real relationship.
“My second father was the exact opposite: He was ultra-conservative, serious, and stingy, but stable. He was a solid guy, but didn’t seem to be enjoying life.
“Now that I have my own wife and family,” Gregg confessed, “I struggle between these two images. I’m not sure which man I want to be more like.”
I told Gregg, “You are very blessed to have these two fathers to learn from. You had a soul contract to learn from both of them. Each had traits you liked, and traits you disliked. You don’t have to be like one or the other. You can choose your first father’s playfulness and generosity without cheating on your wife, and you can choose your second father’s stability without being stingy.”
With that suggestion Gregg experienced a huge “AHA! He discovered that he can “take the best and leave the rest.”
My mentor Hilda Charlton taught, “Everyone teaches you something. Some teach you what to do, and others teach you what not to do.” It is rare that we meet someone who models all of what we want or all of what we don’t want. We human beings are gloriously complex and embody a wide spectrum of traits for better and worse. It would be naÃ¯ve and simplistic to want to be all of what someone is or all of what they are not. A mature person discerns traits within a person, and appreciates what is valuable and what is not.
During one class Hilda guided the students on a unique exercise. “I want each of you to stand and tell what ethnic group you have descended from. Then say, ‘I choose to take the positive trait of ( insert ethinic group ) from my heritage, and I choose not to take the negative trait of ( insert ethinic group ) from my heritage.'”
Because the class took place in New York, students from many different cultures spoke. Chinese, Jewish, Italian, Irish, African-American and many others identified the best and worst traits of their culture, and took a stand for what was helpful and what was not. That class was a real eye-opener for me. Although it took place many years ago, I remember it clearly to this day.
To identify any person or event as all good or all bad is a form of nearsighted vision. (Stephen Wright said, “A conclusion is where you got tired of thinking.”) There is a little bit of good in things that seem very bad, and there is a little bit of bad in things that seem very good. Your experience depends on what you choose to focus on. The ancient yin-yang symbol depicts a little white spot in the black sector and a little black spot in the white sector. When we recognize life as multidimensional, we can use mature discernment to make healthy decisions.
Dr. Barry Vissell and his wife Joyce Vissell (sharedheart.org) are gifted teachers of relationship. In a recent magazine article, they offered this quiz:
“It’s time to elect a new world leader, and only your vote counts. Here are the facts about the three leading candidates. Who would you choose?
“Candidate A associates with crooked politicians and has two mistresses. He also chain smokes and drinks 8 to 10 martinis a day. Candidate B was kicked out of office twice, sleeps until noon, used opium in college, and drinks a quart of whiskey every evening. Candidate C is a vegetarian, doesn’t smoke, drinks an occasional beer, and never cheated on his wife. Which of these candidates would be your choice?
“Candidate A is Franklin D. Roosevelt. Candidate B is Winston Churchill. Candidate C is Adolph Hitler.
“Obviously, some important details were left out of the candidates’ resumes, but this example shows how important it is to look deeper before you judge.”
All good people do some bad things and all bad people do some good things. Each of us must learn from the example that others show us, especially from the fruits of their actions.
In a sense, we all have two fathers. We have role models of people who inspire us to follow their model, and others who inspire us to head in the opposite direction. Let us be grateful to them all, for they all serve.