I had carefully nurtured some hardy crop starts in our south-facing windows, and I was in the garden preparing to transplant them. I tilled some ground and raked it out. I started putting in some lettuce starts and Lily, my granddaughter came out. Her mother had brought her over for a visit, and I explained to her I was putting in plants to grow into food like lettuce. She grabbed a handful of the lettuce starts, yanking them out of their growing medium, and threw them onto the ground and dumped dirt over them. I gasped.
“Oh, oh, oh. I am not quite ready for those yet, Lily,” I said carefully. She is easily hurt and I didn’t want to upset her. I did anyway. She hanged her head, her bottom lip came out, and she turned and walked away from the garden. I watched her walk slowly around the trampoline and to the south fence on our property. I know better than to run after her, so I continued to transplant the seedlings. As I hoped, she came back in about three minutes.
“I’m OK now, grandpa,” she brightly announced. She destroyed a few more seedlings, but we were able to get some cole crops transplanted, broccoli and cabbage. Not a bad morning’s work, especially since I am more interested in helping raise good granddaughters than in raising plants.
How did she do it? How did she know when she had bounced back and could come and help me? Her period of recovery is a mystery to me since she isn’t able to explain it. I suspect it has to do with distraction, in that she simply stops thinking about how she had upset me and was interested in seeing what I was up to. Children seem to have a great sense of resilience. They can fight and cry, and get over it quickly.
Her somewhat older cousin, Ginger, used to bite when she got upset, but that was just a phase she outgrew. She and Lily mostly get along very well, although they still fight over resources, such as jewelry and dolls. One day, to our surprise, Lily bit Ginger. Of course, Ginger howled for quite a while. She finally settled down and they started playing together again. Later I asked Ginger if she liked playing with Lily. Ginger replied, “Yes, she is learning to be nice.” Not that she always is, but at her best, she is nice.
Adults tend to ruminate on injuries. It is how we are wired. Mother Nature wants children to be forgiving, but we get to carry grudges if we want. In a primitive society, it was useful to keep track of who the untrustworthy members of the tribe were. It was useful to remember which other tribes could be trusted and which must not be. Carrying a grudge kept us alive and flourishing.
Today, forgiveness and dropping grudges is something that can help us flourish. Some people are not bad all the time, they are learning to be nice. If a person, at their best, is mostly nice, it is certainly to our advantage to forgive. How are we to forgive as they do hurt us?
Barbara Fredrickson has some good research on that. She finds that when we have about a three-to-one positive-to-negative ratio, we bounce back quickly from the hurts and insults of the world. When we are disappointed or angry with ourselves, if we can reflect on at least three good qualities, then we are much more able to forgive and drop ruminative thoughts of how we were hurt. So when our lives are mostly positive, when our inner experience is mostly one of enjoying and appreciating life, then the hurts of others are things we can blow off.
Fredrickson’s book, Positivity, is one I recommend. Greater Good Science Center has a great video of her explaining her views. I also recommend that, and here it is:
At www.positivityratio.com, Dr Fredrickson’s web site, you can take a free test (Free? Whoo Hoo!) to tell what your positivity ratio is today. She finds that only about 20% of us are in the real flourishing range. While most of us are pretty happy and positive, we can do better. We feel better when we do better. We are better employees, friends, spouses when we do better.
Now go plant some seeds of positivity.