Lessons From Life

I was reading the book Working With Emotional Intelligence by Daniel Goldman and read an account of a senior leader who was rather cross with the staff he led. 

There was so much commotion in the room with the leader ranting about some issue they were having when one of the team members calmly shared a different perspective. It took a great deal of courage for this individual to speak up. When they did, the senior leader seemed to speak over the staff member and that person continued in a calm and focused manner to state their case. Eventually, the senior leader acquiesced and allowed the individual to share their perspective. 

When I read the account I recalled what I had learned in meditation and wondered whether or not this person had meditation as a practice in their lives that allowed them to manage the volatile situation at hand. 

Similarly, I was teaching a group of junior consultants in a firm about developing their personal presence when a senior leader walked into the room and admonished one of their underlings for taking time away from work to attend such a class. 

The leader inquired about the topic of the class and the junior consultant responded about deepening their learning about presence. The senior leader scoffed, “I can teach you that in just a few minutes, and then you can get back to work.” The senior leader then closed the door and left.

I found that to be a disruptive and counterproductive act in front of the group considering their goals, particularly for me as a coach and for the junior consultant to whom the comment was made. I was also quite shocked that someone, particularly a senior leader at the firm, would do such a thing. I remember asking who that was and then excused myself from the class and followed the senior leader to their office. I calmly expressed my displeasure with what they just did and shared my concern that while possibly humorous to them, it was destructive to what I was there to accomplish for the sake of the organization. The senior leader was clearly caught off guard and apologized. 

When I returned to the class, they asked what had happened and I told them. You could have heard a pin drop in the room for the remainder of the training. The lesson learned is that there is a way to stand your ground when you are calm and collected rather than allow an amygdala hijack to render you ineffective in handling challenging situations.

I began my meditative practice at the age of thirteen when I began practicing my compulsory school figures as an ice skater. I did not know it at the time, though I believe my coaches knew what they were doing when practice time began with Hawaiian music that inspired my body to move in smooth and deliberately focused ways that allowed me to master the art of figure skating. That training prepared me well for an incident that took place many years later when I was living in Boston.

I arrive home in the middle of the day. Dressed in khakis, a blue button-down shirt, with penny loafers on my feet. A very New England look at the time. There is a torn screen door on the front of my home. Another on the back door. I plan to remove the screens. Time to take them both in for repair. It’s a bit warm, so I take off my shirt leaving me with just an undershirt to stay cool without changing entirely before moving on to the repair shop. 

I complete the effort of taking off the screen at the front of the property, the door propped open to allow the breeze to move easily through the house. I move to the back door, repeating the removal there as well, sweat beginning to run down my back. Suddenly a police officer appears in my backyard, hand on his gun, questioning a report he received from a neighbor that someone was taking screens off the doors of my house. I confirmed that was exactly what I was doing. He asks who I am in relation to the property. “This is my house and I am taking screens off the doors. Would you like to see my identification to confirm? It is sitting on the kitchen counter. Is it alright that I go and get it? Or do you wish to accompany me to do so?” A bit shaken, the police officer begins to relax and expresses his trust that I am safe to move out of his sight. 

Frankly, I was surprised by his response. Having grown up with an attorney for a father and having traveled with him a few times to get depositions from incarcerated defendants that he represented, I knew the lay of the land in managing law enforcement. I remained calm and respectful of his authority, having grown up to carry a slight fear of police when it comes to being a man of color. This is no time for an amygdala hijack!

I return with my identification to show the police officer that I indeed reside at this residence. He is satisfied that all is well when I calmly and matter-of-factly ask which neighbor was kind enough to look out for the safety of our neighbors. I want to express my gratitude that they are looking out for those of us on our block.

Typically an officer should never reveal such information. Yet, I was able to disarm him by remaining cool and calm and by not being reactive to the situation that suggested I was being accused of breaking and entering my own home. He willingly tells me the address. Another surprise! 

Lesson learned, when stimulated to the level of an Amygdala Hijack, one profits greatly from remembering that we are not being chased by prehistoric predators. We are reacting to a pre-historic part of our bodies that remains to protect us. We need this protection, even in cases when our lives are not being threatened. Though it may feel as though that is exactly what is happening.