My husband and I just took our son to Disney World for a family vacation. My husband had to leave a day early and so it was just AW and I taking on the Magic Kingdom. We were in the “Carousel of Progress” ride when my son made one of his sounds, which is annoying yet I cannot control the noises he makes or know when he’s going to make them as he does them almost as a tic. I calmly remind him that he needs to be quiet, turn the volume down because there are other people. He does it again. I catch a lady sitting two rows back looking our way, sighing, rolling her eyes, mumbling. I turn my head, make eye contact with her to let her know that I heard and saw her disapproval. This made her extremely uncomfortable and she wiggled in her seat a bit. I held my glance for a second longer and then calmly returned to watching the show and reminding my son to keep his volume quiet.
The next day we were at the airport in the security line and it was our turn. My son was standing behind me and I was using the scan code on my phone as our boarding pass. I did mine first and the security guy told me I could go. I told him that I still needed to get my son’s and the lady next to me in the next line gave another big sigh and smacked her boarding pass on the railing between us. I turned and looked at her to see if she had actually just done that and she indeed had. I locked eyes with her, she became extremely uncomfortable because there was nowhere for her to go and then I calmly went about getting my son to say his name for the security guy so we could pass through.
I was relaying this to someone when we got back and got into a friendly debate because that person felt I handled it in a passive aggressive manner and had missed an opportunity to educate these people. This may be true. I could have walked over, apologized, explained, apologized again, etc. I could make sure that I always have clever cards in my pocket that thanks people for their patience with my autistic son – not a bad idea but I’d have to make sure I had them all of the time.
However, what I have learned over the years and what I teach to the parents in my parenting tele-classes, is that it is MY choice when I feel like educating someone. I spent years explaining, rationalizing, essentially blurting out all of my son’s differences to anyone who glanced our way. This is exhausting AND it doesn’t guarantee that they will be kind, patient or loving. I will add that it is also very different when someone is genuinely curious and asks questions. This I appreciate because it is a completely different exchange of energy – apologetic victim vs. empowering leader. At least that is how it has felt for me as I’ve changed over the years.
What I also realized when reflecting, is that this points out a bigger lesson that I have learned about energy – choosing when to spend it and when to conserve it. I have experienced this lesson while participating in nature based coaching workshops. I have experienced this lesson watching horses in pastures and being in a round pen with a horse during equus workshops. I got to see this lesson over and over again while on safari in Africa.
In nature, animals conserve their energy until they need to expend it.
I watched three lions walk right past a couple of buffalo because they were on their way to the drinking hole before snoozing in the shade. The buffalo ran a very short distance but then stopped, turned and watched the lions (which is when I shot this picture). Sure the lions could have taken down one of the buffalo but they didn’t need to, what they needed was water and rest.
They don’t spend energy when they don’t need to.
Spending energy when they don’t have to puts them at a HUGE disadvantage that for them can lead to death.
Conserving energy does not mean that they are not aware, in fact, their soft focus during the conservation times allows them to be more aware, seeing and hearing everything so they know when to place their attention on a possible threat.
The lead mare in a herd of horses is not the one who is loudest or most aggressive. In fact, that horse might be the weakest at the time because they are spending so much energy and their focus is not on keeping the herd safe, it’s in being heard and seen. The lead mare in fact is calm, aware, making sure the herd stays safe and fed and she does this by taking care of herself in order to keep the herd safe because if she’s distracted or gets caught up in whether the other horses “like” her, she’s not leading. Apply this to your own life and it becomes humorous! Realizing this rocked my world as a person and as a parent and I haven’t been the same since!
Humans spend a lot of their energy on things that they perceive to be dangerous:
• thoughts about things they cannot control • judgement from other people • other people’s perceptions of them
Fortunately we don’t get eaten by lions but what does happens is that we typically create experiences that potentially feed into what we feel to be dangerous. We get angry and express that anger in ways that don’t represent the people we want to be and then we perseverate on what we cannot control (other people and then our emotions). We worry that we’ll be judged as not being a good parent. We compare ourselves to other parents and try band-aid fixes to create what we imagine that the have. This is not helpful and it happens when we need that conserved energy, say in order to stay calm and patient with an over-tired, over-stimulated child, we don’t have it and end up feeling and expressing anger because we are exhausted and our energy reserves are depleted.
How have I applied these lessons to my life?
I have learned not to give a shit about what other people think of me or my child. I cannot control the thoughts and judgements of anyone else and any illusion that I can just wastes my time and energy. What other people think of me or my child is their business. I stay in my own business.
I choose to conserve my energy when I come across people who are expending lots of their own energy over perceived threats – like the fact that they can’t put a finger on what’s going on with my son. To them, since he cannot be controlled, he is a threat. Again, I stay in my own business. I remind myself that I cannot control anything or anyone. I take lots of deep breaths which is what I need to do to take care of me. Other than a look, if that’s what I feel like doing, I try not to engage with these people. If I do, I try to keep myself calm and not get caught up in their fear, which usually comes out in the form of yelling, arguing, telling me what I “should” or “shouldn’t” do. I remember that it’s not fun to argue or be negative with oneself so if I don’t join them, it becomes fun to watch them try to figure out how to get me engaged.
I have learned not to put the comfort of other people above my needs, which are usually to stay calm and care for my son. But just like a lioness, I can lock eyes with that person, let them know that I see them, hear them and quite honestly could take them down, but that they are not worth my energy right now. I channel my inner lion!
That, my friends, is a powerful way to lead. At least that has been my experience. 🙂 xoxo Margaret