Hey there friend! Welcome back to another episode of Sparkchasers. At the time I’m recording this, it’s the end of May, 2021. We’ve survived another school year during a pandemic and there’s a theme that keeps resonating in my head: forgiveness.
That sounds odd, but stay with me for a moment. We’ve talked a lot about social emotional health for our students, but I’m not hearing nearly as much emphasis on what that looks like for teachers and others who have been on the front lines during this pandemic. It’s been a traumatic event. And have teachers gotten the support they’ve needed during this time? Now that there’s a vaccine available, there’s even more upheaval. Should you get it? Should you not? How does that make you feel?
And as we’re winding down the school year, that also comes with a release of the feelings we’ve been holding in. A lot of what is coming out are feelings of resentment, anger, frustration, exasperation, along with a confusing mix of joy and real happiness from working with our students this year. As we begin to process this past year, forgiveness will be something I think we’ll start to have to reconcile. Because anytime we have these feelings of hurt, forgiveness for that hurt is an option and an opportunity.
Currently, I’m reading the book Forgiving What You Can’t Forget. And there’s an exercise in there that my own therapist has had me do in the past which can be helpful in situations like this. I thought I’d share it with you today in the hopes that no matter what life situation you’re in – whether it be this or something else entirely – you can find a way through the hurt to the other side. Which is what real social-emotional health looks like.
1. Collect the Dots
Forgiveness is both a decision and a process. You have to actively decide you’re ready and willing to move forward. And from there, the process of forgiveness can begin. One of the first steps to this process is collecting previous experiences that have shaped you. This is called “collecting the dots”. You’re going back through your own life experiences and writing down significant events that shaped who you are and your perceptions of the world right now.
I have found in my own process that sitting down and bullet journaling everything I can remember that had an impact on me is helpful. From there, I can look at the mess and begin to place each item into themes or periods of time. For example, in my own bullet journal, I have written items about the trauma of moving when I was 12, the loss of control over decision-making, worrying about how to afford college, taking on my adult responsibility than I should have at a young age. All of that is wrapped up under the bucket of the bankruptcy my family went through when I turned 12. By writing everything down first and then grouping them into categories, it helps me see not only what has led me to my current worldview but also why.
So your first action step is to write down significant experiences or moments and then try to find groupings for your items.
2. Connect the Dots
Next, it’s time to “connect the dots”. Which is what people say when they’re trying to figure out why something happened. But you can’t connect the dots if you haven’t collected them first. Once you have your list of collected dots and have grouped them into themes, then you can begin to look at how those themes or groupings have impacted your choices and what role they play in your responses to significant events.
In terms of the pandemic, look at how your collected dots have driven your decisions on how to keep yourself and others safe. Consider how your collection of dots influence your decisions on a daily basis.
If I look back to that example of collected dots I just shared, that certainly influenced my choices on how we run our company, how to make sure everyone kept their jobs and felt secure, and how I chose to purchase items in a very tumultuous time. Other business owners and educators who didn’t have my previous life experience may have made different choices. Neither is right or wrong. It’s just the way we’ve each chosen to handle the situation.
This helps us move through the process of forgiveness because if we can connect the dots for ourselves, we can begin to see how to do that with others. It doesn’t excuse choices, it doesn’t mean we have to accept them. It just means we are able to understand the why behind the choices that were made.
3. Correct the Dots
The last step to this process is correcting the dots. And this is what I think is most valuable. In this phase, we’re looking critically at our collection of dots and how they are connected to our previous choices. And then, we ask the question: is this still true?
That’s pretty powerful. Because many of our choices are based in assumptions from previous experiences which no longer hold water. So we have to challenge those assumptions and correct them if necessary.
In my example, one of my first assumptions when the pandemic hit and we were ordered to close our offices was that the economy was going to tank, I wouldn’t be able to keep anyone on our staff, I’d have to shut everything down, and we wouldn’t be able to survive. None of that happened. Not even close. But I began to go down this rabbit hole really quickly because my previous dots were telling me this is what happens when the unexpected takes place. It was important for me to ask the question “is this still true?” about each element. Is it still true that I don’t have ANY control? No. I’m an adult now and have the opportunity to course correct and make changes. I didn’t have that opportunity as a child, but I do now.
This step is the one that is crucial for us to move beyond bitterness, anger, resentment, and frustration and towards forgiveness, peace, and the ability to make a change and a difference. So my challenge for you is to consider your collection of dots, how they have impacted your decision so far, and then ask yourself: are these assumptions still true? If not, what can I do to change them or heal from them?
This section can prompt us to ask questions such as:
- How can this hurt make me better, not worse?
- How might I look at this differently?
- Is there a redeeming part of this story I can focus on?
And then once we answer those questions, we can do the following:
- Be honest with the feelings you’re having
- Check possible distortions with trusted friends or colleagues
- Give yourself time to process through everything before making big decisions
At the end of the day, we’ve all had to live through an enormous amount of trauma and there will be things we want or need to forgive. And if that’s difficult for you right now, I understand. But hopefully, this framework of collect, connect, and correct the dots can help you find healing and peace in some way. And now, I’d love to hear your thoughts and questions about this topic. Remember, you can use the ask me anything button below to share with me your ideas and what’s bubbling to the surface for you. And if you are enjoying the show and know someone who could benefit from our discussions, please share the podcast with them. Together, we can chase the spark of our ideas and make a brighter future for everyone. I’ll see you soon.
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