I watched a movie last night called, The Silver Linings Playbook. It came out several years ago and it’s a good film. I will warn you there is definitely adult subject matter and adult language. But don’t let that stop you from watching. People are different; people are flawed. People are all loved by a God who knows how we got to be the way we are and loves us anyway. Maybe in some ways God loves us because of what we’ve gone through that make us who we are.
Anyway, before I get too philosophical, I want to comment on just one scene in the movie out of many I could highlight and discuss. The first time Pat, the protagonist and troubled son who was recently released from a psychiatric hospital, meets his brother, Jake, they have a rather awkward conversation. It is effectively portrayed in this vignette, both in words and mannerisms of both people, that the two brothers do not get along. Theirs has been a competitive relationship and Jake definitely believes that he has been “winning” at life. His comparisons of Pat’s struggles and his own successes make that crystal clear to all who are listening, most especially to Pat.
The whole time Jake is giving his litany of his strengths and Pat’s failings, Pat just stares at his brother. The viewer can deduce from this reaction that Pat is getting angrier and angrier as his brother continues. But then, in a surprise to all of us and an absolute shock to Jake, Pat replies with these words:
“I got nothing but love for you, brother.” And he then proceeds to give Jake a big bear hug. This unexpected response defuses the situation and very probably alters the course of their relationship from that moment forward. While watching that scene, I was reminded of a great book I read several years ago entitled, Leadership and Self Deception: Getting Out of the Box.
One of the messages of that book, which I have never forgotten and hope I never do, is that we can change the dynamics of a relationship, particularly a dysfunctional relationship, when we change our behavior toward the person to whom we are relating.
So, for instance, if you have a difficult relationship with one of your parents, and you are both used to a certain pattern to your discussions that result in arguments and hurt feelings, as well as lots of frustration and anger, a different response to that parent can change the atmosphere and the conversation. It can become more productive, moving into a more positive and mind altering direction. By mind altering, I’m referring to a definite ‘changing of one’s mind.’ That is more than just, “Oh, now I see your point and agree.” It has to do with being more loving and accepting of the feelings, the emotion, that the other person attaches to their words. When you have the humility to not respond in kind to cutting words, or negative comments, when you can reply in a different way than the other person expects, a kinder or just more thoughtful way, your relationship with that person can change.
And as your relationship changes for the better, you are encouraged to respond with kindness more often. Thoughtfully speaking out of respect to the relationship also means and is received as respect for the person. And that is huge.
So, when Pat tells Jake, he loves him, instead of getting defensive and rightfully criticizing Jake for his rather insensitive and old, predictable way of relating to his brother, everyone finds themselves in a better place. And then Jake’s disarmed response is more relaxed and loving in return. He hugs back.
The book, if memory serves, reveals that many dysfunctional relationships in families or in work environments are that way out of habitual bad behavior by both parties. And in time those bad habits grow comfortable because they are predictable. Even though they may be unpleasant, there are no surprises. It’s a pattern of destruction that both people have agreed, without discussion or conscious thought, works for them!
If one of the two people involved decides willfully and intentionally to NOT respond as the other ‘knows’ they will, things will change. If one of the two people responds lovingly and patiently, the other person will have to actually think about a proper response. That’s what most people will do, especially when the first person to change their response does so lovingly and with respect.
I say give it a try with someone you’ve struggled with for a long time or even recently. It’s never to early or too late to change. With every positive movement in a life, more positive relationships are possible with those you live and work with. I think that’s one of the things you see happen in Pat’s life by the end of the movie. There was a lot of love there all along. It just got lost in the negative patterns that family had developed. It took just one of them making a change, lovingly and patiently, for the whole dynamic within the family to change.
It’s not magic and it might not happen over night. But it can happen. And you knew I was going to say it, if you’ve read more than one of my blog entries, praying for peace in your heart and mind before you speak will help immensely. God is with you. Don’t forget it. Ask for God’s grace to enter in so that, even if no one else changes, you will be changed. You will be loving, patient, grateful. Again I say, give it a try. It’s never too early or late…