“Nicht ärgern, nur wundern.” My mother kept a plaque in the kitchen with that phrase on it. It translates from German to “Don’t be angry, just be amazed ” according to Google Translate.
Let’s ignore the creepy fact that this phrase was also the message left by German soldiers on the destroyed town hall of Péronne during World War I. I just found that out while researching this blog post. Eeeeesh.
No, no. I will assume that my mother, born well after WWI and a peace-loving and curious person by nature, was not harbouring any dark, pugilistic patriotism for the country where she was born.
Indeed, when I asked her as a child what the plaque meant, she translated it as “Don’t get angry. Just wonder.”
Wonder at what’s going on with the people involved in a conflict.
Wonder at the differing points of view.
Wonder what each person’s “truth” about the situation is.
Wonder if there’s another way to view the problem.
Wonder if you can find an alternate solution.
Wonder why you are upset. What’s pushing your buttons? What are you really afraid of? Anger is rooted in fear of something: fear of rejection, fear of betrayal, fear of loss, fear of pain, fear of being misunderstood.
Stopping and asking “I wonder….” is a simple but effective way to increase your self-awareness and empathy for others and keep an angry situation from escalating.
This is a saying that guides and inspires me. Let’s look at it a bit more closely.
First, fear is in your mind. What you fear is your monster and no one else’s. I’m not saying the things you fear aren’t real, but your reactions to the things you fear are uniquely your own.
Face your fear. Understand what makes you afraid and why. Poke at it. See what you can do about it. I used to be so afraid of heights I would get woozy standing on a chair to change a light bulb. Nonetheless, I managed to work up the courage to jump off a cliff into a lagoon in Mexico (there was no alcohol involved!). I’m never going to be a height-loving person, but I no longer let the fear manage me. I’ll get up that ladder or cross that suspension bridge and I carry on. Light bulbs get changed in my house now!
Ask the monster for a gift. When you face your fear, when you just do that thing that you dread – whether it’s facing a fear of heights or spiders or clowns, having an uncomfortable confrontation, giving a speech, saying I love you, changing jobs – that act itself is a gift, regardless of the results. You free yourself from fear’s shackles and become instantly more powerful.
Always ask the monster for your gift.
If I had a coat of arms and motto, this would be it. But I don’t, so instead I made myself a dinner plate.