My wife was asleep, recovering from labor and surgery. I was holding my daughter Marina for the first time. Our nurse stopped by and took a look at me. She put her hands on my shoulders and gently pushed them down.
“Do I seem tense?” I asked.
She nodded. I was wearing my shoulders like earrings.
“The more relaxed you are,” the nurse said, “the easier it will be for baby to relax.”
In other words, if I wanted my daughter to be calm, calming myself was step one.
During paternity leave, I went back to this lesson again and again. I’d hold Marina and instinctively tense up at the sound of her crying. Then I’d remember what to do: deep breaths in and out, relax what’s tense, be peaceful to encourage peacefulness.
It didn’t always do the trick. Sometimes, Marina needed to eat or work through some discomfort in her new, little body. But when she was consolable, my surest route to soothing her was to first soothe myself.
One of my favorite sayings is, “If you want to see it, be it.” It’s another way of articulating the nurse’s lesson, and it’s true in every interaction.
If a teammate or customer is agitated, and I want them to calm down, responding with my own agitation is confusing. The consistent response, however difficult, is to calm myself—to be an example of what I want, not a mirror of what I’m seeing.
I can’t control what others do, but I can influence people with my words and actions. This is a superpower we all have: Wherever you or I go, if we want to see more of something—calmness, love, curiosity, perseverance, restraint—the best thing we can do is exhibit it.
Again, this approach won’t always work. Other people may not respond in kind. Either way, it is still the right thing to do. “If you want to see it, be it” is the clearest, truest way I know how to live. It’s also the hardest. The good news is, when I fall short of this ideal, I am always an apology or deep breath away from getting back on track.
To see it, be it.
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