From Annoyance to Gratefulness: A Change of Perspective

My 2 year old son has developed an interesting habit. Whenever I go to the bathroom for washing my hands or brushing my teeth, he comes running behind me with a speed that it’s almost impossible to beat him to the door. He goes to stand near the sink and says, “Papa! I wash … soap.” Next, he washes his hands with soap and only then I can do anything else.

One such day, I was feeling a little annoyed and prepared to ask him to leave. Suddenly in a flash of light, everything changed: I head towards the bathroom and do not hear any sound of little feet running behind me. Looking into the mirror, I see an old man with white hair and …. there is nobody standing beside him at a height of 3 feet. The little boy – who lit his life for years – has grown big and strong and has gone on his own path in life. The old man wishes him to come back just once and wash his hands with the soap a 100 times! Him being close is everything; nothing else matters.

Since that day, I feel an immense gratitude when I hear his footsteps behind me. In fact, I really want to turn around and hug him and thank him for being with us. Him being close is everything; nothing else matters.

Want to wash your hands? Do as you please.

Time and space are the two most powerful defining factors of our universe. I have found that most people have the ability to figure things out in space. We’re here, someone is there, and so on.

However, most people do not have the ability to think independent of time. So it is difficult for them to value the passing moment, or how the arrow of time will change things when their little annoyances will be rendered useless and sometimes utterly regretful.

Another realization of this concept is valuing people over things (and little annoyances) that I learned from Randy Pausch’s The Last Lecture. He writes in “Pouring Soda in the Backseat”,

Pouring Soda in the Backseat

For a long time, a big part of my identity was “bachelor uncle.” In my twenties and thirties I had no kids, and my sister’s two children, Chris and Laura, became the objects of my affection. I reveled in being Uncle Randy, the guy who showed up in their lives every month or so to help them look at their world from strange new angles. It wasn’t that I spoiled them. I just tried to impart my perspective on life. Sometimes that drove my sister crazy.

Once, about a dozen years ago, when Chris was seven years old and Laura was nine, I picked them up in my brand-new Volkswagen Cabrio convertible. “Be careful in Uncle Randy’s new car,” my sister told them. “Wipe your feet before you get in it. Don’t mess anything up. Don’t get it dirty.”

I listened to her, and thought, as only a bachelor uncle can: “That’s just the sort of admonition that sets kids up for failure. Of course they’d eventually get my car dirty. Kids can’t help it.” So I made things easy. While my sister was outlining the rules, I slowly and deliberately opened a can of soda, turned it over, and poured it on the cloth seats in the back of the convertible.

My message: People are more important than things. A car, even a pristine gem like my new convertible, was just a thing. As I poured out that Coke, I watched Chris and Laura, mouths open, eyes widening. Here was crazy Uncle Randy completely rejecting adult rules.

I ended up being so glad I’d spilled that soda. Because later in the weekend, little Chris got the flu and threw up all over the backseat. He didn’t feel guilty. He was relieved; he had already watched me christen the car. He knew it would be OK.

I often remind myself of this story while cleaning my car. “Would you like a dirty car with children around, or a clean car all by yourself?” I realize that I am very happy with them around and the condition of the car is just a sign of their wonderful presence.

The simplest action item is that when you get annoyed by something,

  • Imagine in your mind how time is going to change things around
  • Value people over things
  • Think of alternative scenarios (“could be worse”)

Everything will start falling in place pretty fast. According to William James,

“The greatest discovery of my generation is that a human being can alter his life by altering his attitudes.”

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