EP — 20 Graciousness part 3 — Emotional Filters

Iolite, the original sunglasses!

Iolite, the original sunglasses!

Graciousness part 3 — Filters

First go and be reconciled to them; then come and offer your gift.—Matthew 5: 24b, NIV

The first known sunglasses used by man were slivers of iolite used by the Vikings to cross the sea and find the New World. The blue-violet stone can be held up in front of the sun to filter out the damaging rays. How the Vikings discovered this? I wish I knew. But for such a gorgeous stone to change the way you look at the sun changed the known world. As do some of the filters that change the way you look at the world.

What kind of filters do you use? Back up a moment and think about the different areas in your world that require filters. Air filters, furnace filters, water filters, oil filters, even vacuum filters all have common job descriptions. They filter out something to protect us. Then there are different levels of protection, from the hair catcher to the allergen trap to an air purifier that actually kills bacteria and viruses.

Sometimes those filters get clogged and must get changed or cleaned for better performance. Quite often, homeowners forget this pesky chore. Heating companies get frantic calls either at first freeze or the first sweltering day when furnaces and air conditioners no longer work.

It’s embarrassing for customers who think something is terribly wrong with their equipment to find a simple filter change would have avoided the whole expense. Left without the routine maintenance, a furnace can become so overworked trying to pull in air through a clogged filter that it will eventually break down as if the machine had emphysema.

Once the equipment no longer fires off, the serviceman has to perform a diagnostic procedure to learn the cause of the malfunction. Every diagnostic is different, but an experienced service technician has done a great deal of this type of work, which has allowed him to study different systems and increase his ability to solve the next problem.

  • Does your filter need cleaning or is it all clogged up with junk?
  • Do you need a personal diagnostic?

Angie’s Story

Mom near the end of her time on earth.

Mom near the end of her time on earth.

When my mom died, the hospice nurse confirmed the time of death. “She’s gone now.”

I stared up into the nurse’s face unable to comprehend the words, the very fear my mom had lived with for so long now a reality.

“Do you want me to start the directives?”

I felt the warmth of the palm above and the warmth below my palm. What did she mean? I looked down again at my mother’s gray face. Not gray from death. Gray because she’d been so close to death for so long.

Mom as a young lady. Quite a pretty woman.

Mom as a young lady. Quite a pretty woman.

Orange used to be her color. She wore it, painted her house and had matching pots and pans in orange. But for many months, and today, her color was gray. I’d become familiar with the pale gray of her face, the gray in her hair, and the gray hospital.


I blinked.

“What would you like to do?”

“I don’t know.” Was I supposed to do something? My daughter sat beside me and held my hand. I noticed her warmth.

“You have instructions for your mom’s passing.” The nurse’s kind eyes looked right into mine. “Would you like to put them in motion?”

“I don’t know.” My heart sped up and skipped a few beats in the process. “I can’t hurt her. I’m afraid I’ll hurt her.”

“She can’t feel pain any more. She is no longer living.”

“Are you sure?” Somehow she could be wrong. I just knew it. How could she be alive one moment and not feeling the next?

“Would you like me to check for you?”

I nodded and she went. I traced bold red lines with my eyes up and down the table until she came back.

“Your mom is gone. She is really dead.” Soft and firm, “Angela, your mom has died. She can no longer feel pain. You have a plan where time counts. It’s your plan, and as next of kin, you have to say so. She is gone now.”

The nurse’s words unclogged my inaction as if she was my furnace guy who’d replaced a bad filter. As my furnace roared back to work, I had to set the plan in motion. Mom lived in fear. I wasn’t going to live that way.

Mom had a gift to give still and my job was to make sure it happened. “I do.” The same sacred words I’d spoken at the altar, yet they meant something completely different this time.

I led my family back in to say goodbye. “You need to listen to me, to what I am about to do for my mom because you will do this for me.” My voice caught as I looked at each of my children and my husband. “It’s hard and it takes courage.”

I made my wishes known right there and right then. “You will do this. When it is my time, you will help me donate my brain to this same study. They need to compare Grandma’s brain to someone in her immediate family. That leaves me.”

They all were stoic, eyes fastened on mine. My sons knew, my daughters knew, and my husband knew. “I need to know right now that if any one of you has to make this decision, that I can count on you to make it.”

They all nodded, not slow, not quick, but solemn. They nodded in strength of purpose and the power of agreement.

“Thank you. Tonight I’m going to make sure Grandma has the opportunity to leave a gift, and when it comes time, you are going to do the same for me. I want to make a difference.” The tears started then. I lifted my chin. “Now, please.”

Through the haze I saw the hospice nurse take out the written list of instructions for the brain donation. The list I’d researched, written, and provided. The list I’d made sure everyone had and could follow. At just before midnight, we woke the deputy chief medical examiner and called for transportation to the funeral home for mom’s body.

My mom and I would together participate in something much bigger than us. We are brain donors for the Brain Bank at McLean Hospital/Harvard for the on-going study of schizophrenia. We have a legacy to give for the generations to come. A legacy that could improve someone else’s physical body and/or their mental state. All excellent reasons. But what I hope to give is the chance to gain more wholesome, happy relationships. I hope Mom and I leave a legacy of love.

A legacy of love. Not something I’d thought possible even a few years earlier. I couldn’t have spoken of love and my mother in the same sentence. I only saw her through a filter of resentment. Resentment of her behavior, illness, and hurtful words. Resentment of all the loss in my life, the hardship, and the instability. Resentment of the crazy legacy.

Then God gave Mom over into my care for the last seven years of her life. As an adult, the childish filters began to open up and draw fresh air. As my mom sank deeper into dependence, I saw how fragile she was as fear-filled schizophrenia slammed her soul. I began to understand how courageous she’d been to battle those pirates. Compassion slipped in one day and cleaned out the filter of resentment.

  • Sometimes anger and resentment can clog up the ability to see another’s fragility. What would happen if you searched out that fragility in order to understand?
  • Are other emotions blocking your healthy, appropriate responses?

The problem comes when our head says one thing, but our hearts aren’t listening. It’s vital to understand how emotions take us out of rational thinking. Sure, decisions are easier to cope with ahead of time, but sometimes things happen without warning. How do you handle that?

It’s important to be aware of how our life filters affect our decisions. We filter assumptions and choices through our belief system. How we see things and what we believe about them come as much from our religious worldview as from our experience in the world and our family of origin. Our filters, or view of the world, create unwritten rules we don’t verbalize or realize exist. The easiest “hot button” to push? Breaking silent, unwritten rules.

Why are we so emotionally charged? Our emotions are preset in patterns based on past experience. The level of emotion in a household creates a filter for when emotion is good, bad, or at an acceptable level. Did family members speak with loud voices or quiet ones? Were the children allowed to join in the conversation or did they have to sit and wait? Chores, rules, and expressions of tradition influence the way each person thinks daily life happens.

All this can come together in huge clashes because unwritten rules filter how we receive input, our reactions, and subsequent behaviors. Most of the unwritten rules have no connection with the “right” way to do anything except that’s the way it’s been done before in the infamous “comfort zone”.

Unwritten rules are absorbed through observations of interaction between the people around us. These same unwritten expectations build an arsenal of misconceptions. Most people don’t even realize that they’re cemented into an immobile impasse, like the filthy furnace filter. No air is getting through to the furnace and the motor burns out, but the homeowners didn’t know to change it. They can’t figure out why the house is always cold. That “comfort zone” is a filter we need to change or our relationships will go cold.

The choices we make are based on assumptions that what is normal to us is normal to others. It isn’t. Ask any newlywed. The first argument rarely is over anything of lasting value. More often than not, the first argument is over an expectation from the family of origin. The couple needs to educate one another about their expectations, and then with both expectations out on the table, make a new decision based on new information. Change the filters to clear the air.

But what really happens? Accusations based on assumptions. Rarely does anyone ask the big why question: Why do you do that?

Resentment builds up where the vacuum of misconception lives. If one gets up the courage to ask, it tends to be in a harsh, accusatory tone that puts the other person on the defensive. The real answer is not often heard. Sometimes it’s not even known until the offender traces back to its origin. Yet we expect an immediate answer and for things to be done our way without considering another option. Taking the time to run a diagnostic, checking and testing through honest communication, saves both members of a relationship from new hurt, resentment, and anger.

Filtering out our fear, frustration, and misconceptions by getting educated helps us make informed, intelligent decisions about our lives rather than giving in to reactive emotions. Asking questions out of the desire to learn allows gentle tones and open discussion.

  • Information provides us with comfortable and confident decisions. But that choice is best made from a place of knowledge not assumption.

The intensity of our reactions comes from the weight or value we place on an interaction with others, much like the difference between the sentimental and actual value of gold and sterling silver. A beautiful heirloom passed down through your family, maybe even hundreds of years old, has significance in the stories that are part of its history. But when melted down for the financial value, these heirlooms often have much less monetary value than expected. But it isn’t the price that matters. It’s the weight of emotion stored in that collection.

We value life, relationships, material things, and sentiment and life experience at different levels. Some are more precious than others, including opinions and preconceived notions. Let’s find out how feelings create misconceptions.

  • Here’s an exercise for you to uncover unspoken rules:

Journal an intense argument you’ve experienced. What did you value in the argument? Find out by focusing only your side. What unwritten rules of yours do you think the other person broke?

Now focus on the other person’s comments only. Read through those, looking for unwritten rules you may have broken. Journal those.

You may find this difficult. You may need to trace back your own reactions to earlier in your life to discover why you reacted so strongly.

If it’s possible, find a time to share what you learned with the other party. Prepare mentally to listen for fragility and watch for unwritten rules they may not even be aware exist. Remember to be reconciled to your brother or sister as in Matthew 5:24. You can only control your part, not theirs. Release your desire to control the other person’s reaction. Reconciliation requires information to break the pattern of misconceptions.

Let’s practice recognizing old filters of preconceived notions and replacing them with beautiful new filters of an educated opinion. The more I know, the less I’ll fear.

Appreciation Moments:

Tina St. Claire Rice Thank you for your 5-star review of the upcoming release, The Lassoed by Marriage Romance Collection on Goodreads and Facebook.

Thank you, Tammy Gray, for reaching out to me on LinkedIn. I’m delighted with your invitation to write a blog post for you and will be doing that.

For the retweets and shares on Twitter and Facebook, thank you to so many friends. I’m stunned and overwhelmed.

A few listener favorite past episodes of Grace Under Pressure Radio:

Graciousness 1st episode

Teaching Confidence to our Daughters

Courage — Overcoming Specific Fears

Boundaries: No More Self-sabotage