When purchasing our first house my mother-in-law advised prioritizing location over other considerations. Smart advice. Similarly, where we “land” emotionally is also about location. “Are we above or below the line?” asks Martin Seligman, author of Flourish (aka, father of Positivity). Understanding “mental location” translates to improved clarity for managing ourselves, especially in uncomfortable situations.
For some of us where we find ourselves has begun to broaden. Not only to the grocery store, we might also be back at the office, grabbing a coffee at a neighborhood place, visiting the post office, or dropping off dry-cleaning. As we observe other people and their physical location, awareness is heightened. There’s possibly anxiety, funny or stressful interactions and a myriad of feelings and reactions. Circumstances push us towards a response.
Grab a pencil and a sheet of paper and draw a simple horizontal line. Imagine Below The Line:
- We’re committed to being right.
- Our narrative is the most true.
- We’re serious about our opinion and value “winning” above all else.
- Life is about survival and when triggered we react swiftly.
Sometimes Below The Line is innate because we feel threatened. How else have humans survived through the ages?
Consider Above The Line:
- We value learning.
- Routinely question our beliefs.
- We’re curious and open.
- From a distance, everything is funny.
- Life is creative and relational.
What does Above Or Below the Line look like in real life today?
Imagine you’re in line at the Post Office. A face mask and socially distancing is par for the course. As you step forward ever so slightly to grab a label, another customer lashes out telling you to keep your distance. What to say? How to react? It’s a stressful situation and you feel on edge.
Stand in the space of this difficult interaction. Do you tell the person to calm down? Do you apologize? Were you actions egregious enough to warrant yelling? Can you empathize instead? It’s not always easy to understand another person, especially a grumpy someone! Location, location, location! Even if we consider ourselves as individuals who operate “above the line”, we all have moments when we’ve reacted “below the line”. There’s no sense judging or being mean. Rather stop, breath and observe underlining motivations and then a shift in perspective can happen.
“When we’re no longer able to change a situation we are challenged to change ourselves.” (Viktor Frankl).
Although there’s not a map for Restarting, we have the opportunity to show up aligned with what we know matters most: caring for one another. Creating space for listening and showing kindness cultivates trust and leads to greater employee collaboration and problem solving. When we choose Above The Line, we can lead. We can innovate. Patiently onward.