Acceptance and Change

Posted on September 18, 2012

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I love running. For years I have wanted to share this love with my wife Caryn. At various times in our marriage we would run together for a couple of months. I know she did this more out of love for me than from a deep-seated love of running. During those times when she wasn’t running I wouldn’t nag per se, but I would nudge and cajole and encourage her to exercise. It didn’t do much good.

Then a year and a half ago, Caryn told me she wanted to sign up for a 5K. I was a little shocked because Caryn is non-competitive to a fault. (She plays Monopoly to build the nice houses and cute hotels and then wants to quit when you start charging people rent.) She told me that her friend, who was suffering from cancer, and a group of friends were going to do the Susan G. Komen 5K and she wanted to participate. She was motivated by her relationship to her friend, but to her credit, she put the training on her own. And last September Caryn finished her first official 5K race.

This past spring she surprised me again by saying, “I’m thinking of signing up for a half-marathon.” This blew my mind. But what sent it into orbit is that since signing up, she has done all the training runs on her own, without help, with company. For a social person like Caryn, this was an obstacle of such proportions that at one time I would have thought it insurmountable. The reason she was motivated to do the 5K was her relationship with her friend. The reason for running this race she was her own will and desire.

Watching Caryn train for this race has been insightful in many ways, but the insight that stands above the others  is this: you can’t change people.

You can love them, accept them, encourage them even; but they need to find the change within themselves. Trying to control people is like trying to juggle yogurt: you can do it for a little while, but it’s not pretty and no one wants to watch. Before changing anything about themselves, people need to feel accepted as they are.

And this frustrates me to no end.

I would rather shape the world in my own likeness. I want people to see things like I see them. Have the same skills that I do. Share my priorities and insights. If I’m honest I don’t understand how people can spend so much time watching either Jersey Shore or Downton Abby. I don’t know why people like mustard. I don’t fully appreciate Twitter, Pinterest, Twilight, or professional football. In fact, I don’t really know why anyone would live their lives anyway other than exactly the way I live mine.

Then I am laid flat by my wife who laces up her shoes and heads out the door.

I didn’t tell her to go. I didn’t inspire hear with lofty words about the mental and physical benefits of exercise. I didn’t do a thing except watch the kids for a couple of hours. Here she is, giving me exactly what I’ve always wanted, and I had nothing to do with it.

This is a mystery. How is it that the more we want to control things the more they escape us. But when we accept other people, we give them space to risk a change.

One more thing. Caryn is going to participate in the Susan G. Komen 5K, this time as a walker, and this time in memory of her friend Ellen, who passed away. If you would like to donate to her fundraising efforts, you can do so here.

Photo: esagor

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