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Family Talk: Show consideration with 'tight places' in the family

If you find yourself in a stressful situation, you can choose to lose your temper or have more patience. [THINKSTOCK PHOTO]

If you find yourself in a stressful situation, you can choose to lose your temper or have more patience. [THINKSTOCK PHOTO]

Have you ever been in a tight place? I don't mean crowded into an elevator with too many people or squeezing your car into a narrow parking spot. I'm referring to a time in your life when things were really stressful. When several crises converge at the same time. Like a time when there's a death in the family, followed by major surgery, followed by a job loss. And the weather outside is 100 degrees.

Our usual reaction in such times is to lose our cool (and not just because of the weather!) We shorten our retorts and our patience. We lose the ability to show common courtesy, especially to those closest to us. Maybe it's because we feel we have the built-in understanding factor. “My husband (or wife, or kids) knows I'm stressed out and they will understand my bad mood. They'll forgive me.”

But what if our response was not less courtesy but more courtesy when we're in tight places? That's the example left to us by a small band of explorers led by Sir Earnest Shackleton. Talk about tight places, his crew was in the tightest.

Shackleton was the British leader of the 1914 Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition. Their goal was to cross the continent of Antarctica by dog sled, a feat never before accomplished. It would be a grueling feat but one Shackleton never completed because, before they could commence, their wooden ship was caught in pack ice off the coast of Antarctica and slowly crushed to smithereens. This left 29 men stranded on the ice for many months but miraculously, not one of them perished. The story of how they saved themselves is incredible, inspiring and worth exploring.

Frank Worsley, skipper of Shackleton's ship, the Endurance, wrote in his journal on the last leg of their epic survival journey: “When men are as tired as we were, their nerves are on edge and it is necessary for each man to take pains not to irritate the others. On this we treated each other with a good deal more consideration than we should have done in normal circumstances. Never is etiquette and good form observed more carefully than by experienced travelers when they find themselves in a tight place.”

When I read Worsley's journal entry, I thought, first, about how today's modern traveler behaves when they are in a tight place. When airlines are delayed. When traffic jams snarl progress. I think you'll agree most modern travelers do not “treat each other with a good deal more consideration” than in normal times.

Then I thought about family life. When our families find themselves in tight places do we “take pains not to irritate each other?” Do we show more consideration to each other, and not less? Do we display “etiquette and good form?” I'm afraid for most of us the answer is no. We often show less consideration and good behavior when times are tight. It's understandable, but not commendable.

That's why I want to be a Shackleton crew member in my family. It takes self-discipline. Prioritizing others. Acting less selfishly. But, oh, the rewards experienced by those who behave decently in tight family times.

Jim Priest is CEO of Sunbeam Family Services and can be reached at jpriest@sunbeamfamilyservices.org.

Jim Priest

Jim Priest is the CEO of Sunbeam Family Services, a 108-year-old nonprofit that provides a range of social services to support Oklahoma's most vulnerable people, including early childhood education, counseling, foster care and senior services. Jim... Read more ›

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