Hugh Howey
Hugh Howey

Bestselling author of Wool and other books. Currently sailing around the world.

Huggers Gonna Hug

Huggers

I remember exactly where I was when it all came together. I was strolling along San Antonio’s Riverwalk during WorldCon last summer, and I was thinking of this one person in my life who has brought me an enormous amount of suffering and grief, and something turned inside my head, some culmination of all the striving I’ve done to accentuate the positive and downplay the negative, and it hit me all at once, the simplest solution imaginable: I decided to love this person who hates me.

Not fake love. Not pretend love. But real love.

My feet came off the ground. I floated along the Riverwalk. This person’s anger had nothing to do with me. This was a snarling dog, foaming at the mouth, and their madness deserved more than pity; it deserved love.

I would feel nothing less toward an animal consumed with blind rage. I would want to help it; but of course, I would not want to approach it like a fool. And yet, my heart would go out toward any creature that has such anger and cruelty in its chest.

A few weeks later, Michael J. Fox put what I was feeling into words both simple and sublime. My wife and I were in the audience while he gave an interview about his new TV show, and when asked how it felt to have people talk about his deteriorating condition in public, Michael said, “What people think about me is none of my business.”

What people think about me is none of my business.

The words hit me like a sledgehammer. Such a seeming contradiction, such a paradox, but only because we have it backwards when we allow people’s opinions of us to affect us. We are who we are. Our actions and thoughts define us. How someone interprets those actions is none of our business. In fact, it often says more about them than it does about us. But even we can’t interpret that. We can’t know them. We can form opinions, but they will never be truth. And the opinions we choose to have about another person might say more about us than them.

I used to read my negative reviews, despite knowing better. I had to see. It’s been almost a year since I’ve read a negative review. It’s been a long time since I’ve searched out the opinions of those who dislike me. What they think of me is none of my business.

Sometime last year, I coined the overly cutesy phrase: Huggers Gonna Hug. It summed up this philosophy I had been developing for years. I even ordered a few dozen t-shirts with various Jason Gurley designs that feature the phrase. I had hoped to publish this blog post when the shirts came in, but they’ve been delayed, and I don’t want to sit on it anymore. Because Michael’s wisdom has greatly impacted me, and I think it could help others. I wish his interview had been more widely publicized. My wife and I swiped tears off our cheeks while we listened to Michael say one profound thing after another that evening. We have spent hours discussing his philosophy on life and incorporating bits of it into our own, seeing all the ways they overlap and how his phrasings neatly summed up so many complex ideas.

Years prior, I had a somewhat related discussion with a former boss of mine. This was back before I wrote my first novel. I worked for a man named Gary installing AV equipment in high-end homes. It occurred to me, as I put everything I could into that job, that there are two ways to achieve equilibrium in any negotiation. You can either pull for more from another person, or you can push all of yourself onto them. Two people pulling will arrive at some middle ground. A boss can pull for more productivity while paying as little as possible; an employee can pull for as much time off and higher pay. Some balance will be arrived at.

Or, you can see where you end up by pushing, by giving, by being generous.

At the time, I was studying game theory. I had just finished Robert Axelrod’s seminal work on the subject and was reading anything else I could get my hands on. Axelrod spent a lot of time examining the Prisoner’s Dilemma, where two prisoners can choose to cooperate with each other and not rat one another out, or they can defect and turn on their partner. Defecting is like pulling selfishly; cooperating is to give naively. If one person gives while the other takes, this is called the fool’s choice. But that designation is based on the external outcome of being taken advantage of. And while the Prisoner’s Dilemma has numerous implications for evolution and biology, I wondered if the analysis didn’t miss something deeply philosophical. What if it’s okay to be the fool? What if you choose to cooperate, even when your partner is defecting — what if you choose to give while another takes — because you know that doing the right thing outweighs the consequences?

I put this into practice with Gary. I worked my ass off for him and asked for nothing. When he sent me home because he didn’t need me some days, I didn’t complain about the lack of hours or ask for more. I said “Yes sir.” I went home and I studied. I trained myself on remote programming. I came up with custom UI screens for new remotes. I organized the office on the weekends, building new shelves and installing a work counter. I even put together a computer from scrap parts and installed that in the office for testing. And I didn’t care if I was rewarded. My attitude was to find equilibrium through giving, through pushing myself out there rather than pulling someone else toward me. And not to feel superior or feel a fool, but to be happy with my decisions and who I was trying to be.

Gary began to push back, to give more of himself. He started giving me full-time hours. He made me his office manager. He gave me a raise. We became great friends. And when he would offer too much, I would refuse and take less. And when I would give too much of myself, he would ask me to take some time off. We found fairness by being overly fair to one another. In fact, I think we probably ended up where we might have if both of us had demanded more from each other while trying to give as little as possible. The difference, then, was how we felt once we got there.

This is where the phrase Huggers Gonna Hug came from. I can’t remember the negativity spreading at the time, but someone posted a Haters Gonna Hate .jpeg on my Facebook wall to counter it, and I wondered if this wasn’t the best way to defuse hate, this celebration of it. I had been practicing outright love for those who wished me ill, and this naive and corny method had proven to be completely liberating, and so wasn’t there a better way? When a poor dog comes snarling into a village, do you blame the animal? Or do you feel pity for it? Do you not feel love from a safe distance?

If this feels like drum-circle material, so be it. But the power it unlocks, the ability to focus more on the people in your life who are kind while ignoring those who are angry, to combat hate with love, is truly remarkable if you give it a chance. Try it right now. If you have someone in your life who brings you discomfort, find some way to love that person. You can decide to love them. It takes practice, to turn this around, like exercising a muscle. But you can do it. They shouldn’t have the power to poison your mind. They are going to feel what they are going to feel. Don’t let them dictate what you feel. Remember what Michael J. Fox said: What they think about you has nothing to do with you. It probably has more to do with them. Feel pity and fondness. Assume that they are doing their best or that times are tough for them or their past has been hard or their biology is stacked against them or maybe that they need someone to be angry with. Assume that they have made up their mind about you, and nothing is going to change that opinion. Nothing.

But you can change how it makes you feel. You can change how you respond. Haters Gonna Hate is not the answer. That’s a cycle of negativity, even as it tries to laugh it away. Find all that is good in life and wrap your arms around it. Embrace it. And when the bad confronts you, embrace that too. I swear it works. One negative thing among twenty positive used to get me down. Studies have shown that one bad thing among a handful of good things will get most of us down. But it doesn’t have to. These days, twenty negative things can’t touch me. I know who I am, all the good and all the bad. I’m working to be better every single day. What anyone thinks about me is none of my business. I’ll love them no matter what they say.

66 replies to “Huggers Gonna Hug”

I love it Hugh. There is so much power in love for others, whether they deserve it or not. Thanks for putting it out there as a great reminder.

Jeremy

This is powerful, inspiring stuff! Amazingly, in some ways I think this is similar to the advice you give about writing: do it for it’s own sake, and without thought of reward. In other words, give for the sake of giving, and without concern for how it might be received by others, particularly those who are embroiled in negativity.

Thích Nhất Hạnh puts it well: “When another person makes you suffer, it is because he suffers deeply within himself, and his suffering is spilling over. He does not need punishment; he needs help. That’s the message he is sending.”

Okay…I’m not much of a hugger. But anger and hate will wear you out. It will grind you up and turn you into ground beef. Hate can take on a life of its own; hate can be worse for you than the offense that made you mad in the first place. You’ve got to let those bad things people do to you roll off like water on a duck’s back.

The exercise you mention here, also when you talk about writing, reminds me of this quote I tell my boys now if they tell me they can’t do something:

“If you hear a voice within you say ‘you cannot paint,’ then by all means paint, and that voice will be silenced.” – Vincent Van Gogh

Paraphrase it: If you hear a voice within say ‘you cannot love that person’, then by all means love that person, and that voice will be silenced.

Such perfect timing for this post. I came across that same quote this weekend (what others think about me is none of my business) while trying to deal with a very immature judgmental situation that arose from, of all things, the PTA moms I work with at my daughter’s school. So much silliness, so much wasted energy, so much misunderstanding. But in the end I do feel a million times happier having decided to just let it roll, let them deal with it themselves. There is too much good stuff over here on my happy side of the fence.

This is so wise and true, Hugh, and I can’t help thinking your philosophy has something to do with your success. Put out positive energy and that’s what will come back to you.

I’ve been trying to explain this to a blogger who’s bent out of shape because people are reblogging her posts. I said if you don’t want to be reblogged, put a copyright symbol in a prominent spot. Most people assume you’re going to be happy for the linkage under creative commons rules.

“But they should KNOW it’s copyrighted!” says she, in high dudgeon.

So I want to say, “what makes more sense, trying to change what’s in the heads of the millions of people on the Internet who think everything should be free, or changing your own blog?” But I think she wants to be angry right now. I guess we all do sometimes. But self-righteous rage is almost never as rewarding as being generous. Thanks for the wise words.

Wow Howey, this is exactly what I needed to read at this time :)
There is this underlying gratitude in your writing … it’s infectious. You are one of those I learn from. See you around on kboards ;)

Best,

Sever

I will begin by saying that on the whole, I agree with you entirely. Kindness and generosity might seem like shooting yourself in the foot at first, but in the long run you can gain a lot more than your immediate ends–you can gain trust and respect.

It’s a difficult message to assimilate, though. For many, including myself, it has to be learned directly through experience. One reason, I think, is because each of us are going to have a different manner in which to apply it.

For example, a difficult boss or angry, distant reviewers are one matter, and a large matter, to be sure. But what about when you have someone truly poisonous in your life? Someone so negative and emotionally abusive that their very presence sucks the optimism out of an entire environment?

After knowing such a person for years and watching them take and take and take from a relationship with someone else who was nothing but the spirit of kindness and generosity, I have to conclude there is a third answer: not to push or pull, but to get out of the environment. Too much kindness can become a trap, and we need to be aware of that too.

In Buddhism, this is ‘offering the victory’. Guard your own mind. Practice patience and generate great compassion.

Erik,

I agree with you. There are definitely people who are essentially “black holes” and will take as much as you can give them until you have nothing left and won’t even acknowledge or thank you for it. They will frustrate you to no end and sometimes you do just need to get out.

But in the spirit of Hugh’s message, the way I’ve learned to deal with these types of people is by changing my perception and expectation of the relationship. You have to accept that they are never going to change or at least not very much so if you want the dynamic to change, it has to be you. Decide how much of yourself you can give without compromising your sanity and do only that. Stop expecting them to be thankful or appreciative of the things you do. Feel good in knowing that you did what you could and sleep with a clean conscience. If they never come around, then that’s on them.

Dearest Hugh,
There is a lot of damaged people in this world, it doesn’t take much of an effort to be just a little kinder after all some need it more than others. Love your books and the blogs you do, always something of interest. Kind regards Rhonda.

This is what I learned growing up in my Italian family. Forgive, and say a little prayer for your enemies, down by the river, where they’re buried inside one of the pylons.

I love this, thank you for the reminder! I heard Dolly Parton of all people say that, what you think of me is none of my business, several years ago at a concert. And you know, no matter how she may be perceived in different circles, she has always embodied that happy, loving spirit. It’s hard not to smile at someone who is so open, unabashedly, and uniquely herself!

I love this story, Hugh. So glad I stopped by your website today. :-)

It reminds me of what a famous Jewish carpenter said 2000 years ago:
“You’re familiar with the old written law, ‘Love your friend,’ and its unwritten companion, ‘Hate your enemy.’ I’m challenging that. I’m telling you to love your enemies. Let them bring out the best in you, not the worst.” (This is from The Message translation, and I love that final line especially.)

It’s wonderful that your boss reciprocated eventually. But even if he hadn’t, it would still have been the right thing to do. Of course, sometimes this stuff is easier said than done…

That is why I am the way I am….. hate wastes energy, and generally the person you hate doesn’t even know you’re pissed.

Hmmm; now that is an interesting way to put something that should be (notice the “should be”) common sense. I once read an article by Alan Alda that helps to clarify values. He said to watch where you spend your time, that is what your values are. I have pondered on this so much over my life. I did find a hole. I value the care of animals so I donate money to those who have the courage to confront the heartbreaking work. I tried and turned into a blubbering mess. So I gave more money more often. I have two puppy mill rescues at home and have never purchased a dog from a breeder (puppy mill). All I can do smother love my two wounded souls and give money to those who have the inner strength to do the right thing as I do not have that strength. I have also noticed that when people criticize others the first thing I think is; there is something there they see in the mirror they don’t like about themselves.

I’ve always had the philosophy that “You can’t control what someone says or does but you can control how you let it affect you.” This is easier said than done but once you get the hang of it life becomes much more enjoyable.

Thanks Hugh! Maybe if enough huggers and lovers and positive people are out there loving and hugging, we can turn this negative tide. I loved this: “What if it’s okay to be the fool? What if you choose to cooperate, even when your partner is defecting — what if you choose to give while another takes — because you know that doing the right thing outweighs the consequences?”

Beautiful advice. Something we need to take into our marriages as well. How many troubled marriages could be saved if just one member decided to stop worrying about how they are being treated and instead to start loving their spouse unconditionally?
Your positive attitude is infectious!

I love, love, LOVE this post! It reminds me of a favorite book that my mom introduced me to many long years ago. “White Banners” by Lloyd C. Douglas. Thanks for the reminder, Hugh! I hope we have a revolution of Huggers Gotta Hug!

I have posted this before. The book: It’s Never About What It’s About by Krandall Kraus is a superb book about acceptance. And, awhile back I made a little Huggers Gonna Hug Coffee Mug based on your original comments about this. I smile whenever I look at it. (I used Snuffles the dog from Quick Draw McGraw)!

I’ve been following your site for a short time now. My wife introduced me to it, and we both read your novel Wool. You’ve already taught me so much about being a writer and self-publishing. So when my wife sends me a link to your latest post, I know it’s worth a read. She knew I needed to hear this.

I never expected to read something so valuable that wasn’t related to writing. Thank you for giving us something to consider, to strive for, and to achieve.

Wonderful post, Hugh.

I’ve often told my kids, when they are mystified that someone doesn’t like something that they think is awesome, “People being different is a good thing. If we all liked the same things, the world would be a very boring place.”

I use this philosophy to respond to negativity in my life. I view variety as a good thing. Diversity breeds variety. Therefore, I embrace diversity.

LOVE THIS! My daughter gets frustrated when another kid doesn’t like her or respond to her the way she expects them to, and this is a great piece of advice to give her. Thanks:)

I haven’t been reading your blog long but I’ve enjoyed everything so far. I find this particularly refreshing. If it’s drum circle material then so is Jesus’ admonition to go the extra mile, which it isn’t. Thanks for a continuing voice of sanity and authenticity in the cacophony.

A wonderful post that has eternal meaning. You have the right idea about love. A very demanding way to live a life but worth the struggle. Thanks.

March is always a rough month for me as it contains both my father’s birthday, and the anniversary of his death – and of course daylight savings and allergy season (bonus!) In other words, I really really needed to read this today. Thank you for putting it out there.

It actually reminds me of something I heard somewhere (I wish I remembered where) – hate is not the opposite of love, indifference is. You have to feel passion to hate, therefore, anyone throwing hate also cares deeply. When viewed within the context of your philosophy this could mean; care equivalently back rather than trying to diffuse via the opposite emotion of indifference.

I plan to do my best to adopt this philosophy immediately.

Nice post! I respect what Michael J. Fox is doing and how he’s living his life. I’m about the same age as him so it is rewarding to see him continue to do well.

I’ve been in sales all my professional life and your philosophy is very similar to Larry Wilson’s “One Minute Salesperson” best selling book from the 1980s which he co-wrote with Ken Blanchard. “If you help other people get what they want and need then you will get what you want and need in return.” This has been my sale philosophy and it’s awesome because I look at helping other people first and then everything flows from there.

Fittingly, whenever I type “hug” into my web browser the type-ahead suggests hughhowey.com as the first option.

W.D.Y.W.F.M.

As a modern day parlor game, and to provide an upper level discussion point on people’s psychology, I have asked many people what those six letters (with hundreds of thousands of permutations) “mean”. Nearly all come up with the same response. The mere fact that so many, so quickly and easily, formulate the same selfish, defensive answer is probably why your wonderful philosophy will meet resistance with the great majority.

It will take a lot of hard work to change the mindset of the vast majority. But fight the good fight my friend. I’m with you.

Hopeful,… Bill

Huggers Gonna Hug, a modern take on an age-old lesson. Love it!

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same?” – Jesus

That was a wise man. His other great lesson was not to cast stones, which is very much in vogue these days. A lot to learn from him, whatever your religious persuasions.

Re: the Michael J. Fox quote about what people think of him as not his business: I don’t think it’s that simple. We are social animals and hardwired to care deeply about what other people think about us. It’s what enables us to function in society. The key is to not let this pro-social impulse–which is responsible for a lot of good–drive you to distraction and unhappiness. I think the lesson is less “Don’t care what others think about you” and more “If you’re treating someone well and they still hate you, then quit worrying.” This principle derives from the more general principle of worrying only about the things you can control. You can control your behavior, so worry about that. If the person still hates you, you can’t control it, so let it go.

Do you have a link to the Michael J. Fox interview? He’s done so many it’s hard to know which one you’re referring to.

It wasn’t recorded. Just a live audience.

And it sure isn’t simple. It takes a lot of hard work. I think it was important to know what people thought of you when we lived in small packs of dozens of people. But the systems we evolved for no longer exist. Now that impulse to allow the opinions of others to affect us has serious consequences as we’re in touch with thousands of people throughout our lives. What was once advantageous is now deleterious.

Rather than succumb to the naturalistic fallacy of: “Well, we were wired this way, so it must be good,” I think we should decide what responses to our environment we agree with and which ones we would like to mitigate. But that’s just me.

Too bad the interview wasn’t recorded. Sounds like a big loss :(

Agree wholeheartedly that personality traits that evolved in close-knit hunter-gatherer bands often backfire in the hyper-connected world we find ourselves in today. Caring-about-what-other-people-think is certainly more problematic in our new setting. But at the same time, imagine what the world would be like if that trait were completely absent: Nobody cares in the slightest what anyone else thinks about them anymore. I say run for cover.

When I said the trait is “good”, I meant useful for functioning in society, not happy. Nature, of course, doesn’t care about our happiness. We, of course, don’t care about anything else. So to the extent that we can, we should rein in the traits that cause us needless suffering. Caring-about-what-other-people-think is clearly the source of much misery. Caring even a little bit less should buy us a lot of happiness. We should give it a try. As for me personally, I find myself naturally caring less and less (about what other people think of me) as I grow older. I don’t know if it’s the wisdom of old age creeping up on me, or just old age… :)

Hi Hugh
I can share a hug, if and when you come to either Seattle, WA or Vancouver, BC

kidding aside, any plans for either Seattle WA or Vancouver BC this year?

I find this especially interesting because it’s the entire reason Christianity exploded like crazy when it arrived. That was the bulk of Christ’s message: how to love God, each other, our family, our neighbors, our enemies.

Now if we could just get humans to be perfect (alas! even Christians aren’t), then that would still be the first people think of when it comes to Christianity. I fear sometimes my fellows forget that this, this amazing love is why we’re here.

In 1956 during the Montgomery Bus Boycott, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr’s house was bombed. Angry supporters of Dr. King arrived, some carrying guns. On the porch of his ruined home Dr. King gave an impromptu speech in which he declared that their response must be not hate but love, genuine love. Dr. King is a hero in our house. Thanks for this post and a beautiful story of that spirit at work every day.

Hugh~
You brought a tear to my eye with this one. Jerk! Okay, I’m just kidding! You continue to inspire me on many levels.
Thanks much ~
Don Hunt

I read this article today and am having a good hard think about it. Thanks for that!

I like the idea in principle, a lot. Be generous. Be kind. Be forgiving. LOVE. It feels easy and natural to me. It feels good, even.

But I also believe that sometimes being generous, kind, and forgiving will make you and/or the world a worse place. Sometimes you have to be angry. Sometimes you have to FIGHT.

Yes, we really do need to employ more of this kind of positive thinking, both on personal and cultural levels. But we also need to be aware that some situations can’t be handled with love. And we need to learn healthy ways to stand up for ourselves (and others) when overwhelming generosity just doesn’t cut it.

PS. It needs saying: Please don’t hug other people without their consent. Some of us do not like it.

I agree with it not being our business what others think of us. You can waste so much time worrying about things that you have no influence on, and it’s pointless.

Huggers gonna hug – A fantastic sentiment, but it just doesn’t cut it for me. I could’t bring myself to give a hater the time of day, let alone love them. My personal way of dealing with them is simply not to. I ignore them.
I have lots of time for folks that are nice, but if at any time in my life I meet someone spiteful or mean, I’ll turn and walk away and not give them a moment more of my time.

Keep writing the awesome tales Mr Howey!

Great blog post Hugh. I wrote something similar last year. Everything changed for me when I realized that happiness is a choice. Every time you give in to negativity, that is a choice. Most people who are angry or miserable are doing so by choice. It may not be a conscience choice, but it is something you can control if you think about it. Of course there are other factors that are involved, but you control how you react to them.

Hugh,

Sounds like you’re handling an unpleasant situation with a lot of grace. Thank you for having the courage to share and for inspiring those of us who are navigating our own version of that journey. Your words mean a lot.

Best wishes for continued your continued success. I enjoyed “Wool” and have several of your other books on my bedside queue.

Michele Kingery

Well said, Hugh. Well said…

“Sticks and stones may break my bones, but names will never hurt me.”

Do kids still learn this comeback to unkind taunts in the school yard, I wonder, or am I just showing my age? The school yard is truly the first of life’s battlegrounds. It is where nastiness, thoughtlessness, and selfishness make their first ugly, hurtful appearance. Learning to love, to care–to be kind!–can’t start early enough.

I don’t think it applies so much anymore. Not in the Internet age when what bullies post about their target is embedded forever in the archives and can go viral in a matter of nanoseconds. People in countries thousands of miles away suddenly know that Johnny or Janie is a “dork” even though they might not even have that word in their language. Then you have the problem of sockpuppetry (one physical person posting under several pseudonymous accounts). The acceptability of the practice varies from site to site, and Internet anonymity itself (which, by design, allows sockpuppetry to happen) remains a hot-button issue, especially in the post-Snowden era. Sockpuppet accounts give the unfortunate cyber-bullying victim the illusion that they are being targeted by more people than they really are. It’s kind of like in Hollywood movies where they simulate a scene of a crowd gathering by digitally copying 50 or so extras multiple times over. The exponential boundlessness of sockpuppet bullying artificially magnifies the effect that crude comments have on the intended prey.

Unfortunately, even if it’s only 5 people with 100 sock puppet accounts, the person on the other end doesn’t know that, and thinks that 500 people hate his/her guts. Social support is severely lacking in this day and age, and more often than not this leads to suicide. It is very much possible to think that the entire world is against you, just by the fact that 500 non-entities on Twitter all echoed in their agreement that you shouldn’t have the right to exist on this planet and would do everyone a favor by doing yourself in. This is a limitation of the system. Twitter, Facebook etc. can’t restrict people from having multiple accounts without compromising the legitimate purposes of such use (a professional account and a personal account, let’s say).

The problem is not so much in cyberspace, however. The problem is “away from keyboard” where all too often these kids — and even some adults — get little to no help or support. The other dilemma is that more and more, the online and offline worlds aren’t so easily distinguishable from one another, and what happens at a junior high school in Vegas doesn’t always stay in Vegas. It ends up on Instagram, for all the world to see. Bullying today carries a lot more significance, and does a lot more harm, than simple, self-contained teasing on the playground even 10-15 years ago. The biggest difference now is that someone can just whip out their iPhone to video the bullies giving some poor kid an atomic wedgie, and humiliate him in front of millions all over YouTube. It’s bad enough to be the laughingstock of your school or neighborhood. But to be the laughingstock of your global hemisphere is a consequence of unprecedented proportions.

Great Post. You’ve touched a nerve with me. I’ve actually had this problem for most of my adult life, with family who disagree with the choices I’ve made that are contrary to “tradition”, because I “believe” differently or have done things differently. Arguments, name calling, and weeks of silence stem from it. Sometimes I would leave family functions hating everyone there, reflecting the hate and anger thrown upon me.

But something happened that changed it all. My daughter was four, and she had started noticing my tears on the drives home. She’d ask what was the matter, and I’d say that something got in my eye or made up some other excuse. She was becoming aware. She was listening, and probably not understanding. But I knew that soon she would understand. I had to do something. I didn’t want her to hate my family simply because we disagree, or because they “attack” Mommy. Kids are loyal that way, and I didn’t want my precious four-year-old to hate anyone.

Then, one night on a teary ride home, my daughter asks, “Mommy, why are they so angry with you? Are they always so angry?” My reply went something like this: “They’re not angry with me, they’re just angry about things going on in their lives that have nothing to do with me and sometimes arguing with me helps them get some anger out.”

Needless to say, they had issues, things that have been brewing for years. Fighting with me was exactly that, a release valve to allow some of the internal pressures out. Deep down inside I had always known this. I didn’t want to add to their issues. I love them.

It took a while, but eventually I let the arguments and fighting end as I left their house. The weight of whatever it was that we were arguing about would be lifted at the front door and not accompany me on the ride home. I would mentally coach myself as I buckled the kids in, “It’s time to forgive, forget and be happy.” I’d even talk to the kids and ask them silly questions on the ride home, just to change the mood. Their giggles did the job.

I’d call back a day after a blow out, as if nothing ever happened, and my family would be totally surprised. If their tone was stiff, which was often, I’d let my daughter do the talking. I had trained her on “the signal” to start talking into the phone. She loved it – it was a spy game to her. And she could make anyone smile with her silly questions: “I’m wearing pink pokadot pajamas. What pajamas are you wearing?” She was my secret weapon.

It was working. It took a long time before they answered me with the same lightheartedness that I’d greet them with, but eventually we formed an unspoken truce, a silent “Let’s forget about the whole thing and start over.”

Soon enough, it caught on. We still disagree and argue, we just don’t hold a grudges anymore and always say goodbye on better terms. Now we joke about it on the day-after phone call. One of us would say, “Are you still mad about that? Forget about it. Let’s get some coffee.”

Forgiving and loving has to start somewhere. And I believe if it’s done regularly it becomes infectious.

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