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As I started my usual walk the other day toward the hospital where I work -- just the short walk from my car! -- The heavy heat that has so characterized this summer smacked me in the face. With each step I took, it seemed to wrap itself more tightly around me like an unwelcome blanket.
That kind of heat can be a good-mood buster, let me tell you. I'm a morning person, and I had awakened that day feeling ready to take on the world. But by the time I made it through the hospital doors, I was dragging. As I showed my badge and signed in with security, it was hard to flash the guard a sincere smile. On the elevator to my floor, no one exchanged pleasantries -- just looks of mutual understanding that said, "It is too hot today to expend any extra energy."
And when I plopped myself down in my desk chair, I had every intention of staying there until the day's agenda forced me to move.
Then a lovely thing happened -- a couple of things, actually. A janitor passed by my office door, whistling. It was the first happy-to-be-here sound I'd heard since slamming my car door. Then, a colleague dropped by to walk with me to a morning meeting. Unexplainably light on her feet, she had brought me a cool drink for the trip.
I looked at her gratefully, then excused myself for a moment to visit the ladies room. There, I looked in the mirror. My makeup was, well, melted. Bits of my clothes were still sticking to my body. But my two co-workers' cheerfulness had rubbed off on me, and I was able to laugh at myself as I noted: OK, Mary. Freshen up. Be a thermostat, not a thermometer!
I'm not sure where I first heard or read that metaphor. I think it has made fairly thorough rounds among gurus of business and political leadership - the simple advice to try to affect the temperature, instead of just reflecting the temperature.
Lots of people are thermometers. They only read as hot or as cold as the conditions around them. Those conditions, of course, deal with more than the weather. If they find themselves in a chorus of doom, they start to feel doomed and sing along. If they walk with companions who point out all that's wrong in a situation, it's hard for them to focus on what's right.
However, some people have learned to be a thermostat instead. Rather than just accepting and reflecting the temperature around them, they have a way of changing it. When it's cold outside, they warm things up. When conflicts get hot, they know how to generate cooling breezes.
Too often in my own life, I have found myself acting like a thermometer, with my mood bouncing up and down based on the people and events around me. But I do know better. I know that a joy-filled person can transform his or her environment because joy is not circumstantial. It is a consciously chosen mindset.
Here, I want to pause to avoid a pitfall that people who want to be a positive influence can fall into. In believing that they can affect the moods and mindsets of other people, they start to feel responsible for the feelings of others.
That's a mistake. You might be able to influence others. That doesn't mean you are in control of them. But you are in control of yourself.
When that first co-worker passed by my office, whistling, he was whistling for himself. I was an incidental beneficiary, and I bet he would have liked knowing that, but my mood was not his responsibility.
And when the second co-worker brought me a cool drink, I believe she knew it would feel good to do so. Doing good does tend to feel good, doesn't it?
Ultimately, the only control I have is over myself. But I do have that control, that power to choose my mindset, and I intend to use it. Encountering bright spirits at work reminded me that not even stifling heat can take that control away.
We shouldn't permit anything or anyone to make us mad, sad or bad.
It's still hot here in North Carolina by the way. We are in the high 90s but I feel a cool front coming on, how about you?