I like to watch football, which means I also like to listen to ex-professional football players talk about football. A few years ago I was listening to Michael Irving talk about Tom Brady. Irving had been a gregarious, limelight-loving, boisterously unapologetic superstar wide receiver for the Dallas Cowboys. The game being discussed was between the New England Patriots and the Denver Broncos. Tim Tebow was at that time the Broncos quarterback and he was on a particularly spectacular run. He was getting far more attention than his counterpart Brady, the Patriots’ Hall-of-Fame-bound quarterback.
The game, however, was lopsided. Brady played brilliantly, Tebow was off, and the Patriots won in a route. Irving had this to say about Brady’s performance: “Tom Brady don’t share the spotlight with nobody. He don’t share the spotlight with nobody!”
“Oh,” I thought. “Irving is talking about himself.”
It occurred to me then that every ex-professional football player is talking about himself when he discusses the strengths and weaknesses of current professional football players. Soon, I noticed that whenever I was talking about someone else, I was actually talking about myself. It was true when I talked about celebrities, it was true when I talked about friends and relatives, and it was certainly true when I talked about Sawyer.
I could write an entire book on this subject, that the world is nothing but a mirror reflecting my thinking back at me, but it seems particularly relevant for parents raising children on what we call the autism spectrum. With these children the focus is always on how we the parents hope these children will change. This is true of all parents and their children, but it is more dramatically so with the spectrum children. I didn’t just want Sawyer to get better grades in school, I wanted him to simply play with another child; I didn’t want him to learn to say “Please” and “Thank You,” I wanted him to simply respond when I said his name.
Sawyer has changed a lot over the years, and I suppose Jen, my wife, and I had something to do with that. But in truth, I have no idea how to change someone else. The only thing I know how to change is my own behavior and the focus of my own attention. The best I can do is to contribute to an environment that encourages the sorts of changes I deem positive. And so if I wanted Sawyer to learn to listen, then I had to learn to listen better; and if I wanted Sawyer to stop pretending so much, I had to stop pretending so much.
On and on. In fact, I came to understand that the only habits I believed he needed to change were in some way exaggerations of habits I very much wanted to change in myself. Otherwise, he was just fine the way he was. Moreover, once I made the change I had been hoping for in myself to my own satisfaction, my concern for Sawyer subsided. I knew now the change I hoped for within him was possible, for I had lived it myself. Broken things, you see, can’t change except to rust and rot. Humans, on the other hand, can only change, can only evolve toward what they come to believe is possible.
I welcome feedback and questions. Feel free to post any comments or questions below, or contact me directly.
I am the author of Fearless Writing: How to Create Boldly and Write with Confidence, and Write Within Yourself: An Author's Companion. Learn more here.