“The true test of character is not how much we know how to do, but how we behave when we don’t know what to do.” John Holt
We’ve all been there…like a deer in the headlights, frozen and uncertain of what to do next. It’s a strange place to be, uncomfortable and confining. There is the overwhelming urge to flee, to run far and never look book. Some might find their mouths running non-stop, while others might feel their throats constrict so tightly that choking out a single world requires great effort. Some fidget and fuss. Others grow still, afraid that movement might shatter the world around them. Emotions can play across a face or merely simmer beneath the surface out of sight. Just as the situations of not knowing what to do can vary, so do the reactions. Not knowing what to do is seldom a position we want to be placed in.
I hate not knowing what to do, what to say, or how to react. I should have been a Boy Scout, because I like to be prepared. I like to research and plan and prepare, especially when it comes to being called upon to speak with any semblance of wisdom, authority or passion. But life doesn’t always allow opportunity to prepare prior to being thrown in the spotlight or under the bus. We might open our front door and come face-to-face with a monster of a problem that we had not expected. Our first instinct is probably to slam the door shut, but the problem won’t go away simply by ignoring it. Somehow we need to deal with it.
As I sit here thinking on the quote above, I cannot keep a memory from replaying in my mind. You and I and another friend, together like so many times before, and yet there was an underlying current of tension between the three of us. The ties that knit us so closely together had already begun to fray, even if we were reluctant to believe it. A bombshell, of sorts, was dropped at my feet and yours that night. I am fairly certain that you prattled on, while my voice died in my constricted throat. I went home that night not knowing what to do next but knowing that I had to do, to say something, and knowing quite well that my words and actions would bring the thread that much closer to snapping.
I don’t know why I keep thinking of that right now, but I suppose in some way it just fits. I didn’t know what to do. There is a lot that I do know how to do, but in that instance I was lost. I knew what was expected of me, but I also knew that the expectation wasn’t automatically correct. I knew what my gut was telling me, but I knew my honesty wasn’t what was wanted. I wasn’t ready to let go of a friendship that was growing toxic, yet I didn’t want to be the sort of person who bails when the going gets tough.
Those were stressful days. Did I show good character in my behaviour? I don’t know. Perhaps the answer to that would vary depending on who was asked the question. I would like to believe that I made the right choice, that I was honest yet supportive, but the situation still played out pretty much as I had feared.
For a long time, I felt like I had handled that situation most horribly. I felt like I was a terrible friend with character short-comings too numerous to mention. Thankfully I no longer feel that way, because I am finally in a position where I can see the good character qualities woven into my decision and actions. I was a good listener. I was patient. I was kind, loving, supportive, compassionate. I was slow to anger, reluctant to judge unfairly but unwilling to let wrongs slip past unnoticed. I was willing to forgive and move forward. I spoke the truth.
I suffered for that, and it hurt for a very long time. But I wouldn’t change how I behaved. I am not perfect. My character is certainly not always perfect. It may not have seemed so then, but, in that situation, I now believe my character shone.
As an introvert who can be slow to let others past my outer walls, I choose my friends wisely. I value character and integrity. You, my friend, are a person of integrity and character! You may not always know what to do, but I have yet to see you display poor character. I am thankful that we have a friendship strong enough to weather the storms together.