Saturday, November 9, 2019

Hopeful Thinking - Saturday, November 10, 2019 - Choose Finesse

Navigating life is a pain in the butt, frankly. It’s an unending series of rights and lefts. Constantly trying to figure out where to place your foot next so that you don’t step in anything revolting, then track it in the house and ruin the carpet. We often mean well but make mistakes anyway. We often hurt people to whom we are attempting to show our love. And worst of all we sometimes break things our intention was to repair.

Of course practicing forgiveness is the first good idea. Both for ourselves and others. It’s important to model forgiving behavior for those from whom we will likely be asking for it one day. Don’t just pay it forward, pay it in advance. 

In the meantime, it’s best to practice finesse. The definition of the word finesse is a bit opaque. One definition I found states that it’s an “intricate and refined delicacy.” Not so clear. The word origins also add the word purity, however. And that’s a pretty good place to start.

Purity is a word that revolves largely around intent. The proverbial road to hell is not paved with good intentions as they say, it’s paved with apathy. Finesse cares about things and works toward achieving them. It has a mission to accomplish good even though it’s a skill which can, admittedly, be used both ways. The intention of the word is pure. I think the hint in there is suggesting that finesse is far more effective when used for good.

We often think of finesse in physical terms for things like exceptional skill in sports or even cooking. But more than anything else it matters for our relationships. It is a relational practice.

Finesse sometimes means turning the other cheek. It means listening honestly to people when they’re hurt and perhaps not using all their words carefully. It means always listening to their heart and only sometimes their mouth. Finesse often merits a sublimation of our ego but not our self worth. Sometimes, biting our tongue or focusing on what’s important requires us to take an extra deep breath and assume that calmness and patience will bring the best results in the end. Slow and steady wins the race. The turtle knew what it was talking about in its race with the hare. That turtle had game. 

Finesse is the art of diplomacy. It is an attentional effort. It is a recognition of the “fine-ness” of the good behaviors which others sometimes model for us and choosing to build upon them for ourselves, as a life practice. That kind of positive action has a ripple effect. Be a lighthouse of it. 

It’s a rather dramatic and sweeping word, finesse. It has a style to it even in the lettering. It has a mission. It wants to accomplish an objective with skill and deftness and grace. And it clearly wishes to be noticed for it. 

It’s fun to do things with style when you can manage it. 

Several years ago I was working with my afterschool kids setting up a zombie festival on a horribly rainy day near Halloween. As the start time approached, I was clipping stage lights to a ceiling pipe while standing on the nearly-upper rung of a 12’ tall ladder resting against the wall inside the venue where a concert was to be held. 

When the base of the ladder suddenly began to slide away from the wall on the slippery floor I instinctively grabbed the end of the pipe only to realize it was the tail end of a sprinkler. The pipe broke about six feet back and the venue began to flood. But as the ladder fell to the floor I held fast to the end of the pipe and gently lowered myself to the ground like Mary Poppins sticking the landing. That was finesse.

Perhaps that’s not the best example. But if I had fallen and truly injured myself it would’ve made the evening far more complicated and dramatic. It certainly would’ve had a longer lasting negative impact on my life rather than end up just a funny story. That’s what finesse is supposed to accomplish: As much ease as we can muster under the circumstances.

The fire department came quickly enough and with a whole team of us on site squeegeeing out the water onto Main Street we got it taken care of so quickly the laminate flooring didn’t even have time to get wrecked. Of course I don’t take credit for that with my stylish landing, but it makes for a good story.  

Allow for the possibility that all shall be well in the end if only we hold tight to our principles and practice them. Life is better if we can manage it. It’s easy to say though hard to do. But try it anyway and in whatever small ways you can manage. Learn how to choose your words carefully and and with empathy. Learn to listen honestly. Finesse takes practice just like for any athlete or chef. It is a deliberate building of our skill set toward the goal of navigating our lives with greater satisfaction and ease. Choose it for yourself.  

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