If a Picture Paints a Thousand Words . . .

. . . then why can’t I paint you?

Those were the opening lyrics to a song by Bread, a soft-rock group from the early 70s. The next line of the song is “The words will never show the you I’ve come to know.” So since we’re talking about pictures and how we know people, it seems an opportune time to talk about reframing. 

Reframing is a tool for changing the way a person or event or thought is perceived. It’s most often used to convert a negative perception to a more positive one. It’s worth noting that reframing an experience is not a form of denial. Denial is refusing to see. Reframing is choosing to see differently. It has the power to free us from the hold of past experience. 

Let’s say someone you work with, let’s call him Brad, acts in a dominating manner in meetings, interrupts others when they are speaking, and displays a form of aggressiveness that feels almost like bully behavior. You’ve been on the receiving end of this behavior a few times, and it made you mad.  Truth be told, it hurt. 

You have the option of reframing the behavior.  Is this really Brad?  Or is this just the Brad I’ve come to know? When Brad interrupts and talks over others . . . could it be possible that he never felt heard in his family? When he acts in a manner that feels aggressive, perhaps he has a deeply held fear of being overlooked or not considered. 

Now, I’m not advocating that you accept unhealthy behavior from other people. Drawing boundaries of acceptable treatment is an important form of self-care. But as you’re trying to navigate the waters of working with this person, it might be that the only power you have at the moment is the power over your own perceptions. 

This type of reframing is the heart and soul of much spiritual evolution.  It is the essence of Byron Katie’s teachings, known simply as “The Work.” In this work, Katie teaches to reframe by asking four questions: 

  1. Is it true?
  2. Can I absolutely know it’s true?
  3. How do I act or feel when I believe it’s true?
  4. Who would I be without that thought? 

So, is it true that Brad is simply an inconsiderate bully?  Can I absolutely know that Brad’s behavior stems only from inconsideration and selfishness?  We can’t absolutely know the root of Brad’s behavior, and it may stem from causes we can’t see. 

How do I act or feel when I believe Brad is simply selfish and inconsiderate? Well, I’m hurt and mad and cautious around Brad, and maybe I don’t speak up in meetings as much as I normally would because I don’t want to get as mad as I’ll get if he interrupts me again. I could list many feelings and reactions I might have, but it’s easy to see that as long as I believe Brad is simply a selfish bully, all of my energy regarding him is going to be negative.  And negative energy does not offer space for improvement or healing or peace. 

Who would I be if I didn’t believe Brad was a selfish bully? Perhaps I would be more compassionate about what might cause his behavior. Perhaps I would be able to address his behavior without the explosive energy I often feel about him. Perhaps I might even start to see him not as the Brad I’ve come to know, but in a totally different way, possibly even as the Brad he truly is. 

For information about Byron Katie’s teachings, go to thework.com 

2 thoughts on “If a Picture Paints a Thousand Words . . .

  1. Does this include passive-aggressively forced prayer before meetings on state property (e.g. our campus) (I’m more a Buddhist than Christian)? Asking for a friend.

    1. I’m not a fan of those either because they are ultimately inconsiderate to those of other faiths (or none). I personally advocate for those to not take place when I can, but until I am successful, I have learned to breathe through them and reframe my assumptions about the intentions behind the act. In other words, I can be at peace during it even though it appears to lack any concern for me or others who may not align with evangelical Christianity (the kind that most often feels the need to engage in public prayer).

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