Crisis does not so much create character as it reveals character.

Under stress our facade often cracks and our true selves are revealed. Such moments can be incredibly instructive. They offer fantastic opportunities for insight, both of ourselves and others. (So now you are probably almost looking forward to your next stress moment, eagerly awaiting your growth opportunity!)

Occasionally I see (and have at times felt myself) the human desire to return undesirable behavior, to retaliate in kind. That was done to us, that gives us license to respond in kind. Well, that may be the other person’s true character. It does not have to be ours. It certainly is not mine.

My goal is to be aligned through and through, a civilized, caring, intelligent, mature human being. For me to be true to myself, my exterior must be a genuine reflection of my interior. Under pressure, under stress, in times of crisis, my aspiration is stay on course to the principled values I deeply believe. If I fail, being true to my values requires that I make amends promptly (and remember that words of apology without deeds to back them up often ring hollow).

I like the phrase, “if you squeeze an orange, you don’t get lemon juice,” because it is very real, very visual, very tactile to me. When I say it to myself, I see the juice flowing from the orange, I smell the citrus tang. The absurd incongruity of lemon juice pouring from an orange jump starts my energy to help me live a life consistent with my principles and helps my behavior stay tightly aligned with my values.

When I am tempted to respond at a lower level, the phrase “if you squeeze an orange, you don’t get lemon juice” helps me remember that if I truly aspire to grow, to be a lifelong learner, to be a lighthouse and not a stumbling block, then I must live up to my highest self and choose a better response.

When you get squeezed, what happens?

This is a classic from the NSC Blog archive, originally posted May 22, 2008.