The Moments That Define Us


If you value your sleep, don’t have kids. I’m just kidding, of course. I am, however, writing this after another night of interrupted sleep. Our little boy is teething at the moment so a decent sleep is but a distant memory.

We love our little boy dearly, and this love comes easily during the day when he is happy and cute. During the night, however, our patience can get seriously tested when he is crying and all we want to do is sleep. Anyway, this got me thinking. It is easy to love a baby when they are happy and cute, but when they really need to be loved is during the difficult times when they have been crying for hours non-stop. After all, they are the ones in real pain (especially if they are teething). In my opinion, these are the moments that matter, and therefore how we act during these moments define what type of parents we are.

You don’t have to be a parent to experience these “moments of truth”. As a friend, partner, or employee you will encounter similar situations. In fact, I was first introduced to the idea of moments of truth while working in the call center for a bank. As you can imagine, we got our fair share of angry customers. We were always encouraged, though, to see difficult customers as an opportunity to show what we were made of by still providing great service at these toughest of times.

Moments of truth are inevitable in relationships. Without fail, our partner will do something that upsets us at some point. It is how we respond to this that defines what type of partner we are. Do we seek to fully understand our partner’s actions? Or do we decide to hold a grudge and store this information as future ammunition?

In regards to friendships, one of my beliefs is that a good friend will stand up for their friends even when that friend is not present. As I ranted about in The Trash Talking Epidemic, people love to talk about other people. Often this talk is fairly harmless, but if it turned nasty would you be willing to stand up for your friend that isn’t present? This is may not be easy as it involves confrontation, but it is what a good friend should do.

In summary, we may imagine ourselves as a good parent, friend, partner, and employee. But if we only show love, loyalty, or understanding when it comes easily, we may have to think twice about whether we really are how we imagine ourselves to be. As should be clear from this article, often the way we should act in moments of truth is far from the natural response. But it is doing what is right in these moments that define us as a good parent, friend, partner, or employee.

With this in mind, here are 3 effective steps for dealing with these types of moments:

1. Have awareness: be aware of moments of truth by paying attention to your emotions. If you feel unsure, stressed, angry, or confused then take a moment to recall this article and realize that you are being tested.

2. Seek to understand: just as a doctor first seeks to diagnose before prescribing, you should first seek to understand a given situation before acting. When dealing with people this can be done through empathetic listening, which basically involves getting inside another person’s frame of reference.

3. Act appropriately: in any given situation, you always have a choice as to how you act (see my article 7 Life Changing Ideas for more on this point). And in moments of truth, it is our actions that define us. Take what Robert Frost referred to as “the road less traveled” – the road of love, understanding, and compassion.

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I –
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference
Robert Frost

Photo by deveion acker

12 thoughts on “The Moments That Define Us”

  1. Excellent and amusing article. I found this both touching and profound. The 3 points you make for dealing with ‘moments of truth’ are excellent.
    Thanks for the great post

  2. I don’t think I quite agree with you that it is only the difficult moments that define us. I think we are defined just as much by the rest of our lives. If you only help people out when they are REALLY in a jam, or only stand up for someone when the conversation gets nasty, that doesn’t really make you a great person, either. I think it’s really about consistency of action… if you take the same actions, regardless of the difficulty of the situation, THAT is what shows who you truly are.

    Some people only stand up to be counted when it’s time to do or die… I think it’s much better to have already been there.

  3. Jason: I agree that consistent action is necessary. My starting point for this article really was the assumption that people are doing the easy stuff, eg loving a baby when he/she is happy and smiling. I still believe, though, that it is during the times that we are tested that we really find about who we are and what we stand for. I’m interested to hear what others think….

  4. Hi Peter,
    I also like to ensure there is an after-process as well so that a person can learn from their past behavior rather than ignore it.
    Got 3 small kids myself so this post is particularly apt :-)

  5. Martin: very wise advice. It is funny how often we forget life’s lessons. One reason I enjoying blogging is that it is an ongoing record of my thoughts, ie this is my after-process.
    Stephanie: yup that’s a good one. Thanks for the suggestion.

  6. Hi

    I am a 15 year old and I read your blog regularly. Your articles are inspiring and help me change. I am also a regular reader of Steve’s blog. Hoping all this reading and understanding will prove some results.
    This is a little off-topic post so sry. This is yet another great article

  7. I still remember when I was furious at my husband for doing something that he knew I didn’t want him to do. It was something I really cared about, but even though I was upset, I still wanted to hug him. The love was just as strong as the upset. It happened years ago, and I still remember understanding how we both saw the situtation and the immense feeling of love and connection.

  8. Peter

    I just wanted to let you know that I finding your website/blog is a blessing. I find your honesty inspiring.

    You are right it is a wonderful tool for a personal journal. That is how I started but got a little sidetracked. I do though of course stand behind all that I have quoted or discussed.

    Never stop believing that you can change. It really is the journey that is so exciting. One video that I think you will enjoy is the first one that shows up on my blog under Inspirational Movies – it takes awhile sometimes to load but do listen – I do every morning.


  9. Great post. Sometimes, when people talk stuff like this, they make it into a mind-numbing self-help number that I dont relate to. But this seems to be the common observation – your honest assessment of life’s everyday challenges makes it so easy to relate to and infact, apply right way. Thanks.

  10. This reminds me of a quote that I’ve always liked:
    “The manner in which one endures what must be endured is more important than the thing that must be endured.”

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