I fall into this trap and think the absence of one emotion means the presence of another. I think you do this, too.

Small ways this has played out:

I’m not stuffed so I’ll eat one more serving.

I’m not angry so I guess I’m happy. 

I’m not greatly annoyed so what you did is fine. 

The absence of one emotion does not equate the presence of its opposite. Here are five more impactful ways this has occurred. 

1 – The absence of rudeness does not equate to the presence of kindness. 

I said this to a coworker last week when we were talking about those in leadership and how strong leadership is inspiring. Soft, unpassionate leadership is frustrating (notice I didn’t say uninspiring). When a leader isn’t rude, that’s all well and good, but when a leader is intentionally kind – that’s where true motivation and excellence comes in. 

Once I said this sentence out loud, it was helpful for me to apply it to relationships, both in ones where I am receiving but also giving. I invite you to ask the questions I’ve been chewing on: 

Who am I not being rude to, but also not taking the extra step to be kind? How is that shaping our mutual experiences? How will I take that step and display kindness in the gap the absence of rudeness has created? 

2 – The absence of trauma does not equate to the presence of justice.

Have I recently experienced traumatic reactions to being my normal gay self? No. Have I experienced reactions that were…off? Yes. 

Like visiting a small town in Texas and receiving lingering looks when my wife and I held hands. 

Traumatic? No. Indicative of a welcoming, affirming community? Still no. 

And I still won’t call it justice. 

How do you diminish what you’ve experienced because it wasn’t that bad? How can you continue to strive for justice when what you’ve been through is hard – period? 

3 – The absence of exhaustion does not equate to the presence of rest. 

We need to be clear on the feeling of rest in your bones. Rest feels like relaxing and reinvigoration all in one. 

We all know exhaustion. 

That middle spot though? Wednesday night during the middle of a normal work week? You’re tired, but you got this. You’re drained, but not empty. You know you can keep going. 

You’re not exhausted, but you certainly aren’t rested. Don’t fall into the trap of calling it what it isn’t because of what it could be. 

4 – The absence of inspiration does not equate to the presence of inadequacy. 

This became clear this past Saturday. I knew I was going to spend the next day writing, but by Saturday morning, I was already judging myself for not knowing what I was going to write about. 

I had cleared my schedule, told my wife that she’s got to handle the weekend chores because I need to write. 

But as the day got closer, I had no ideas. No lightbulbs. No fires of inspiration. 

My plans for Saturday included driving 45 minutes one-way to meet my family for Texas barbecue and then visit a nearby vineyard. In the last 15 minutes of the drive, as I approached returning home, I was so impatient because I couldn’t let all my newfound ideas go to waste. 

Note to self – long solo drives in the Texas Hill Country is how this writer stays writing. 

Note to self and you – lack of inspiration is human. It does not mean we are inadequate.

How can you give yourself grace as you seek inspiration in your projects? How can you stir up what you know you already possess?

5 – The absence of noise does not equate to the presence of stillness. 

Stillness without a welcome mat is just anxiety. 

I can build a quiet atmosphere. I can create a calm space. But if these occur without intention and all of a sudden I am surrounded by the absence of thought, sound, or stimulus, my first thoughts are: what did I forget? What in me and around me is broken? Is no one making noise at me because they don’t care about me?

This is one where I am actively working on changing my response. It looks like:

  • Noticing the quiet, taking a breath, and not judging it. 
  • Embracing the absence of noise and letting it linger longer than I would like. 
  • Learning that the absence of noise does not mean the absence of effort. I’ve done enough, am enough, will be enough. 

Now go enjoy that quiet, roll out the welcome mat, and live in stillness for a moment while you can. 

The absence of one emotion does not mean the presence of its opposite. 


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