“You’ve got to be a thermostat rather than a thermometer.” (Cornel West) – from the Jack’s Winning Words blog.
Jack went on to say a little about being the agent that helps cool down heated situations or warm up chilled relationships. I suspect that this is also what Cornel West had in mind when he coined that phrase.
We all act much of the time in the role of the thermometer, reflecting the heat of the moment or reacting to a cold shoulder or chilled relationship. It’s human nature to sense and react to things in our surroundings; however, it is an act of conscientious human concern to act more like the thermostat and adjust what is going on in the environment to bring it more in line with the normal.
Things can get heated quickly, whether it’s an argument that gets out of hand or perhaps just a misunderstanding that is carried too far. One can move from slightly miffed to angry all too quickly if there is nothing to moderate the situation. That’s where the person acting like a thermostat comes into play. Someone who can step in and bring the cooling voice of reason to a situation is often the only thing that prevents anger from boiling over into actions or words that would be long regretted by all involved. In many cases the words have already been uttered and neither side can find a way to apologize or take them back.
In situations of chilly or cold relationships, the thermostat provides that spark of warmth to thaw the situation out and allow love back into the equation. People don’t naturally dislike or hate others; they may get into situations where something – an act or maybe a perceived snub (real or imagined) – puts a chilly barrier between them and someone that they love(d). Sometimes people get trapped by those icy barriers and can’t find their way back. A third party, acting as a thermostat, can provide the initial warmth to melt the barrier and perhaps provide the spark to rekindle the love that was there at one time.
There’s another way to look at this role and that is one that is well defined in a recent series of ads for HAP (Health Alliance Plan) on TV in which a lady who is a HAP Customer Services Rep defines her role in talking to HAP customers as a problem solver – “a human aspirin” as she puts it. She takes away their headaches over healthcare issue. The thermostat role is sort of like a human aspirin role in pained human relationships.
I suspect that the biggest roadblock for most is a reluctance to get involved. It is easier to say, “That’s their problem, let them work it out. I don’t want to seem to be a busybody.” You are willing to just observe the heat or the cold between the parties (or between yourself and someone else, but not to take any action to help). That’s taking the thermometer approach.
At that moment when you are ready to just take the temperature of things in a situation, but not act; maybe you should ask yourself, “If it were me in this situation, would I want someone to help? If I was in danger of losing the loving relationship with a friend, a wife, a bother or mother or father over this issue or misunderstanding; would I want someone to intercede and help work this out?” You’re not being a busybody; you’re being a true friend – a thermostat in this person’s life. So, be the thermostat and not just the thermometer.