Years ago, I read an autobiography written by a woman who grew up in a cult. It was eye-opening to say the least, but she shared a particular situation that really stood out to me.
She and other cult members were once in an airport waiting on a flight. Based on her clothing and overall demeaner, she said she knew they looked different from the rest of the crowd at the terminal. But she didn’t care. She firmly believed in her heart that she was part of a special, chosen group. In fact, she noted that while she was looking around at others, she felt sorry for them.
That really boggled my mind.
Because I’m in the group of “others” that she felt sympathy for. And if I had been sharing that airport space, I would have in turn felt pity for her. I would have believed she didn’t have a choice and wanted to leave the situation she was in.
Humility check: We cannot assume we know what other people are thinking and experiencing.
This is especially critical during a time when COVID is still at large, and people are responding to this horrible situation in different ways. I find it’s so easy to judge. It’s so easy to get angry. It’s so easy to think we know what is best for others.
When we do, I think we start into a path we don’t want to go down. Because how can we effectively communicate and peacefully live alongside others when we act on assumption? When we hastily determine what someone is thinking? When we have created “truth” about them that isn’t true?
But back to my book: the woman’s story was above all, to me, a vivid reminder that even if we are often correct about people we encounter, it’s always best to slow down. To wait. To let ourselves carefully learn more before we decide to open our mouths and interact* with those around us.
I think by doing so, we show wisdom. We also make ourselves a little more approachable, a little more sympathetic, and a little more relaxed. Something that is much needed in 2020.
*Especially if the interaction is likely to become negative.
Now I understand why people older than me would often say, “I guess they will have to learn the hard way.” That phrase used to really bother me. I would fervently encourage my friends and loved ones to follow the “right” way in dealing with a situation, i.e., to learn from my mistakes. Not make their own.
But it doesn’t matter how passionate my attempts, people typically did (and still do) what they want.
I can’t be too upset. Looking back over the years, I realize how I’ve learned the hard way, and it’s been quite effective.
Here’s an example: third grade. I was at a birthday party. We were playing some version of hide-and-go-seek, and my friend – who was also the birthday girl – CHEATED. Righteous indignation welled up within me. So, I resorted to what I thought would take care of the situation: I put my angry arms out and pushed her.
Do you think she wept with remorse before all the other little girls, apologizing for being the cheat that she was and promising a changed life?
Heck no. She pushed me back.
Let’s just say I learned that day that violence is not the way to handle my anger. My parents taught me this for years; but that didn’t keep me from testing the waters when justice needed to be served. I had to learn ye olde hard way and see for myself that my physical fighting probably won’t right the wrong. As a result, I’ve steered clear of violent anger ever since.
I think as we age, it’s important to STILL encourage others to learn from our mistakes and not make their own. But we should also realize that it is sometimes the ONLY way people learn and to keep the “I told you so” stuff to ourselves and give them compassion*. Since we’ve all been in their shoes.
*Thankfully, that’s exactly what the Moms at the birthday party did. They scooped me and my friend up and loved on us and listened and worked out a solution to the problem.
I come from a tribe of people who love crispy bacon. (I think we just love breakfast food in general, like Ron Swanson on Parks and Recreation.) Anyway, My Mom would always serve her Dad the crunchy slices at breakfast when she was little, as a sort of way to show him love…until years later when he mentioned to her how much he disliked bacon crispy!
Oh the horror! My Mom laughed about it when she told me this. She thought about how she could have been eating those bacon pieces herself and enjoying them all those years.
Lesson learned: ask people what they like.
I know I don’t always do this. I’ve bought gifts and given in ways that reflected my own personal taste. Have you ever played a song for a friend, a beautiful song that completely captivates you, and they just don’t get it? The whole moment falls awkwardly flat. They may listen politely and smile weakly and say, “That was nice.” BUT you KNOW they just didn’t receive from the song what you received?
As I navigate adulthood, I should know better than assume because I need/want something, other people will too. I’ve found others are pretty honest about what they want, especially when asked. Then I get two wonderful results:
I read this quote by Lantham Thomas on Instagram: “Release your attachment to wanting things for people that they don’t want for themselves.” By doing so, you can them fill their hearts with their own personal “song moment" and their own “crispy bacon.”
I was experiencing a tough day at work, and I imagined going home that night, trudging through all that must happen before finally settling down for some sleep. I was not giving myself a peaceful mental picture of my evening. As a result, I was already feeling negative about the evening and everything ahead of me. Have you done this?
I’ve heard over and over that we have a say in creating our reality. Those "Choose Happy" slogans abound. So for better or for worse, I decided to try it.
I started to imagine going home, tackling a few big things, and focusing on how good it would feel to have them done. I then imagined that despite everything, I would make time to sit down with a cup of tea and a comfy blanket. The images in my mind brought me peace, and just like that, my mindset toward my evening changed.
And that was my “aha” moment. I never realized how much I mentally picture my future, and how easily I put a negative or positive spin on it in my mind.
The bizarre thing is that our thoughts can happen so quickly (in either direction) and even just be an impression. I can see myself being incredibly happy at night with my cup of tea. Or in a flash, I can see myself drinking that same tea, overwhelmed, stomach in knots because I know I will have a lot on my plate for the next day.
Wow. What power we have.
So now, when I’m overwhelmed with a lot of anxiety, and I’m feeling incredibly negative, I make a point to envision my next step, whatever it is, going well. I also like to think of ways to make what I'm not looking forward to just a little bit better. What if I drink my favorite tea during a dreaded meeting? What if I light a candle while reading my countless emails, just to change up the atmosphere and make it a little cozy?
Being more intentional about how I mentally picture the future, even in the little details, has helped make my mindset be more positive. Even just telling myself how good I’ll feel when a difficult event is over has been so helpful.
These are small, intentional steps that have helped me. Again, they are small, but I hope they can help you too, but make that significant difference.
Creator of Love, Auntie.
About LOVE, AUNTIE
Welcome! My blog is a journal of sorts as I seek what makes "older" worth celebrating in a world that tends to glorify "younger." I hope it's a place you will find encouragement and positive words.