“I am dealing with a bunch of idiots.”
“She doesn’t know how I feel – I would never say what I really think; I would be fired.”
“Don’t worry, I behaved like a gentleman.”
These are the types of comments I hear every day.
It seems there is a widespread misconception that if we just keep our mouth shut, no harm no foul. Many believe that if nobody sees the conflict between what we think, how we feel and what we say, then we can control how we are perceived by others.
This is impossible!
As within, so without. We can’t plant pumpkin seeds and hope to grow roses. Our thoughts are seeds that are planted in the fertile soil that is the depths of our mind. As with seeds buried underground, we don’t see thoughts. These seeds sprout in our speech and bloom in our action.
When we say something we don’t mean, we are expecting the listener to believe that our pumpkin sprout is actually a rose sprout. It won’t be long until that sprout comes to full bloom and our pumpkin is impossible to pass-off as a rose.
Energy is how we water our garden. Positive (honest, open, willing, compassionate, optimistic and loving) energy will grow thoughts, words, deeds and results that are beneficial to everyone. Negative (fearful, resentful, jealous, anxious, dishonest, secretive and hateful) energy gives rise to thoughts, words, deeds and results that are destructive to common purpose.
The more energy we give a thought, the harder it is to disguise. If a thought is not helpful, it is far easier to nip it in the bud at its inception. If we pull our attention away from it, then we can correctly say, “No harm no foul.” Our other option is to replace the thought. Dig up the pumpkin seed and put in a seed that is in line with a solution and/or positive outcome.
I just re-read my post from Monday about the parking lot incident which illustrates identification, the first step toward ‘freedom from the bondage of self.’ Identification is one of my most valuable self-improvement tools. It allows me to assess the effectiveness of a certain behavior and not judge the person exhibiting it. Identification also frees me from chain-of-pain perpetuated by the prison of self-deception. Because I am able to IDentify a characteristic, I recognize it from memories of my past experiences. If I am willing to accept that I have been just as immature and forgive myself for the imperfection, I open the floodgates of compassion and forgiveness toward the person tempting me to scorn. Miraculously, I feel love for this person who has not yet found this path to inner peace. An overwhelming sense of gratitude follows as a result of realizing that forgiving myself is the key to freedom and peace of mind. How simple is that?
Okay…simple, but not so easy! It is just so tempting to go for the temporary high of ‘righteous’ indignation. Outrage is denial of my own earlier outrageous behavior. The brief exhilaration of feeling ‘better than’ comes from ignorance to the automatic low that must follow from karmic kickback. Why must I feel shame soon after feeling pride? It is because my disgust implies my innocence as if I have never and/or would never do something like that. However, I would not be agitated by this person if I didn’t feel shame about similar behaviors that I won’t admit to myself. Instead, my reaction would be magnanimous and I get a wonderful feeling about myself that lasts. When I tell myself that my agitation is about disapproval of them and not myself, they need to change – not me. While that may seem convenient, it is also very dis-empowering. I am doomed to repeat what I won’t admit. It sets me up for another opportunity to behave shamefully and then another to opportunity to temporarily feel better about myself by shaming someone else, and so on, and so on, and….
Admitting is the act of letting in. I can’t release what I haven’t let in! Conversely, the minute I admit a flaw, I can accept it, forgive myself and move on without carrying it around, walled off buried deep in my psyche like an abscess that causes me to react any time someone touches it. That which I resist will persist. Better to feel the pain of admitting it, so I can let it go. This is like feeling the momentary pain when piercing an abscess so I can feel the relief thereafter instead of guarding and defending it forever. If I could recognize my aggressor’s self-sabotaging animosity as something I have been able to conquer, my response will be gracious. This is far more likely to benefit me and anyone involved or even observing the exchange. Any time I have been able to behave with grace or dignity, it has put an extra spring in my step – not from pride, but from LOVE.
My niece is an amazing softball player. She was just in Florida with her team in some series that attracts a significant amount NCAA scouts. Apparently, the competition was fierce. A key player on her team was ejected very early in the series. Their star pitcher was taunted by an aggressive player on their opponent’s team. She let emotion get the best of her and retaliated with no regard to consequences. Her thinly veiled rage was detected, which is why she was charged with intentionally hitting a batter. This is grounds for dismissal. After this huge misstep, the team fell apart and they lost in a blow-out.
My son tells me that in soccer, savvy players will scout out the weakest link and make every attempt to break them down emotionally so they will react like a pressure valve and call a foul on themselves. I like that he knows this, which has taught him to understand the impact of giving one’s power away. He has learned to see right through taunting and use it to his advantage channeling that energy and adrenaline to enhance his own performance. Unfortunately, my niece’s teammate did not understand that she was falling for one of the oldest tricks in the book. She stooped even lower than her antagonist. She hurt her chances with the scouts behaving like a loose cannon in a high stakes environment. She also hurt her team by depriving them of an important aspect of their strategy – her.
Coincidently, I am friends with the pitcher’s parents. I promise you, they blamed her dismissal on biased refereeing. They denied that the hit was intentional and decried the refs for not intervening to punish the taunting that led up to it. This is a girl who has won prestige for her community service and respect for activism at church. The parents are anti-bad behavior! It was very clear to me that their love of righteousness only worked one way…. for them. When someone else acts out – they are sinning. When one of theirs acts out, it is because they have been pushed to it by victimization. Then I pointed out their self-deluded sweet-spot to my sister in some good old-fashioned gossipy back-stabbing. This is when my alarms starting blaring!
Here I was, the teacher of the mirror philosophy, pointing out a hypocrite as if the very act of doing so wasn’t utterly hypocritical! I had to stop to accept and forgive my self-delusion so I wouldn’t be swallowed by my shame and begin trying to rationalize or justify my behavior. Rather, I admitted it to my sister and explained all the various ways I have done what she did and how easy it is to fall into her parents’ trap… as I had so clearly just demonstrated. My God, this stuff is insidious Everything I spot – there I am!! This is why I affirm quite often that I intend to see and assume the best in all encounters and situations. As I always say, I am a work in progress that looks like two steps forward and one step back, two steps forward…..
Assuming the best in the face of evidence to the contrary takes practice. The other day I drove my son and his friends back from the team lunch to their second game of a soccer tournament at Columbia University in NYC. There was a line to get back on campus because there were no parking spaces left. We figured that would happen, which is why we all carpooled to lunch and back. The boys needed to collect their gear from various locations where their parents had parked on the campus and get to their next game. I charmed the guard into letting me drive on campus to do just that, promising I would return and park on the street immediately after I dropped them off. In the meantime, some father came up to my window all out of breath as I dropped them off. He began to berate me for hijacking a parking spot from people who had waited patiently on a line. He had clearly assumed the worst. I looked at him from inside my car. He looked like he was going to have a heart attack – either from chasing me around the campus in sub-zero weather or unnecessary, self-induced high blood pressure from self-righteous anger. It all seemed so unnecessary. I asked him why he thought I was planning to park. He responded, “Well, I just assumed.” He did what most of us would do. He assumed the worst. When he learned that I had no intention of parking, shame prevented him from apologizing. He just walked away in a huff.
I’m never happy about being in one of these exchanges because I know that nothing exists without a cause. Before I got on my high horse and ride around town feeling better than him, I had to stop to figure out when I had jumped all over someone this way either in thought or in speaking . He was a mirror. Knowing that I didn’t want to go too many rounds on this vicious circle, I decided to assume the best giving him the benefit of the doubt. I sent him a silent blessing and moved on. I am grateful for the opportunity to see how our perspective skews our vision. I intend to catch myself before I do this to people knowing that like everything else in life, this process of self-improvement will unfold for me with two steps forward and on backward, then two steps forward and…