This week I shared one of my favorite quotes by Saint Francis of Assisi, “Before you speak of peace, you must first have it in your heart.” This concept is essential to an issue for which I have been struggling.
Every day online and offline, friends and family members share messages like: “Before I get comments asking if I really believe this, the answer is yes. Please feel free to unfriend me.” “Bet no one will repost this.” and “Here is what I believe. F*CK your feelings.” There has always been the random person or celebrity who says something off-putting. It is easier to deal with aggressive, confrontational attitudes when it is not someone for which I care. What I am struggling with, is how to react when these words and attitude are coming from a family member or someone I have know for decades.
It hurts when it seems a good friend will choose their ideology over our relationship. My struggle with today’s aggressive attitude stems from feeling that I am less important than the person’s ideology. It appears that my loved one’s opinion is more important than our friendship. Just like in the Civil War, brother is turning again brother over a belief. Family members and friends are terminating relationships online and offline because of one post, because of one confrontation. I feel as if I need to accept someone’s beliefs and aggression, or I lose our friendship.
I also struggle when the person I love is believing alternative facts over what I perceive is truth. Everyone has a right to their own beliefs. I do honor and accept that. What hurts is when we can not have a conversation about our differences. It is no longer about personal belief; belief has become non-debatable facts. If I have learned anything this lifetime is that I don’t know anything. Throughout my life I have been shown again and I again how what I took as gospel truth is not true in all situations, or maybe not true at all. These lessons have given me a humility and a willingness to hear someone else’s opinion. It scares me what will happen to us as a society when we stop listening to each other and stop being open to new thoughts and new information.
So, what do we do? If coaching has taught me anything it is that I can not change anyone’s opinion, belief, thoughts, or actions. They need to be open, willing, and ready to make the change. To navigate these emotionally difficult times, we need to focus on improving our own actions and reactions. We are the only ones we can affect. The solution, as always, is not to change others but to change ourselves.
“I do not like that man. I must get to know him better.” This Abraham Lincoln quote was the inspiration for a post I wrote earlier this year about the importance of seeking to understand someone, not immediately disregarding those we disagree with. In seeking to understand, go deeper than the issue. Find out the why behind the issue. Why is this issue important? Why do they believe in this or that solution? Why do they need a resolution? What I usually find when I go deeper than the issue, is that most always the motivation is fear. For instance, this article by the Atlantic goes into why some white men support Trump. It is not about the issues of Trump’s policies. The deeper reason for this group is personal; it is a feeling of disenfranchisement and worthlessness. The sense of power and pride once held is disappearing and this group does not know how to feel good about themselves on a personal level without it. Some men are adapting to the new world, and some are struggling.
The world is constantly changing, and it is scary. No matter what your beliefs or your situation, there is always something that can create fear and a sense of instability. The same goes for those around you. Have the courage to seek to understand. Once you can move past the surface issue and seek to understand, you open the door to real dialog and healing.
When we can glimpse the “why” behind the issue, we can find compassion. When I see someone struggling with their lack of ability or willingness to adapt, I see a person in pain.
In my own life, I have struggled to learn to put people above deadlines and tasks. My dogged drive to complete projects was often at odds with those around me. I knew of their frustration with me since my moniker at the time was, “bitch.” They thought I was being insensitive and aggressive – many of the labels I can put on others today. And I was. But I was also feeling pain, joylessness, fear, anger, and frustration. I would be angry at others who did not see the completion of a task as important as I did. I would feel frustration and failure when I couldn’t make things happen. During that time, none of my well-meaning friends and managers could make me see the futility of my focus on work. It has taken time, therapy, re-education, and willingness on my part to change. So, it is with those around us.
If you can, switch to understanding and compassion with the difficult people in your life. Understand that they are actually struggling. Look at times in your own life when you were on the attack, protecting the things that made you feel worthy. We all struggle at one time or another. Provide the same compassion to those around you that you hope they would show you.
Most of our pain comes from lack of acceptance of reality. As an idealist, I often feel frustrated by the dissonance between how people are acting and how I believe they can and should act. The person is not causing my pain and frustration. I am causing my own pain and frustration by not accepting what really is. Byron Katie has written a lovely book to help us accept what is.
When working with those who want to lose weight, the first thing we do is focus on accepting their current weight. Before anything can change, we need to first accept the truth of the current situation. Sometimes that situation is not pretty and perhaps very harmful. But it is the reality. We need to first accept the truth of the reality before we can make changes in our lives and the lives of others.
Acceptance also includes accepting people as they are. Accepting their good. Accepting their bad. None of us has lived a perfect life. We have all made bad choices and gone through bad times. As we would hope that others could accept us when we are acting poorly, we also need to accept that part of the human experience is being imperfect.
If you thought understanding, compassion, and acceptance are hard, you won’t like patience. Patience is a struggle for me and my fellow Type-A’s. But patience is not only needed, it is essential. In my younger years, I thought I could and should affect everything – immediately and decisively. These days I am seeing the power of patience. When I can pause, solutions come to the surface on their own. Others may step up to make improvements for society. Individuals are given the space to make changes to themselves. When we can give others the space and time to do their own work, no matter what that work looks like, we are really acting in the solution.
Remember, we have all experienced struggles in our lives which made us act in unbecoming ways. I know I have. And I know that with time, compassion, acceptance, and understanding, I have changed. My hope is treating others with this dignity will give them the space to change. If you are also struggling with those around you, I hope that this post helped you find at least a little peace and understanding.