Where to begin. I’d love to be zen, chill, and centered 24/7. That’s the goal, right? It’s not my reality. I take things personally. In this stage of life, I often describe myself as breezy. A phrase taught to me by my brother. You have to imagine it in a high-pitched voice replete with sarcasm: “Oh, no, no worries, I’m breezy.” It’s an attempt to bring levity to the fact that I do not, in any way, feel breezy about the situation. It makes me laugh and helps me acknowledge that I’m off center.
People do hurtful things from hurt places within themselves. I know this. I’m working on cultivating the space for empathy. Currently, I lack this space. I react instead of responding. This can take a few forms. There’s the familiar lump in my throat. There’s insecurity. Then there’s quiet blame and frustration. How could they say that? Do they dislike me? Why are they so mean? They made me feel this way. It’s their fault. Your thought process and actions may look different, but I’m certain most humans have experienced this judgement-based reaction.
We are each the hero of our personal saga. We only see through our eyes and hear our own minds. We’re each taught right and wrong at a young age. Our society mandates it. What happens when individuals, who have unique ethics, values, and priorities each believe they are right? Those who see through a different lens must be wrong. It’s us against them. We are experts at pattern recognition; this is right and that is wrong. It helps us preserve precious energy resources. It also helps us skip the step of empathy and swan dive into judgement. When we spend our life believing something is wrong, our instinct is to react upon recognition of the familiar pattern. I’ll give an example for clarity.
As a child you may have learned that being kind is an important value. What does being kind mean to you, though? To some it means sugar coating and white lies. To others it means brutal honesty. Some may not hold this value to begin with. My programming lies somewhere along that spectrum – likely closer to the sugar-coating end. When someone says or does something I consider unkind, my first instinct is to judge. Why would they be so hurtful? I recognize them as an unkind person; the villain of my fairytale. Meanwhile, I’m the virtuous damsel who could do no wrong. This belief is not rooted in truth. It’s reactionary. It is pattern recognition spliced with judgement, leaving no room for empathy. A flawless self-fulfilling prophecy. I want to introduce a new path.
I’m practicing expansion. Creating space for empathy by developing discernment around what I know to be true. Truth doesn’t need anyone to believe it. It transcends the ego. Most of us hold ungrounded beliefs that we identify with. It’s just true. It’s what my parents taught me and what their parents taught them. We don’t realize that there’s an option to dive deeper. When we lack clarity around beliefs, they are fragile. They can shatter at any moment. If they’re challenged, we leap to their defense. They need protection. We react.
If you get curious and start to question the beliefs you hold they will either strengthen or shatter. A rooted belief can stand against any challenger. It doesn’t need protection. If I examine my beliefs around kindness, I will see that they are contorted. They ensure that I am always right and good. The truth is I’m working on developing wholehearted kindness. I’m releasing gossip, external validation, and shallow connection founded on judgement. These do not serve me. Rather than react to what I deem as unkind, I’m working to take a breath and imagine where it may have come from. I’m learning to accept that I don’t have to understand someone to acknowledge that they, too, want to be a good person. In some moments I may choose to initiate deeper conversation. In some, I may simply let it go.
I have not walked in your shoes. I do not know your full story. I don’t know your belief systems, inner critic, desires, or motivations. When you say something about me, positive or negative, why would I perceive that as truth? It is your opinion based on factors I haven’t taken the time to understand.
I hope by learning to respond and hold space for empathy I’m able to deepen my relationships. I hope that through curiosity and nonjudgement we’re able to find common ground. When we aren’t, I hope to accept and hold reverence for our individuality and freedom.
From the woman who wonders if she did something wrong when people are short with her. And the woman who sobbed in her locked office last year after a coworker berated her for something outside of her control. Their story is not yours. You cannot assume to know it. You don’t have to take in the pain of others and wear it as your own. You have the power to stand in your truth. You know who you are. Hold your boundaries, do your best, and practice a compassionate heart.
I used a wholesome example about kindness, but this is bigger than hurt feelings among friends. It pervades through our governments, workplaces, religious institutions, and cultural biases. Taking things personally fuels hate and excuses. It puts the onus on others to do better. If we work to release this burden, we gain the ability to spread light. We can help shape our world into a compassionate one.
When people compliment you, it’s a window into their internal abundance. When they tear you down, it’s a window into their pain. It has nothing to do with you. And your reaction or response has nothing to do with them. What do you want to radiate?
To taking responsibility for our reactions. To empowerment. To compassion.