I wrote the other day of receiving some unnecessary hostile and judgmental treatment from a complete stranger. As I have continued to reflect on the communications I received, I am further convinced that this kind of aggressiveness had no place in our interchange or any communication between two people. There is just no need to be aggressive and unfriendly, whether it is toward a person you know or to a complete stranger you have labeled based on other people you have known.
That being said, first impressions can be tricky, particularly those made via a medium like email. In my own experience, I have been wrong on so many occasions when I have made assumptions about a person’s character or their feeling about me as a person upon our first meeting.
I instantly infer from a person who seems standoffish or unfriendly that I have done something to offend them in the first 60 seconds of our time together or that they simply don’t like me. And then, my tail between my legs, I proceed to agonize about it after, creating all kinds of allusions and stories in my mind.
I begin listening to my inner critic listing out everything I could have done wrong. My clothing was wrong. I made a face. I made a joke they didn’t understand or found offensive—I have a tendency to tell Jewish jokes when I am nervous; just keep them laughing and they will like me seems to be my fallback behavior.
I have learned that these initial interchanges have very little to do with what comes after. A woman who I thought detested me became one of my dearest friends from my time living and studying in Africa. Months into our study abroad program, I asked her if she had not really liked me when we first met. She told me she had been filling awful from severe cramps while menstruating.
There was a woman I knew in college who I always thought disliked me. We were in the same circle of friends, but I always felt uneasy around her. We spent an evening together just after graduating, and somehow confessed a fear we had both shared. I had thought she disliked me, but her own actions were stemmed by her own fear that I disliked her.
Seems like a waste, doesn’t it?
I have been wrong so many times that I now realize there is more going on than any of the stories I create in my mind.
I also have come to realize that there is more to one person’s reaction to another person than meets the eye. They may feel uncomfortable or jealous if a person is embracing life more fully than they. Or it may simply be that one person is having a bad day or going through a divorce.
And therein lies the secret.
I don’t know what is going on for most people, so I am trying my best to let go of whatever hostility or other less than desirable energy they may be sending my way and try as well to not engage the proverbial beast.
I still feel the sting of present and past hostilities, but I do not wish to wallow in the sting. When I feel the sting and can sense the desire to stay there, I know it is time for some aloe, sage burning, or whatever else it takes to cleanse my emotional pallet.
What remedies do you use for forgiving and forgetting, or at least for moving on.
2 thoughts on “We need more of this”
thank you for such a lucid portrayal of how words impact the people around us, and the growing potential we have to balance their effects on us. definitely aloe and sage for cleansing and moving on; also agnihotra and super-wonky vegan meals… but this too: writing, reading: it’s heart opening to follow your line of thought, and humbling to confront my own limitations when i find myself in situations like you describe.
aaand deep breath… noticing the infinitesimal pause between inhalation and exhalation… svadyaya pranayam
please forgive my proverbially beastly wall of text; it has been my doorway.
for a long time i took a rather abstract view on the matter of forgiveness, considering myself a hard determinist, dismissing the type of metaphysical free-will that would entail absolute moral responsibility (as ‘choice’ originating solely within the chooser–an uncaused cause–and i’ve yet to discover any sense of egoic ‘choice’ that i could have absolute control over, or even knowledge of). so without knowing to what extent other people were in control of their actions, despite all appearances and common assumptions, the impulse to blame was something i sought to dismiss. instead i tried paying attention to people’s feelings first and the external circumstances that had led them to face the ‘choices’ they faced, and led them to act in harmful ways. so from this objectifying view, each attack i met was a learning experience, a path toward understanding others in a context of compassionate tranquility (mostly after the fact), growing delight and even warm friendship when i discovered an unfulfilled desire for love hiding beneath every angry, malicious or neglectful act encountered… goodness hiding behind unkindness. an authentic inner-child. in this sense i felt i could embrace all bullying that was behind me, and also ahead of me with an already ever-present goal of non-blaming, pre-forgiving, curiosity and appreciation that often led to genuine love (as much as i was capable of while seeing people as objects in a chain of cause and effect). sooo, choice was illusory! although the embodied feeling of love was not, fluctuating from toes to ears as if trying to get more attention. i was just grateful and relieved when the illusion seemed to lend itself to love. and the mountains, animals, trees, people, sunshine, rivers and whistling always helped. that was not illusory.
but there are other dimensions of meaning to the words ‘choice’ and ‘forgiveness.’ ones less detached and more complicated. i’ve also been thinking about aggressive speech and how to respond to it–much more lately it seems–as so many are–and what other kinds of forgiveness may be appropriate in various relationships: at work, toward distant individuals, regarding my own health and those around me, and whether i sometimes confuse forgiveness with excusing, accepting or justifying behavior (perhaps with determinism).
this past week i listened to a 17min philosophy bites podcast which focused on forgiveness with the english philosopher, Lucy Allais; then watched the wonderfully cathartic and uplifting film she mentions in her talk: “Philomena.” it’s about a young, orphaned nun who’s child is taken and hidden from her by her foster nuns… i won’t spoil it in case you watch it, but i will say i’m not sure if i’d be capable of forgiveness there. i might need a really long, drawn-out ‘sorry-party’ before my heart softened at all… who could easily forgive this? is it plausible for someone to be beyond personal affront, e.g. in the context of unconditional love, having already forgiven all affronts pre-emptively? motherhood. but if there is any distinct decision in forgiveness, then there must be something blameworthy first–the act that is being forgiven. so i’m thinking there’s an externalized, explicit version of the choice to forgive when confronted by an intentional, harmful, perhaps generally unforgivable act; to complement this, i imagine an inner space of forgiveness that depends on a change of heart, or a radically open heart to begin with, which can actually just forgive the person, rather than the act… or am i asking if we can “fake it ’til we forgive it?” in the first case, forgiving can be aided by an expression of remorse from the wrongdoer… in the later, the wrongdoer need not even be present. both combined would be ideal… but it’s as if one would need to conceive of blame and blamelessness at once, in regard to one person’s single act… perhaps as a mother would for her toddler, since the toddler is both the origin of the act of pulling the cat’s tail, and also not the sole origin responsible for being compelled to explore and touch and test the world around her, often in anxious moods, like when the TV’s on a loud, irritating or violent channel or when the neighbors are yelling, or when no one’s paying any attention to her.
since i’m no longer a kid(i take that back), the yogic formula i think of is Patanjali’s 33rd aphorism of the samadhipada, but i reverse it just to keep my friendliness honest: Equanimity toward Harm (via breath and understanding, or practice and non-attachment); Delight toward Healing (via love of life and equanimity); Compassion toward those who are Sad (via intersubjectivity, delight toward healing); and Friendship toward the Happy (via good weather, happiness, childhood ease, innocence, joy, empathy, delight, love and equanimous understanding, etc….) – not necessarily a formula after all, haha, as the contexts for these emotions and effects are limitless, and as each ‘lock and key’ works in different directions for different people (for instance, a ‘metaphysical’ locksmith mind just concentrate on the blissful light within), but 1.33 is what i think of when i hear or sing the sanskrit, or when i’m tempted to speak out of anger alone… or when i realize i’ve already spoken with needless anger – maitrikarunamuditoupekshanam sukhadukhapunyaapunya … it truly calms the mind, helps the mind shine with calm 🙂
i’m reminded of the beautiful story of when Swami Sivananda was attacked by someone wielding an axe in 1950… and how he forgave that person instantly, fed and washed him, invited him to stay… how could he not become a devotee of his?
well… i feel like i took up a lot of space on your page… but rather than look at it as a wall of text, please take it as evidence for the potency of your words, the value of your blog, which shines with an authenticity beyond mere reflection. i’m very grateful for the opportunity to remember and express, to contemplate the limitless potential of the heart. na mas te!
Thank you from the depths of my heart for your beautiful comment in response to my post. I am honored by the gift of your sharing of stories and thoughts and insights. This line spoke to me quite a bit: “whether i sometimes confuse forgiveness with excusing, accepting or justifying behavior (perhaps with determinism).” I also just watched the movie “Philomena.” How synchronous! I wondered about the question of forgiveness in this film as well, though I certainly do not wish to spoil the ending for anyone reading who has yet to watch it. Suffice it to say that I have learned that I don’t need my words to convince a person to think something different, as much as I sometimes would like them to. I also know that it takes an awful lot of energy to remain angry or frustrated by another person’s actions and so I can make peace with them for my own desire to carry on. ❤