I recently found myself spending time with friends lamenting some of our more challenging acquaintances. We all have people in our lives who have challenged us but this particular exchange opened my eyes to some deeper work waiting for me to explore. What if cutting people out of our lives was the easy route? What if there was a better way (one that didn’t involve an epic showdown)?
In this particular circumstance, we were discussing a friend whose only contribution to the group had been decades of chaos and destruction. As we lamented the other person’s (obvious) shortcomings, I found myself slipping into a black and white position. I found myself saying that I will never forgive her and I will never move past what has happened.
Later on, I found myself reflecting on this discussion and asking myself whether that positioning was consistent with who I truly wanted to be. Was there a better way to deal with our challenging friend than to simply write her off?
As part of this exploration I started asking myself why I was closing the door on the relationship. I realized that I no longer wanted to give her the gift of my love, compassion, and friendship.
I believed that if I forgave her and loved her despite the past, I would be condoning her past actions and giving her more than she deserved.
I felt righteous in my conclusion and unmoving in my resolve. The idea of showing up with this person in anything other than a suit of armor seemed unfathomable. Give them my heart? No thanks, hippee, move along.
In my deliberations, my mind began to wander and I started to fantasize about an epic showdown with this person, where I would undoubtedly leave them speechless with my righteous and cutting oration! I was fully consumed in an indignant hypothetical battle.
I sat there in silence for quite some time, observing my thoughts and my physical responses. Making note of where my mind ran off to. At the conclusion of it all, I felt terrible. There I was, sitting alone with myself, fists and jaw clenched, poised for a battle that was not coming. I felt miserable and bitter.
Nothing had happened. I haven’t spoken to this person in years and there’s no prospect that I will see her anytime soon. In that very moment, I did not know with certainty what she was doing or how she was feeling but what I did know with absolute certainty was that I was feeling lousy and I wanted to lash out at somebody.
What was this anger getting me?
Absolutely, freaking nothing.
(Okay, it actually just made me more angry and all rage spiral-y.)
Why was I so resistant to showing up with love and compassion for this person? Because I didn’t want her to feel that love and compassion. I didn’t want her to benefit from my willingness to be the “bigger person.”
But that theory and that logic contradicts everything that I stand for. It presumes that I am actually capable of making her feel any particular way and vice versa.
I know that when we show up in love and compassion for other people whether they feel that love and compassion as well is completely outside of our control. They may even receive that compassion with complete disdain and disregard. They may not trust it, they may not believe me, and they may not care how I show up for them. But the critical point here is that when we show up in compassion you feel it. You are the only one who benefits from showing up in that way. So why do we show up in love and compassion for people? Because it feels good FOR US. Because it feels so much better than how I was currently feeling.
Instead of sitting alone in a mental ju jitsu match, clenching my fists and grinding my teeth, I could have been experiencing compassion in that moment. My choice to be angry wasn’t punishing this person who was oblivious and miles and miles away. I was only punishing myself.
“Compassion is the keen awareness of the interdependence of all things.” Thomas Merton
Choosing compassion instead of white hot rage didn’t mean that I forgave her. It didn’t mean that I wasn’t hurt by her actions. It simply meant that I wasn’t going to dwell on it and be a victim to it. I was going to focus on how to show up in a compassionate manner. I was going to try and see her good qualities just as much as I saw her bad ones. I was going to contemplate clear boundaries with her and give her space to be whomever she wants to be. I was going to stop wishing and hoping she was something different than she was. I was just going to let her be her and stop trying to change her. Not because it gets her anything but because it gets me everything.
Do you have a challenging human in your life that you are tempted to cut out? Is it possible that this person is in your life to teach you something about yourself? Sign up for a free consult and let’s see if there’s another way — a way to evolve.