My children were sitting at the table, tea polished off, waiting for pudding.
As happens occasionally 😉 we were having a fairly big conversation. With five children so close together in age, the opportunities for unkindness, oneupmanship, competition and put-downs are two-a-penny. Of course, one could equally say that the opportunities for kindness, generosity, ceding and affirming are also rife.
And that was the topic of our conversation. I was saying how easy… lazy even… it is to be unkind, to take the ‘me first’ approach, to let slip a casually cruel remark, to bite back; and how much braver and more mindful you need to be for kindness to be your only response. They scoffed, of course. How can it be brave to be kind? And if someone is treating you with consistent kindness and gentleness, then there is no difficulty, is there? But if someone says something unexpectedly mean to you, mistreats you in some unkind way, you have a choice: perpetuate the chain of cruelty, or nip it in the bud, kill it where it stands, end it there. And there, again, you have a choice: respond with a kind word, or walk away. Either way, the chain is broken. The negative energy has nowhere to go. And you do not need to own it.
Why is that brave? Well… we set so much store by what others think. By being kind, or walking away, we run the risk of being called names, of being believed cowardly, weak, when in fact the opposite is true. It is stronger to be the bigger person, not to attend the fight simply because you have been invited. Taking part in a fight you do not want is mere foolishness. Walking away shows more love for yourself and your self-professed opponent than staying to bruise them in return.
But what if you are the aggressor? It also takes enormous courage to own it. To say I’m sorry. There seems to be some kind of mistaken belief in weakness, again, in the ability to apologise. But it is crucial to be able to take responsbility for your actions. It is crucial to your own evolution. If you cannot admit failings to yourself, what hope do you have of being honest with anyone else? And, contrary to what we often mistakenly believe, an apology does not bring down the wrath of god upon your head, but instead welcomes a new respect, an acknowledgment that the person with whom we are dealing is a decent and honest human being, not afraid to admit when they are wrong. There is no shame in being wrong, yet it is a huge stumbling block for so many. The inability to be wrong produces brittleness, puts up a roadblock, and kills relationships.
And lest I forget, if someone offers you a full and frank apology – accept it! 🙂
Last night, reading in bed, I came across the following passage, part of which I shared with my facebook friends. Here follows the whole thing. It is taken from Forgiveness and Other Acts of Love by Stephanie Dowrick which is well worth a read:
There is a great deal in everyday life that pulls us away from being courageous. We do not live in courageous or even heroic times. In a culture that overtly and persistently thrives on divisiveness and competition, that lauds winners then cuts them down, and that condemns losers while also relying on their complicity, it is all too easy to see ourselves as victims and to blame others for the difficulties that are part of every human life. Within such a culture it takes a deliberate commitment to the cultivation of self-love *and* care for others to remain responsible for each and every banana skin we drop – and to look around us to check that no one else is skidding.
We live in a culture that adores talk. Despite that, it remains a rare and moving experience to hear someone actually take responsibility honestly for something they have done, to hear someone say: ‘I did that. I am sorry. How could I do things differently?’, or ‘I am sorry that happened. I deeply regret it. How can I help now?’ Such simple honesty requires courage. And it builds trust.
Instead we are far more likely to hear others or *ourselves* say versions of ‘I only did it because…’, or ‘She made me’, or ‘I never did it at all.’
Paying close attention to what is true, and learning to distinguish it from what one might wish were true, develops trust. Such trust—offering it, being worthy of it—is a crucially important aspect of loving, of taking other people seriously, and of not using them simply as stepping stones on whatever your current individual route might be. But this is not the glamorous side of courage. There are no medals, no parades, no promotions for taking responsibility for your own life. Nor for taking care that what you say is true rather than expedient.
The interior rewards, however, are great; not just great, but tremendous because they keep you in faithful, knowledgeable contact with yourself. And from that place, you are available to have faithful, open-hearted contact with others.
And that’s the point, isn’t it? What is the value in a relationship that isn’t real? The first relationship responsbility is to yourself. And if you get that right, the rest can follow. Know yourself. Really know yourself. Challenge yourself. Challenge every assumption, every statement, every ‘fact’ you produce. Is it true? Start there. Start today.