It is so often mealtimes in our house that the big-gun conversations materialise apparently out of nowhere.
We were talking about anger. About how anger, met with anger, can only produce more anger… ad infinitum. Until what you are left with is the wasteland discarded by the volcano.
But if you meet anger with calm. If you register your dismay at the situation, without evaluation, without distress, and walk away, then it is over. It’s a heckuva lesson to learn. And it takes serious practice.
“But then they’ll think you’re a coward!” my son exclaimed.
“And does that make you a coward?” I asked.
“Well… no… but…”
If you do something because of what someone else might think of you if you didn’t… then they are controlling you. Your strings are no longer your own to pull. Your mind is no longer your own to make up. You are being led by the nose.
The problem arises the moment it matters to you what someone else thinks of you, what their perception of you might be if you act in a certain way, or if you don’t (though you, in fact, know that way to be authentic). As soon as appearances are more important than truth, honesty and integrity, there comes into existence a major problem. The truth is not always comfortable, can often require a climb-down, loss of ‘face’ and some humbling, but it is vitally important for a relationship to thrive. Any relationship. From the one you have with the person who delivers your post, to your most intimate, primary relationship. Actually, and perhaps most importantly, to the relationship you have with yourself. If there is something that stops you meeting your own eyes in the mirror when you contemplate or recall it, you have a problem. It isn’t only that these things have a way of coming out, it is deeper, more intrinsic and more crucial to your inner peace. It prevents your being at peace with yourself. In the same way that a Catholic will go to Confession and lay his or her sins before the priest, you must learn to be your own confessor.
Integrity is, after all, doing the right thing even though no one is looking. But it is arguably harder to do it when someone is looking, someone whose opinion of you you value, someone who does not think or feel the same way as you, whose integrity is perhaps a little more questionable than your own. If you perform an act, even though a little voice is whispering in your ear “Don’t do it. It isn’t right…” or a big voice is hollering through the core of your being “Stop! This is lunacy! It ISN’T RIGHT!”, just because someone else might think badly of you if you don’t, then the sanest and most integrous course of action is not to perform the act, but to distance yourself from the person who wants you to.
The minute you do something because it’s more important to you what another person thinks of you if you don’t, even though you know it to be the right thing, you are lost. And you will have to find your way back.
And the more wrong turns you take in this fashion, the harder it gets to come back. The more rotten you feel in yourself, the less peace you have, the more the facade needs bolstering, the more balls of disingenuousness and deceit you have in the air. And the more likely it is that dropping one will signal a major breakdown in your life.
All of which can only highlight the importance of acting now, today. Every difficult situation you find yourself in, count to 10. There is no need for instant or defensive response. Take a few deep breaths and centre yourself. However tired, fed up or grumpy you feel, try to find the true, the kind, the loving response. It simply cannot harm you. A few words of wisdom from people much wiser than me:
However many holy words you read, However many you speak, What good will they do you If you do not act on upon them?
“They’re certainly entitled to think that, and they’re entitled to full respect for their opinions… but before I can live with other folks I’ve got to live with myself. The one thing that doesn’t abide by majority rule is a person’s conscience.”
~ Harper Lee, To Kill a Mockingbird
But don’t be disheartened when you fail. You’re human. And it’s all part of the practice.