“Honesty is the first chapter of the book wisdom”.
To me being honest is not just about calling a spade a spade and to hell with the consequences. For some people it is but I do not believe that is necessarily the best or the kindest way to behave or the most productive and motivational. For the small percentage of people that a direct and blunt approach works, I find that there is a far larger percentage that it will fail to achieve anything at all helpful and in many cases actually causes more harm than good. There is no doubt that being honest and fair is the best way to live life but what you say and how you say it can be done gently and with kindness rather than with a sledgehammer and still have a powerful and motivating effect. And, it is the same when you are being honest with yourself. There is seldom any good positive motivation received when you criticize yourself and tell yourself how wrong you have got it or how badly you have done. I find that when people adopt that approach to try to motivate themselves it often has quite the opposite effect and will in fact demotivate and make them feel even more useless and miserable ,resulting in more bad choices and poor strategies.
Yes, we need to learn how to be honest with ourselves and to stop making excuses for making poor life decisions or for holding on to strategies or behaviours that obviously do not work for us. If we do not reassess our choices and take personal responsibility to make positive changes to improve when we get it wrong, then we are unlikely to feel as happy or even as stable as we ultimately could feel and we will really just be surviving life rather than thriving in life.
To make it easier to adapt and learn new ways to behave it is important to look back objectively at the areas in our life where we feel we could do better and could improve upon. Stop looking at them as our failures and see them more as lessons we need to look over again in order to get a better understanding of them. Using the benefit of hindsight we can look back on them and decide how much better and differently we would handle it now and by figuring that out, we have also established a new and more positive strategy for ourselves.
A short sharp shock of truth can change lives but frequently that change doesn’t last. As soon as the initial shock wears off old habits can creep back in. Being straight and honest with ourselves can bring about very important life changes but I believe that by doing it gently and with kindness it will help us to maintain these changes and provide us with long term benefits.
Since others have to tolerate my weaknesses, it is only fair that I should tolerate theirs. William Allen White
I wish I had read this quote when I was assisting on a course in Glasgow a few years ago. The course was being held in a Glasgow hotel. Every day when I went in the hotel receptionists would say a cheery good morning and ask how I was and we would exchange small pleasantries. That was every receptionist except one. Each time she was on she would bury her head in her desk as I passed. No matter how cheery the “good morning” I shouted to her she would ignore me or worse just look like through me as if I wasn’t there. As each passed I grew more and more fixated about trying to get her to acknowledge me. I went out my way to be friendly and to smile and be nice. It didn’t seem to matter what I did she completely ignored it. Finally I thought okay she wins I will just ignore her too and for the remainder of the week I walked past without glancing her way or I acknowledged the receptionist beside her but not her until finally the week was over. As I said goodbyes to the other course participants one of them excused herself from the rest of the group and explained that she was going to over to speak to Mary, the receptionist that had ignored me all week. Fortunately I said nothing as she went on to tell us all that she knew Mary through her church and that Mary had been going through an awful week. Her mother who was suffering from dementia had been admitted to a home and her cat of twenty years had just died. She expressed amazement that Mary had managed to drag herself in to work but had done so not to let her colleagues down. She said that she could barely function and that everyone who knew her were very concerned for her wellbeing because of the stress she was under. I felt immediately ashamed of myself as I had not for one moment considered that she might be unhappy had just thought her rude.
Why had I made it personal? Perhaps my own insecurities were part of the problem or my ego; after all I was supposed to be a good communicator. Whatever the reason I have made sure never to judge another like that again. For me it was a lesson well learned. Time and time again though, as I watch others reacting to people the same way that I had and taking a strangers behaviour personally, I want to stop and tell them my tale. None of us know the burdens another person carries yet often we act as judge and jury. Many times we react perhaps because it is easier to take out our own frustrations and angst against a total stranger than deal with the issues that are making us feel so fragile. It could be that we are all a bit stressed with the multiple daily roles that we have to do and the slightest break of our rules can push us over the edge in to an overreaction. Whatever the reason or whatever the apparent justification I now believe it is better to “turn the other cheek” and walk away rather than add to the angst and misery another person may be suffering. Who knows perhaps one day it could be someone you love or you who forgets to say hello or inadvertently cuts someone off in their hurry to get home because of an emergency or problem. Wouldn’t you like to think that they would be “cut some slack” rather than potentially be harassed or hurt by another person’s frustration and anger when they were already distressed? It goes without saying that of course you would.
I now try and treat others, even those that are apparently rude with the same care I would want others to show my children or anyone that I care about. I feel better for it. Sometimes I need to take a deep breath and count to ten but always when I manage to walk away or drive away without an angry exchange I feel better. It really does take practice but for me it is worth it.
This quote by Phillips Brooks sums up my new found philosophy “Be patient and understanding. Life is too short to be vengeful or malicious”.
It takes a lot of energy to be angry or nasty, energy I would rather keep to use for something more constructive and positive. I feel stronger being able to walk away from negative situations with strangers I am unlikely to ever meet again and happier that by walking away I am not contributing to the negativity around them or their pain. If you have been finding it easy to react negatively to others behaviour why don’t you just take a deep breath and walk away? See how much better you feel for doing it and move on without dragging someone else’s negative baggage with you.
Years ago I became friends with a lovely lady and this is her story.
She told me that she was the daughter of an immigrant couple who had come to our country to make a new life for themselves and their family. They had worked very hard and despite having no formal qualifications had managed to build up a very successful business. They wanted their children to do well and had done everything they could to ensure that they provided them with a good education and encouraged them both to study. Their encouragement paid off as both Susanna and her brother were very bright. Susanna in particular was so clever that she managed to gain entry to one of the most prestigious English Universities. Her Parents were naturally very proud of her and told all their friends about their clever daughters’ achievements. As the University was very far away from where they lived it was necessary for her to move to student accommodation. Before she left to start her first term her parents flung a huge party and invited all of their friends. They proudly drove her down and helped her settle in to her new room and then tearfully left her and went home.
Susanna was excited and scared but looking forward to meeting new people and learning new things. She went to student meetings, local cafes where other students hung out and joined many clubs but felt peripheral to it all and struggled to make any friends. To her it seemed as if everyone already knew each other and that they came from totally different backgrounds to her, she felt invisible. In phone calls home she lied and told her parents how wonderful it all was and described her many friends. She couldn’t bear to cause them any pain as she knew how important her success was to them. Eventually it all got too much. She began to think that it would be simpler if she just disappeared. She was sure that her parents would rather that than have to deal with her failure to fit in and the shame it would bring. Academically she was brilliant but socially she felt inept, useless and completely alone. Her brother, who was studying medicine, near to home was doing well and had already, brought several friends home to stay with him at his parents’ house, the pressure was mounting for her to do the same at the next break.
She began to store pain relief tablets and formed a plan. She would finish her first term and then she intended to take the tablets and relieve everyone of the burden she felt she had become. She dreamed it would be like lying down in black velvet and just going to sleep. No more pain for her and no embarrassment for her family. In her confused mind there was no other way out. The last day of term came and she went to what she believed was to be her last lecture. As usual she felt invisible as she walked through the cloisters and back towards her little room. It was snowing and the flakes which had been falling softly began to flow thick and fast, she tightened her coat around her and began to hurry. Then from behind her she heard a voice. Someone was shouting her name. As she had barely spoken to anyone the whole time she had been down there at first she thought she was mistaken but the voice from behind her was persistent. She stopped and turned around. A young man ran up to her breathless and laughing. “I thought you were never going to turn around he said , “I am totally out of breath trying to catch up” and he fell naturally in to step beside her. “What are you doing for the holidays?” he asked and before she could answer said “Home I expect, lucky thing!
Then he went on to chat to her about the lecture she had just been at and mentioned some ideas he had for the project they had to do the following term. Still dazed by someone actually talking to her she said “I am not coming back next term, this is my last day, I think”. He stopped and looked directly at her “Don’t be daft he said you are one of the brightest lights in that room, we would all miss you” Then he kissed her gently on the cheek and left. She stopped for a moment and felt ashamed. Here was someone who knew her name yet she didn’t know his and she realised how overwhelmed she felt by this small fact. She stood their dazed, the snow swirling all around her and made her decision. She slowly went to her room took all the tablets and flushed them down the toilet.
When she came back to start the next term she had unburdened herself to her parents, who had been horrified that she would have considered anything as daft. They reassured her that nothing mattered to them more than she and her brother did and that if she felt unable to cope there would be no shame in coming home. She arrived back at the lecture with renewed purpose and desperately tried to find the chap who had inadvertently saved her life as she wished to thank him and tell him what he had actually achieved by chatting to her that day. She spoke with many people and looked all over but was never to see him again. To her, it seemed that he must have been an angel sent to her that day and she has made it a daily part of her life to be nice to the people she meets no matter how dismissive or cold they may appear. As she says we can never tell the silent pain that someone might be suffering, so why would we choose to add to it or perhaps push them over the edge.
Hearing her talk so sincerely and with such conviction had a profound impact upon me and since then I have tried to follow her advice and be kind to the people I meet. Sometimes that is hard but to be truthful most people are very quick to be really kind back. The positive energy that this gives all of us has a ripple effect and moves out to touch the people in our lives and the people we meet. Susanna was not an angel but she was someone who felt touched by one and having been touched managed to spread happiness and sense to everyone she met. I hope that by retelling her story I am helping spread that happiness and love a little further and encourage anyone reading do the same.