Saturday, January 21, 2006

Other people's heads

When you find yourself dealing with difficult people, have you ever thought that they have to deal with themselves all the time? That point is successfully made by Kevin Griffin in his book One Breath at a Time:
A few years later, I was working for a magazine distributor in Venice Beach, and we were talking about one of his other employees who spoke harshly and critically a great deal of the time. I was complaining to my boss about it when he said that whenever someone talked (or yelled) like that to him, he just remembered that the person was also talking like that to themselves, inside their head. When he said this to me, it struck me as a wonderful insight - of course we speak the way we think!

Making a habit of bringing lovingkindness and compassion to mind in daily life can shift our entire outlook. And this is a practice - a real practice. It requires first noticing when our thoughts are angry or judgmental toward someone (Right Mindfulness); then consciously shifting our focus to the other person and how we might view them and their behavior differently (Right Effort). When someone cuts us off on the freeway, we can consider that they might be rushing to the hospital to visit an injured relative; we can also consider that whatever is pushing them to behave like that is certainly painful - the stress and anxiety involved with driving dangerously is very unpleasant, and when we are in that place, we are usually completely unaware that it's happening and so are not able to change. We've all been there; can we feel compassion for someone stuck in that suffering?

I am really helped by remembering the universal motivation in cases like this. We all want to be happy - every single one of us. And we do what we do because on some level we believe that it will make us happy. We may be very misguided in that regard but that's why we do what we do. If I remember that then it's not so hard to have compassion on the difficult person because I know the person is just trying to be happy and doesn't know how. That also helps me have compassion on myself when I'm less than skillful in any of my interactions. I, too, am trying to be happy and I can help myself by cultivating more and more skill in working with and training my mind.

1 comment:

  1. Anonymous6:58 PM

    I appreciate the reminder. This is not just in reference to people at work, but also in dealing with myself as the difficult person.


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