I’ve always been a people watcher. I look at the faces, the body language and I can see suffering. I see it most often when I go shopping and it really shows up during the holidays.
I see kids in the carts while Mommy or Daddy shops. I see the reluctant elderly working at the checkstand. I see the middle aged, shopping alone. More to the point, I see the expressions on their faces. Disappointment, fear, loneliness, and even despair. The holidays can be hard that way.
Wherever I see suffering, I see a lack of coping skills. I see people wishing other people would change. Maybe I’m projecting here, but I also see what is in the news and I really see that groups of people are trying to get other groups of people to change.
When I see news of violence I see people who lack the coping skills they need to avoid violence. It doesn’t matter to me if it’s local or in the Middle East. It’s all the same. When there is news of violence, I think that one side couldn’t get the other side to change, and felt that violence was justified.
I also see oppression in the news and I see that one side thinks that they must punish the other side to force them to change. “If they would just do what I told them to do, then I would not need to resort to oppression.” Nobody likes being told what to do. Not me, and certainly not you.
Most human suffering is just one person attempting to force another person to do something they don’t want to do. Each side thinks they’re right. Each side paints the other side as being wrong. Yet, if we listen to both sides, we can find a grain of truth to either side. Well, that is true unless you’re Donald Trump.
I suspect that even Trump has a sincere motivation in there, somewhere. But I’ve seen that even he is suffering, or he would not impose suffering upon others. He would not seek to agitate his opposition — which is to make others suffer — unless he were familiar with suffering. People who are suffering tend to make other people suffer.
All of us have done this one time or another. We’ve been sarcastic. We’ve withheld a response knowing that silence can be golden if you want someone else to suffer. We may even have withheld affection when we know the other person wanted it. Most of us are able to keep it pretty civilized, but if we are profane, we do so because we are suffering and we want others to suffer, too. We want comity, but making someone else suffer is probably not the best approach.
Yet, I’ve never, ever seen it work out the way I wanted it to. I’ve never received a response that I expected from sarcasm. I’ve never seen a response I expected when I called someone else out on their BS. I have learned that I never really want to know how far someone is willing to go to prove that he or she is right.
So I err on the side of peace. I assume ignorance before malice. I assume that the people I’m dealing with lack the skills they need to cope with their situation. And I wait. I’m quiet. I am watchful. I tread carefully knowing that the other side, the other person, may not have the skills required to maintain calm and civility.
I don’t call people out as being wrong. I just say, here is my opinion. You can check it for facts if you want, but here it is. Do you have a rebuttal? Do you want to respond? I keep the lines of communication open. I always let the other person know that my door is always open. You can talk with me about anything.
When I see that someone is angry, especially adults, I make a conscious choice not to get angry, too. I know that the universe is always reflecting whatever I’m thinking and feeling. I also know that people tend to reflect to me what I’m thinking and feeling. So if I’m angry, other people get angry. If someone is angry with me, it’s on them. I’m not going to buy into it and reflect back to them the same anger. I’m just going to let the feelings pass, and while I’m doing that, I’m hopeful the other person will do the same.
Not buying into someone else’s anger is a form of compassion. Just because you’re angry doesn’t mean I have to get angry, too. I can just be dispassionate, stoic and keep reason at hand. Raising kids has made me adept at keeping my cool. I guess you could say that I’ve never taken the kid gloves off.
I recall one time I was driving in the maze that is LAX to pick someone up with my mom. I came to a stop at a stop sign and waited until I thought traffic was clear. But while I waited, my mom thought that I had missed a great opportunity to make a left turn. She raised her voice to express her concern. And it all glanced off of me like Nerf arrows. “I love you too, Mom.”
I let her know that I was OK and that I was driving and that I wasn’t angry. I was actually happy to see that I had that capacity to let it go. To not get angry because she was angry. I was happy to be able to give a calm reply and let her know that we were going to get there, wherever we were going. I did that not just out of love (I love you, Mom!), I did that out of the willingness to try on a new skill and see how it works.
Not letting anyone else make me angry is a skill. Anybody could do this with enough practice and knowledge of the skills required to do it. We all make a choice to get angry, but when we do get angry, we lose something: compassion.
Compassion is acknowledging the emotional and mental state of another person besides ourselves. We can have compassion for others, but did you know you can have compassion for yourself? Did you know that you can have compassion for your own suffering? You can, but you must learn to have compassion for yourself from someone else. Usually, we learn compassion from our mother or father.
So the next time you’re out and about, look at the other people. Notice that they may or may not be suffering. And notice how you’re feeling and check in to see if your needs are being met. As soon as you can identify your needs and know that you can meet your needs, you might find that changing other people is not so important anymore. You could even have compassion for those other people.