Reflection, imitation and erring on the side of peace
I am fortunate to work in a place where there is very little drama. There is even very little snark or office politics (as far as I can tell since I don’t play office politics). I bag my lunch in the morning, come to work, check my ego at the door and get to work with whatever is before me. I err on the side of peace at work.
Even at home, there is very little drama. We all want peace. I do my best to set the example by having learned how to think through anger and reprisal. My wife is has been learning to do the same. And my kids are learning from us, though that can seem slow. Most of the time, we just get along, we’re at peace and in harmony with each other.
I contrast that experience with what I have read in the news from time to time. I don’t read the news much, but when browsing the headlines, I often see stories about people doing mean or hurtful things to other people. In the news, I often see stories of one person seeking to punish another person for some perceived misdeed. Every day of news is just one more melee of words or war.
I see it in the media that drama, that melee passes for entertainment. Entertainment media, being movies or TV, usually involves protagonist and antagonist, and their struggles against each other. Each side offends or punishes the other in words or in deed. From the first offense, a slow motion melee ensues with each side punishing each other until the protagonist delivers comeuppance to the antagonist. Can’t we all just get along?
I have been a part of this drama in my younger years, but I can recall even then, that I was already burning out on a lifetime of tit for tat just to get what I wanted. I can clearly recall how even in my young adult life, I was very concerned about being on the business end of retribution for anything I might say or do. Even then, I was beginning to err on the side of peace. Yes, I still obsessed over people, places and things, but whatever I did outside of my mind, I did carefully.
I have in the past, burned bridges, relationships and opportunities in the belief that I had the power and the authority to punish someone else. I withheld information, I withheld affection, and I said things I should not have said in an effort to punish someone else for what I thought was a wrongdoing. I simply lacked the skills to get my needs met. I lacked the skills to respond proactively to the demands of life.
The reality that I could not see until later in life, is that everyone is just doing the best they can. Everyone would like to go to sleep at night knowing they did the right thing. On every occasion that I have hurt someone by word or deed, I did not sleep well as a young man, for I too, was in pain. I learned early in life that when I hurt someone, I hurt myself, too.
I can clearly recall how I felt in my chest and my gut after doing something mean to someone else. I was in my 20’s and the feelings were still very strong then. As I grew older, I became more and more circumspect, and I grew to be very careful in my choice of words, for I wanted to keep my friends and tried very hard to create and maintain relations with members of the opposite sex. But I just didn’t have the skills to keep it all going. I had to find places where I could teach myself how to live in peace with others, and I did.
Now as an older man, I can see in the news, acts of revenge, acts of punishment, acts committed by one person or party in an effort to get someone else to change. As an older man, I take it to heart that, “You can’t change people”. I acknowledge that I have no control whatsoever over other people, and that I don’t want control over other people. I have a hard enough time just keeping track of myself, let alone other people.
They might be giants. This is what I think of when I considered of any act of revenge. I thought about revenge often when I was a young man, but age does something to temper those thoughts, to show what a waste of time revenge is. Age and experience show that revenge just doesn’t work like it does in the movies. Revenge is for the movies and nothing more.
Now, when people try to offend me, I just consider the source and move on. I can decide if someone is offensive. I get to decide if I want to think and feel “offended”. I have no need for snark, or to do something in response to make the offending party feel pain. When someone says something to punish me, I assume that people cause pain to other people when they are themselves in pain. I’m not here to divine their state of mind, but I’ve thought long and hard about why I caused people pain, and looking back, I’ve done so because I was in pain and I lacked the skills to better.
Everything that I have ever read on the subject of psychology, self-help and what have you, concurs. People cause pain to other people when they are in pain and they lack the skills to meet their own needs, or to even identify the need they’re trying to meet.
When someone criticizes me, instead of responding back with criticism of that other person, I assume they are in some sort of discomfort, so I just say, “OK”. If the other person is already in pain, I need not increase that pain. I’ve tried that and only found that things tend to escalate from there. So I don’t do it. I keep my mouth shut and/or say, “Sorry, I’ll do better next time the situation comes up.”
This line of thinking isn’t a defense for the other person, I’m just acknowledging my part in the situation that I’m in and make it a point to do better. And I do. I do the best I can to keep my side of the street clean and I don’t concern myself with others that much. The reason I comport myself this way is that life is often a reflection of my state of mind. So I strive to be the change I want to see in other people by taking notice of how I think and what I’m thinking about.
The other day, I was thinking about how kids are such great imitators. So I tried a little experiment on my kids. I said, “OK, kids. I’m going to do something and I want you to not do what I do, OK?” My kids are two girls, 5 and 3 years of age. So I looked at them and stuck out my tongue. Both of them stuck their tongues out back at me, despite me telling them not to do what I did. Kids have a built in urge to imitate their parents, for imitation is how they learn to be adults.
They both know what “not” means, yet they blew right past that and did what I was doing, anyway. I’ve done this several times now, and the response was the same each time.
That is how strong my kids’ urge to imitate me, to reflect me, was. Note what I’m saying here. My kids reflected me back, just like a mirror. Now imagine what happens when we’re adults, sometimes little kids in adult bodies, and we feel offended by our kids, and we act on that feeling. Whatever we do will be reflected back to us by the other person, unless of course, that other person has been somehow, enlightened.
This is how conflicts escalate. People reflect their anger back and forth, in a positive feedback loop until one person overwhelms the other verbally, emotionally or physically. This escalation can result in unemployment, divorce, disability and/or death and that is what we read about in the papers.
It is this escalation that I can see coming a mile away, and when I do see it, I may deflect, I avoid, or even leave the scene entirely. I avoid people engaging with people who escalate quickly and easily, for they are not really aware of their actions and how their actions affect other people. I think that if they could do better, they would.
I err on the side of peace to avoid escalation. I err on the side of peace because I know that the urge to imitate, to reflect is so strong in people. When my kids are crying or angry, I respond in peace because their urge to imitate me is strong. Likewise, if I’m angry, my kids reflect anger. But when I respond in peace, my kids imitate me by calming down. I have found that this works with adults too, though it can take more time because habits can be harder to break as adults.
That kind of response, responding to offense with restraint, is not often shown in the entertainment we watch. Most times, what passes for entertainment is peace enforced with overwhelming force, not empathy. Most times, diplomacy takes a back seat to armed conflict if we read the news because that drama sells newspapers.
I know how to restore peace with empathy and compassion on a person to person level. I would love to see that multiplied by 7 billion.
Originally published at steemit.com on September 13, 2018.