Friday, September 15, 2017

How Lying to Yourself Can Make You Kinder to Others

You know how there are these little phrases that you've hear all your life, and you nod your head in understanding every time you hear it, then one day when you hear it for the 556th time you suddenly really get it, like as in an honest to goodness 'aha' moment?  I had one of these flashes of insight this morning.

I was mulling over a problem a friend of mine was going through.  A friend who always seems to have their shit really together.  They are funny, smart, successful many times over, in a happy relationship, living in a great place.  In other words, seemingly "perfect".  Yet, not perfect.  They have a loved one struggling, and a family at odds about the best way to handle the situation.  So the phrase "Everyone you meet is fighting a battle you know nothing about.  Be Kind - Always" or "Everyone is struggling at something, some are just better at hiding it than others." popped into my head, and I was like "Wow, that really is true."

Every time I've heard it, I've nodded my head "yes, of course" and went about my day.  Of course I "get it", but I don't know if I ever really, I mean really thought about it to the extent that I not only intellectually understood, but I felt it.  Everyone really does have something that they will have to deal with that isn't pretty.  We all have some mess in our life that we are hiding in the proverbial closet.  Some of us have hall closets, and some have that huge room-sized walk-in closet of mess with several sections, that we are dealing with.
Compassion and Empathy
The difference is when I intellectually understood it, I didn't internalize it, so I would then find myself subconsciously (maybe consciously) judging.  For example, you know when you pass someone on the highway, and then maybe you forget to get right back into the driving lane, then you look behind you and see this A**hole riding your bumper, flashing his lights at you to move over? See? Judging - only a**holes drive like that.  Or, the surly checkout person is just mean.  Glad you don't have to work with her.

We have all been a little self-righteous and judgmental at some point or the other, even though we know better.  So how do you stop?  Well, for me, I lie to myself.  Yes, you read right, I lie to myself.  I am usually a no BS, call it like it is sort of person, but I really do believe that this is one circumstance when lying to yourself will make you a more compassionate person, and possibly take you blood pressure down a notch.  How does it work?

Well, first I have to tell you a story.  I was that asshole behind you riding your bumper, flashing my lights, silently (and not so silently) begging you to move over.  I was at work earlier in the day, having left my sick son at home with my husband that morning.  Around lunchtime, he called me at work and said, "Wyatt and I are in the emergency room.  He wouldn't stop screaming, so I called the doctor, and he said to bring him to the emergency room."  It was a terrifying and helpless feeling.  I worked 50 miles away. It took me an hour to get to work.  I raced down the freeway like...well, like a mother whose 2 year old was unexpectedly in the emergency room.  (He was fine.  Everything worked out).

I silently thanked every person who moved over right away, and felt helpless frustration at everyone who wanted to "teach me a lesson" in manners, and didn't move over or took a really long time to do it.  I'm not judging because I've been that person too.  How could they know what was going on in my life? What battle I was fighting at the time?  However, a little kindness would have been great at that time. (Confession: Okay, I'm not judging now. I was judging then.)

The lie I tell myself now when a person zooms up behind me, and wants me to get out of their way is a story I've made up about them.  I remember my own story, maybe they are off to see a loved one in the emergency room, and I don't want to be the reason they don't get there as fast as they can.  They could just be a jerk who often drives too fast, or they could be a person desperately trying to get to a loved one as fast and as safe as they can.  I can tell myself either story, so I choose to tell myself the latter and give them some grace.  I also find when I do this, my stress goes down.  They are not being an **hole to me they just want to get to where they are going.  Nothing personal.  When you know something isn't personal, it takes the sting out of it a little.

The same for when I'm at a store or dealing with someone who is just grumpy.  I tell myself some story about them.  Maybe they have a sick child at home and were up all night. Maybe they have a parent they are having to take care of.  Maybe their spouse just lost their job.  I don't know, but I do know at some point we will all privately struggle with something behind a mask of perfection, and at some point that mask will slip, and I want to cut you some slack and not add to your pain.

There are people with seemingly perfect lives hiding their addictions, their loved ones' addictions, loneliness, depression, health issues, parental issues, child issues, some issue.  We will all struggle with an issue (or several) at one time or another in our lives.

I don't really need to know the issue of the jerk who just cut me off, but by making up a "real" story I can empathize with instantly transforms that jerk into a human. A human who maybe is in pain and in need of some grace.

In a perfect world I would not need these lies to help me instantly get in touch with my humanity, but the truth is, I do.  (Not all the time - I'm not a total jerk.) There are days when I am tired and grouchy too, and in need of some kindness myself.  Sometimes the story I make up gets me through that weariness, so I can extend kindness versus judgment to someone else. The story lets me walk in their shoes, which by the grace of God, fate, luck, whatever, is not my shoes, not my story, yet it could be.

And, well maybe that story is a lie, but the truth is, it might not be a lie, and for sure at some point there will be a story that is true for that person, so let's show each other a little grace and kindness today.

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