It has been a tough week (month, years) in the United States for many. A lot of anger, rage, sadness, and fear is coming to the surface. As humans our first reaction is normally to lash out when we are in pain. We want to find out who to blame. We want to attack who we determine is the “bad guy.” Maybe we air our anger on social media. Maybe we hide under the covers fearing attack. Either way we are focusing on “the other” and what they did or might do. To reduce our stress and find more happiness, we instead need to be focusing on ourselves, not others.
We have zero control over what others think, say, or do. Whether a politician or our child, we are powerless to control another. Can we influence? Of course. Can we work to create boundaries? Yes. Can we change them? No, we really can’t. Just like someone else can not change what you think, say or do, neither can you change another. This is why we need to start with what we can change, ourselves.
If we rely on someone else changing for us to feel better, we will never feel better. We need to focus on our own feet. We need to focus on our own thoughts, words, and actions to effect true change in our lives. We are often reluctant to do this. We can see how “wrong” the other person is. We know how justified we are in our needs and desires. And, well, it just seems so much easier to change the other person versus doing our own work.
I remember a conversation years ago with a friend who was part of the Tea Party movement. He was absolutely certain about what was wrong with our government and what needed to happen to fix it. At the same time, he was estranged from his own children. When I suggested he might want to clean up his own relationships before fixing the government, he sheepishly responded, “That is too hard.”
It is hard. But not impossible. And it is more effective. Cleaning up own lives and relationships will have a more immediate impact on our joy and quality of life, versus trying to make major societal changes. Not that we shouldn’t work towards improving our community, but that should take a back seat to cleaning up our own lives first.
I often find that when I am concentrating on someone else’s perceived sins, it is because there is something in me that I am afraid to see, take responsibility for, or clean up. My challenging neighbor is a great indicator for me. He has been absent from his home for months now, yet he enters my mind occasionally. When he does, I know that there is something about myself that I am hiding from.
Knowing this about myself, I also use this concept to find empathy for others. I try not to be annoyed by my other neighbor who yells at everyone from her patio. Instead, I try to find compassion for her because she may be in pain that she doesn’t want to address. It is important to note that what we attack in others, is often something we don’t want to face in ourselves.
This week, notice who you make out to be a villain. Pause. Try to look at them as a whole person and not just by this one belief or action. Explore what it is about them that you possibly share. Take a moment to notice if there is something in your life you are trying to ignore so you are focusing outside yourself. Then focus on your feet. Become aware of what needs to be changed in your life and take some small action to fix it.
As an idealist, I still believe that if we all held ourselves accountable and worked every day to be the best person we can be, all the other outside issues would resolve on their own. Until that day, I know deeply that working on myself provides me relief in this challenging world so I can reduce stress and find more happiness.