I was deeply affected by a recent post on Cat Treadwell’s blog http://druidcat.wordpress.com/2012/08/02/thedarkpaths/ , where she talks about experiencing conflict scenarios with people who are aggressive towards her. Recognising the isolation, fear and other painful things that may underpin such behaviour, she pondered what to do in such scenarios. The more dedicated a person is to service, the harder it is to turn away from people whose negativity harms them and anyone who comes close enough to be infected by it.
I know that at present, I’m not equal to that kind of service. I don’t have the resources of energy or the depth of equilibrium called for. I’m not prepared to compromise my health and viability to tackle problem people. Mostly I deal with people who bother me by keeping away. And sometimes I recognise that calls for a calculated form of selfishness on my part. Compassion can be exhausting, and I am a finite being. But, so many wrongs in the world derive from the fears, mistaken beliefs and unsustainable habits of people. Turning a blind eye is a means of condoning. Whatever we may feel about not wanting to control people, there’s the issues planetary crisis and not tolerating cruelty to consider. Sometimes, it’s necessary to act.
How do we discern between rightful action, and action motivated by vanity, pride or a desire to control? How much wanting to redirect is merely self importance? Every time any of us get the urge to call another person out over their behaviour, this is something to consider. Never, ever get complacent about it. Holier than thou as a mindset is seldom very holy at all. It’s so easy to see the surface and not see what lies beneath. Another thing that touched me in Cat’s recent blog, was her desire to understand and to heal, not to browbeat.
Taking the time to understand can often foster compassion. If we see the fear that underpins the shouting, the raging insecurity that has someone behaving in a controlling way, we have more scope for handing it gently. It’s easy to accidently reaffirm the mindset – anger, resentment, resistance, can all turn out to be what the awkward one knew would happen. If we reinforce the world view, we help entrench the problem.
There’s a lot to be said for doing, and saying the unexpected. Take a second to consider what kind of response the words or behaviour seemed intended to elicit. Then do some other thing. There are people who will push you away because they believe no one can love them. There are people who will shout at you so that when you shout back, they have a justification for hitting you. There are people who will make you lose your cool so that they can mock you, or will try to make you lash out so they can prove how unreasonable you really are. Often, once you start looking, the intended reaction becomes transparent. Do some other thing. Smile. Laugh. Wish them well. Compliment them. Get them on the back foot by refusing to conform to their world view. Seed an idea.
Lots of people have tightly held stories about the way the world works, and will cling to them regardless of evidence to the contrary. Some people have an amazing capacity to reinvent experiences in order to make them fit. A person clinging to a perspective may react negatively to someone whose very existence challenges belief. Pagans frequently fail to conform to other people’s stereotypes. This alone can lead to resentment. Sometimes just being who and how you are will constitute an affront to people whose tidy little perspectives cannot fit you in. Some people will try and take you down, take you apart, just to make you fit. People who have given up on their dreams tend to detest dreamers. People who believe the world is an ugly place resent those who can see beauty. People who are jealous and fearful resent those who are generous and free. Those who think that power, money and social status matter feel threatened by anyone who can be happy with very little. And on it goes. If we let them diminish us, we let them win.
I think sometimes, the most compassionate thing we can do for some of the people who come into our lives, is to fail to live up to their expectations, and thereby fail to make them comfortable. The shaking of complacency, the challenging of beliefs, the refusal to play, are all very powerful ways of encouraging other people to rethink things. And it’s an approach that keeps us on our toes too, keeps us honest, and stops us falling into other people’s traps or trying to make them do anything at all.