If I don’t know about it, then I don’t have to take responsibility

It is an interesting thing that happens in my work with people. Several people will all have a similar issue come up at about the same time. And, this week the thing that I heard in a few different ways, but all meaning the same, was “if I don’t know about something, then I can avoid personal responsibility.” This really brought home to me how ‘we peoples’ sometime try to avoid that which we don’t want to have to look at. I think this behavior shows up in addictive behavior, it certainly shows up in relationships, and even in our work. It is a way to prolong dealing with our personal rough spots. The illusion, maybe hope, is that just maybe the issue will just disappear if we don’t think about it.

I was shown the Iceburg Theory not to long ago. iceburg-theory What this theory says is that if you don’t like the results that you are getting, in any area, you have to follow it backwards, or down in this case, to the lowest hidden area, which is most often your thinking. Now this is in conflict when people don’t like a outcome, but they also don’t want to look at what is really happening, their reactions, their choices, etc. You can ostrich through life, but it isn’t going to help you be effective. In fact, sticking your head in the sand means your big fluffy ass is sticking up and the Lion can still see you!

One thing we need to understand, is that our beliefs and expectations are all tied up in how we think. Anything that you say to yourself or anyone else, is in fact, a thought. It can be negative or positive, but there are no times where you aren’t thinking. The key here is that many of us don’t actually pay close attention to the thoughts we are having, we just ‘go with it’ and the price of that lack of consciousness is that we are surprised by how we feel about things or how we may be acting or reacting to an event. I taught Anger Management for 7 years for the Air Force, I can’t tell you how many times I heard, “I don’t know, one second I was fine, the pow! I blew up.” I am glad it doesn’t actually work like that.

From my perspective, emotions are totally connected to thinking. period. You cannot have an emotion without a thought attached to it, or a thought without an emotion getting triggered, thoughts and emotions are tied together firmly. So, an example would be for me to ask you, if you are feeling happy, what kinds of thoughts are you thinking? I feel good, this is fun, what a wonderful day, etc. On the other hand, if you are feeling depressed, what are the thoughts you are thinking? This is terrible, awful, I can’t take anymore, this is hopeless, etc. Then you have to look to see what sort of actions and behaviors are going to come out of these thoughts and emotions. I like positive emotions, don’t we all, so let’s say I am thinking I am doing a good job at work, I feel good and empowered, I like my job. I will most likely bring to my job a good attitude, I am probably on time to work, have an animated voice, laugh often, and enjoy talking about what I am doing at work. Now this is no guarantee, but I am guessing that this person who is liking there job, and feeling and thinking that they are doing good at the job, will also have the outcome of making good connections with the people they work with, will probably also be getting work done, and may have positive interactions with their supervisors or bosses.

Now for an example from the dark side… The result is that you are concerned that you may be in trouble at work. No one has said anything obvious, but you don’t feel like you are doing your best and you are concerned that your bosses are unhappy with your performance. If you adopt the attitude of “If I don’t know, then I don’t have to deal with it,” you will stop here. For those of you who do, best wishes, but this won’t change time moving forward and the issue growing.

So, to break the If I don’t know, then I don’t have to deal with it,” pattern, you are going to have to follow the iceburg model down. The observable is that maybe you have been coming in late, or there are pressures in the economy, or that there has been something that happened that has led to the outcome you have that you don’t like. What are the emotions below the surface? Fear? Anger? Resentment? The emotions could be anything, but below them are the thoughts that you are thinking… “I shouldn’t have to do… or “I have to do everything…” or “I don’t have the energy for this job,” or whatever it is. This is where you have to start addressing your thinking. Maybe you are being over-reactive and you need to calm your thoughts down, maybe you need to look at the thinking that keeps you in a job you don’t like, maybe you need to rethink what the goal you have is. But, it is in this ‘thinking level’ that you can shift a negative result into a positive one.

But, I am sure I will be having this conversation again soon.

What other people think of me is none of my business

I often talk with people about the idea that they spend a lot of time worried about what other people think of them, or are saying about them, or just in general comparing themselves to others.  This focus is an “External Focus”; everything outside of me controls my emotional states, and in this focus we give much of our emotional energy away.  We spend or waste a lot of energy being worried, or angry, or hurt about what others think of us, have said about us or to us.  No matter what anyone says or thinks of you, they won’t ever tell you anything about who you really are, or why you have done the things you have done, it only tells you about them and what they think.  This doesn’t mean that if someone gives us some honest feedback, we shouldn’t listen.  But, before we start making changes in ourselves, we should really sit with their feedback and see if it fits for us.  Does this feedback feel true?  And, if it does, what do we feel we can adjust in ourselves to help us on our journey to being the best human being we can be?

Here is an example: Lets take a person, Jemma, who gets hurt easily and is sensitive.  Along comes another person, Jim, who talks badly about Jemma behind her back Maybe she wasn’t friendly enough when they met, according to Jim anyway.  She finds out about it. She may be angry or she may be hurt, or just maybe, she really won’t care.  The Jemma who is angry and the Jemma who is hurt are both letting what Jim says have meaning (external control).  Folks like Jemma care about what other people think of them.  They may start talking smack to put Jim in his place. They may withdraw and think people suck, but either way they are letting someone else’s opinion about them harm them or threaten their sense of self.  The Jemma who doesn’t care what Jim thinks, (Internal Control), knows that  Jim doesn’t really know her, he is just being ugly. That tells her more about Jim than herself.  This Jemma can make choices. She can choose to spend less time with Jim or other people like Jim.  This Jemma doesn’t waste any energy on someone who has a lot of negative opinions about her and she doesn’t feel the need to engage Jim in a big drama either.  She isn’t angry or hurt.  She just figures “that’s Jim, and he is who he is.”  Part of not being attached to what others think about us is that we learn how to take care of our emotional selves.  We learn to develop some clear boundaries with people.   Boundaries are important.  On the other hand, if my boundary is inflexible or harms another, I may need to look at that.  If in looking at it, I may find that the boundary is in fact protecting me from acting in ways that go against my values.  The boundary protects me from situations where I may get resentful, or angry, or hurt, then I need to choose my needs first.  No one else can decide where my line in the sand on the issue is.  If they don’t like it, well, ok.  That’s their choice.

It’s a funny grey and wavy line that we have to navigate in life.  We need to be flexible enough to reflect on what is in our own best growth interest, and also be able to see where we are being affected by other peoples opinions.  I am not responsible for how others feel about my choices.  If I am not physically or emotionally harming them, then I get to choose my own path.  And, this is important, they may be hurt emotionally that I don’t do something (like date them), or help them in some way (like give them money or time).  They may feel hurt, but  I don’t have to solve that for them.  For example, let’s say I have a friend, the friend is in a terrible financial struggle, due to poor choices and a bad economy.  They have a great need for financial help.  I could give them money, but it might put me into a financially hard spot.  Not helping by giving them money may feel hurtful to them, but I might need to set a line in the sand here, to take care of myself.  I might ask myself, did I create their life situation?  No. Am I responsible for their struggle?  No.  If I help them and they don’t return the favor, will I be resentful or angry?  Maybe.  This may just be the opportunity that I need to strengthen my internal self, shifting to an “Internal Focus”.  By my choosing myself and my needs over their needs. I may make them mad at me, but in a situation like this their opinion of me is not any of my business.  If they are scared and ask for emotional support, I can be of more help to them in brainstorming solutions.  I liken this to the Flight Attendant model, “If the oxygen masks fall from the ceiling, place the mask over your own face first, before helping others.”

Work on being the best human being you can be.  Letting go of your attachments to other peoples’ opinions is a step.  This step allows us to not take anything personally.  When I am not angry or hurt, I can care for others without a lot of expectations about how they are supposed to be.  I also get to learn that I can actually take care of my emotional self along the way.

What are we doing here?

This has been a very interesting week for me.  On Saturday, March 10. 2012, my mom was taken to the hospital ER, she was admitted to the hospital for what seemed to be the Flu and severe dehydration, her kidneys weren’t working to well.  She was given lots of fluids, but on Sunday her kidneys and her liver had started to shut down.  I thought she might die Sunday night.  Since then she has slowly started to get better, but she has had a domino effect happen, her kidneys slowly started to work again, but then she had a gallstone exit through her pancreas, which was very painful, only to enflame her pancreas, which caused swelling, which enflamed her lungs, and ended up causing her some heart rhythm issues.  All and all the last week and a half have been a roller coaster of life experiences.  For her, for me, and for all the people who love my mom.  Good news is she is starting to improve and today or tomorrow should be moving out of the ICU and into the ACU… But, all these ups and downs have forced me to work very hard on using my own tools.  Several things have sort of crystalized for me.  I think I figured out the purpose of my life.  I will tell you it’s not exactly what I thought it would be… go figure.

From an existential perspective, it’s obvious that none of us can live another persons life for them.  But, more importantly, it’s not our job, in fact we stop them from learning what their life journey is trying to teach them if we try to ‘save’ them from their experience.  Our job is to work on becoming the best Human Being that we can become, in every situation.  That’s it.  In working only on our own journey, we open ourselves to be more honest, true, and courageous.  We can only sit in compassion with another when we give up on the attachment we have to life being different than it is.  Seriously, nothing outside of this Unique Singular Experience that we are each having is important.  The more we work on becoming the best Human Being we can be, the better our life feels to us, the less we are rocked by the ups and downs.  I am not saying that we don’t feel sad, but instead of creating a drama or story around the sad, we allow ourselves to just sit with it, experience it and then let it pass.  When I say, the best Human Being possible, it doesn’t mean that we allow others to treat us badly, we just stop taking their actions personally, their behaviors tell us about them, not ourselves, so we set a limit or a boundary, and when they trigger us, we ask ourselves, why and I choosing to be in a relationship with this person, or what do I need to learn from this experience.  The goal is to be in balance emotionally, physically, mentally, spiritually.  This is all very easy in theory, but the practice takes real effort.   The journey to love oneself, so that we can truly be loving and compassionate to others comes when we stop personalizing anything, we work to hold in our mind the question, “is what I am about to say, think, or do, going to help me on my journey to becoming the very best human being I can be?”  If no, then sit with it and rethink it till you can come up what a response that helps you on your own journey.  I think its very hard to follow the profound ideas of what spiritual masters are trying to teach us, if we don’t work very hard on our own journey.

Jesus said, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.” (Matthew 22.37-40 ESV)  How can we hate others or create drama if we are focused on what Christ said was really the only important things to do?

Mohammed said, “Do you know what is better than charity and fasting and prayer? It is keeping peace and good relations between people, as quarrels and bad feelings destroy mankind. And, To overcome evil with good is good, to resist evil by evil is evil.”  Here is another example of the same philosophy, focus on your own journey to be the best human being you can be.

Buddha said, “To enjoy good health, to bring true happiness to one’s family, to bring peace to all, one must first discipline and control one’s own mind.  If one can control their mind, they can find their way to Enlightenment, and all wisdom and virtue will come naturally to them.”   And, again it’s here.

They seem all to be trying to remind us, work on oneself before you work on others.  Judgement and criticism only take you away from your own journey.   The more I focus on you, positively or negatively, the less attention I am paying to my own behaviors and responses.   Plus, how someone behaves to you, is only telling you about them, it says nothing about you… only your own reaction speaks to you about you.

Writing the Story of our Lives

Some of the joys of traveling are, getting to go to new places, see new things, meet new people, and for me, to have time to read something I might not have had time to. I was browsing through the Airline magazine in the back of the seat in front of me, I was stuck in the seat for the next few hours, so I leafed through the glossy pages, looking at fantastic restaurants in cities that I wasn’t going to, and sparkly jewelry that I could see myself wearing, when I came across a little snippet on the actor Forest Whitaker. Now, first I have to say that I have always like this actor, which is probably why I stopped upon seeing him on the page. But, as I read the article, I was impressed by the sort of person he sounded like he was. The quote from the article that most captured me was: “My work is a way to explore and connect and grow as a human being. Each new character is a new life; it’s a reincarnate moment over and over again, a chance to live a different lifetime and, hopefully, become more centered.”

I love that idea, creating the character of my life. And, wasn’t I sort of doing that superficially as I thought of myself in other places, wearing sparkly things as I looked through the magazine? Obviously, most of us don’t have the opportunity to be actors, taking on new roles and trying them on for size, and getting paid to do it. It does beg the question however, how can we take on the role of ourselves more fully? If you were playing the character of your life, what sort of responses and reactions would be important for you to grow as a human being? What goals would you want for this character? How might you look objectively at your characters past, and then how would you use this information to make your character stronger? These are rich ideas. And, maybe a little shift in perspective might help us to be better people, writing a story of our lives, one that we actually want to live.