Are You Making Yourself Miserable?
It was a really busy day in the salon where I go for my monthly spruce-up with my favorite stylist, Christie.
I always like going to the salon because the people who work there are such bright lights… happy spirits in my life.
This particular day was smack in the middle of my busiest travel time of the year and just before the winter holidays were upon us.
The salon was overrun with customers trying to get gussied up before Christmas.
After I was done getting my spruce-up, I saw another client of Christie’s, who is also a friend of mine.
We’ll call her Alice.
She was popping in for a quick trim so she’d look and feel her best for an upcoming holiday.
“Merry Christmas to you, sweet friend!” I greeted Alice with a smile and got a big one in return.
We caught up on a few things.
She asked about my family and what we had going on; she’d seen a lot of travels documented on my social networking and asked me what had taken me to different parts of the world.
“Oh, I hope you don’t have to travel so much for work next year!” Alice said with concern.
“No, no… I miss my family when I am gone, but I love what I do and absolutely love my partners and clients… travel isn’t a chore when what you’re doing brings you such joy,” I explained.
She gave me a sideways smile, “Whatever you say, Jane!”
I popped around to different folks around the salon to say bye and then popped back by where Christy was working on our friend’s hair.
Instead of wearing her usual inviting smile, this time our friend Alice seemed tense and unhappy… very unlike her.
“What in the world is wrong?” I asked.
Christie let me in on the conversation, “She’s anticipating the family arguments that will happen during the upcoming holiday get-togethers.”
I honestly asked, “Why in the world would you waste your time doing that?”
Alice answered back with a fire behind her eyes, “Oh, you don’t understand… all they talk about is politics and they’re so negative. We don’t have the same beliefs in that area but they’ll just talk and talk about it so I’ll just have to let them know my opinions because I can’t let them think I agree with them!”
That made absolutely no sense to me.
“I do my best to stay away from the topics of religion or politics unless I’m with people interested in respectfully sharing differing opinions for the purpose of growth and understanding,” I responded.
“Well, they’re not like that,” Alice quickly shot back, “they’re over the top and their beliefs are just… wrong! I can’t let them think I agree with them.”
There was that statement again… the one that made no sense to me… that she “can’t let them think” she agrees with them.
I was trying to make sense of that because the thoughts of someone else are really none of our business.
For example, you may be wondering what in the world gives me the right to write blogs like this or mentor people in business and mindset.
I respect your right to have those thoughts… and I don’t worry about them because they’re none of my business.
Someone may not like the way I wear my hair or the colors my stylist chooses to dye my hair.
Great – those thoughts belong to those folks and they have a perfect right to them… they are their thoughts.
“Alice, can I put on my coach’s hat with you for a minute?” I usually like to ask permission before launching into something with a person who does not have a coaching-related relationship with me.”
Her body language gave me the go-ahead to continue so I did, “I’ve found throughout my life that when I’m worrying about and trying to control what other people think, that I raise my stress level considerably… and though at the time I’ll want to blame the other people for it, it’s entirely on me. …it’s for that reason I’m wondering, who cares what other people think you believe?”
Her eyes got big, and though her aggression was not centered on or directed toward me, her voice raised a little, “I can’t let people think I believe those things that they believe because I don’t!”
I took a deep breath, “Okay… but why? What do you hope to gain from making sure they are crystal clear on what you don’t believe?”
She opened her mouth to speak but then a puzzled look grew on her face.
We just looked at each other for a few seconds while Christie continued her trimming.
Christie was just observing the developments… exactly what I was hoping Alice would model with her family instead of trying to control what they think about what she thinks.
(Written that way do you see how nonsensical it is?)
Then Alice spoke quickly with a stressful tension in her voice, “I just can’t! You don’t understand what they believe and what they think… their politics is just unacceptable! I can’t let them think I agree with them, I just can’t!”
“I heard you, babe… but my question is… what’s the point? You know you all disagree, you know that the way you all are expressing yourselves to each other is not leading toward positivity and it’s not done in a spirit of growth and won’t sway the other… so, what’s the point? I guess what I’m wondering is… why do you spend time with people you care about, but launch into it expecting and preparing for a terrible time together?”
I could tell I was frustrating her and she felt as though I was not understanding her.
…only, I was.
I understood perfectly that her family’s political beliefs were not like hers, that they would insist on expressing them while they were together, and she felt a deep need to disagree so everyone knew she did not have the same beliefs.
Got it, loud and clear.
I encouraged her to take a deep breath.
I was going to back off… this was not a journey she was ready for and was not a journey she wanted at this time.
“Sweetheart, all I’m saying is I hope you can remove yourself from the negativity and enjoy the things you do like about the people you’ll be with… that’s all. Can I tell you my secret to how I do this?”
She said yes so I continued.
“I sit there and simply observe. I act like a little Buddha and let all of the ideas I do not agree with float past me as observations. I take deep breaths and smile, and if someone who is not in the mindset of growing or learning asks me for my opinion, I give them an opinion about something… but just not what you would usually think to respond…”
She pursed her lips as though she was thinking, but then slowly started to shake her head.
“You don’t understand… I just can’t,” she admitted.
We talked a little bit more – in more of a girlfriend-to-girlfriend manner, and then I said, “I have two more questions for you… is that okay?”
“Sure!” she said with her usual infectiously friendly smile.
“Can you promise me you won’t start the fight during the holiday get-together?” I pleaded.
“Oh, I never EVER start it!” she swore.
“My second question… who do you think is the person to start the fight?” I asked.
“Well, they bring it up knowing that other people will disagree…” Alice explained.
“Right, so who starts the fight?” I persisted.
“They do.” She definitively and immediately answered.
“Mmm… maybe.. it depends. You see, it’s the second person to speak who starts the fight. Other people can say whatever they want to say, and if you choose to allow it to pass like a bubble floating in a breeze, then it dies there. It’s only when someone chooses to pick it up and run with it that the fight starts. If you don’t speak, but just allow… and don’t give an opinion, there’s no fight.”
“I just don’t know if I can do that,” Alice softly admitted.
She went from “I can’t” to “I don’t know if I can”… and that’s progress.
Are you like Alice?
Do you start the fight?
Are you having unpleasant exchanges that increase your stress but for no apparent reason or fo no apparent gain other than simply “making a point?”
What’s the point?
Not being misheard?
Controlling what other people think?
I realized two things that day in the busy salon: sometimes when you want to give someone a gift – such as a gift of allowing unnecessary and unpleasant things to pass – but they’re not ready to receive the knowledge, then all the wanting in the world from your end won’t make a dent in that person’s progress right then.
Secondly, sometimes the people who don’t understand are the ones who believe they are misunderstood.
Alice is making herself miserable… and that’s entirely on her!
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