The next two weeks of Wednesday Wisdom will be taken from Barbara Markway in Psychology Today and they begin with a story:
Imagine you are walking through the woods and you see a small dog. It looks cute and friendly. You approach and move to pet the dog. Suddenly it snarls and tries to bite you. The dog no longer seems cute and you feel fear and possibly anger. Then, as the wind blows, the leaves on the ground are carried away and you see the dog has one of its legs caught in a trap. Now, you feel compassion for the dog. You know it became aggressive because it is in pain and is suffering (Psychologist and meditation teacher, Tara Brach).
Let’s explore what we can learn from this story – how can we avoid the tendency to judge?
- Don’t blame yourself. We are instinctively hard-wired for survival. When we see a dog (or a person) that might bite us (literally or metaphorically), of course we feel threatened. We go into fight-flight-freeze mode, and are unable to see the myriad possible reasons for another’s behavior. We get tight and defensive. This is a normal first reaction. The key is to pause before we act out of this mode.
- Be mindful. Although judgment is a natural instinct, try to catch yourself before you speak, or send that nasty email and do any potential harm. You can’t get your words back. Pause. See if you can understand where the person may be coming from. Try to rephrase your critical internal thought into a positive one, or at least a neutral one. After all, like that dog in the trap, we really don’t know the reasons for someone’s behavior.
- Depersonalize. When someone disagrees with us or somehow makes our life difficult, remember that it’s typically not about us. It may be about their pain or struggle. Why not give others the benefit of the doubt? “Never underestimate the pain of a person,” Will Smith said, “because in all honesty, everyone is struggling. Some people are better at hiding it than others.”
- Look for basic goodness. This takes practice, as our minds naturally scan for the negative, but if we try, we can almost always find something good about another person.
- Repeat the mantra, “Just like me.” Remember, we are more alike than different. When I feel critical of someone, I try to remind myself that the other person loves their family just like I do, and wants to be happy and free of suffering, just like I do. Most important, that person makes mistakes, just like I do.
Next week we’ll pick up with #6!