“You can either practice being right or practice being kind.” – Anne Lamott
Sorry Anne, I love you, but I’m going to have to disagree with you.
Or maybe not. I think it depends on how important it is to you that the other person thinks you are right.
I believe almost anything can be presented in a way that is kind, gentle and compassionate. The crux is our dependency on the outcome, do we need the other person to believe we are right, to change their opinion to more similarly resemble our own? When I don’t care if the other person thinks I’m right or not, I don’t feel any attachment to the outcome, I feel calmer, more gentle, more able to practice being kind.
There was a time when I flailed my opinions around wildly, intent on saving the world, making sure anyone who needed to know my truth, did. I could help them, I was sure of it; I could save them from themselves. Although not conscious of this at the time, looking back I pretty much thought I could save them from their own ignorance. How insulting!
Then something interesting started to happen. I started to realize what my own journey meant to me. I began to understand that even when adverse things happened to me and in my life (an unexpected, unwanted c-section, childhood trauma, my own ‘divorce’, etc) I learned something from them. I started to behold the wonderful opportunities for growth that came from those unfortunate events.
In doing that, I started to respect other people and their journeys. I started to practice giving information from a place where I was not intensely connected to the outcome, but still from a place of love. I know that when women avoid epidurals, their chance of c-section decreases dramatically. However, if I come at a pregnant mom with ‘natural birth’ guns blazing, she isn’t necessarily going to hear what I have to say. I learned that when I feel really passionate (and right) about something, I might want to couch what I say in nonchalance, under the guise of information sharing rather than opinion foisting.
I’ve found that planting seeds of information is quite effective. If the ground they are planted in is rich, fertile and ready for change and growth, the seeds will take hold. If it’s not, then it is what it is and little effort is wasted. Those gently planted seeds do have a way of taking hold though, even if we are not around to see the shoots. Have you heard the Buddhist proverb “When the student is ready, the teacher will appear.”? I’ve found that true in my life as a student, and I think it’s true when I am given the opportunity to be a compassionate teacher.
Other people will disagree with my take on this and those folks are probably the type who enjoy a good hearty debate and healthy discourse. I’m more of the “I don’t want anyone to think I’m a jerk” type so I over compensate. As I said to my therapist today “I’m captain of the non-confrontation team”. While this serves me well in some arenas (like this one, I think), I do lose out in other areas by being passive.
I’m learning that much of life has roots in finding the right balance for you. For me, I think I can know I’m right and be kind about sharing my truth, but in the end, it’s MY truth. Will my truth change someone elses? Maybe it will, maybe it won’t. I can never change someone’s journey without their permission and I’m sure I don’t want to.