Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Practicing Patience

The original title of this post was "Back the Bus Up!" - a title that reflected my frustration when I first began it.  But I decided to "practice patience," and step away from it for a few days, so that I could - to quote the Dalai Lama - respond "in an appropriate and compassionate manner rather than being driven by [my] anger and irritation."  Taking the time to back off and think has changed the focus of the post.  I left the front part - the build-up - so that you can understand the framework behind the post. I admit wholly that this post could benefit from probably a little more practice at patience, but it'll have to do for now.  I am, after all, only human. 

Now, I'm gonna rant a little in here.  Just warning you upfront.  And I welcome any ranting back.  Go ahead, get it out.  But, I ask just one thing, first.  Read through the whole entry before releasing your rant on me.  Thank you.

I've been observing a trend lately - that I know is not new, but I've just been paying attention to it.  This is the tendency to shoot first, think later, if at all.

We are not generous with each other, nor do we, apparently, naturally expect generosity from each other.  So when we hear something, we often quickly react - whether in action or word or merely in thought - and often don't step back and really think about what might have happened.  Then this spirals.  Quickly. 

You read meanness into your co-worker's e-mail, so you send something short and sharp back.  The co-worker that thought she was being nice is now upset because you're upset at her, and suddenly something innocent - and perhaps even generous - has become something else due to a misunderstanding and a miscommunication.

I have problems with lawn mowers.  As long as they do not belong to me, I can start them and use them just fine.  Once they come under my ownership, I, no longer, have the power or ability to make them go.  I have no idea why, but this is a pattern I have observed, so - in the spirit of this post - I choose to take it personally.

I received a note the other day from a neighbor who had clearly observed I was having problems getting my lawn mowed.  He (or she?) offered to mow my lawn for me if I wanted, and left his number and suggested a $10 payment.  I walked in and found it on my door, and felt a little sheepish because I know my lawn is getting long, and took his note as nothing but kind-hearted generousness.  Yes, he suggested a fee, but I took it as kindness.

Later, after getting settled in, I was sharing my day with a friend, and I mentioned this note.  She was immediately offended on my behalf and basically suggested I tell him to shove his lawn-mower where the sun don't shine (which doesn't make sense, because if the sun didn't shine, then the grass wouldn't grow, and then you wouldn't need a lawnmower???  But I digress).

I was a little surprised at her reaction, and I reassured her that, no, I thought he was just being kind. I went back and re-read the note, though, and saw that, yes, one could - I guess - take offense to it.

And this is the problem that I am observing.  Faced with a choice of whether or not to take offense, so often so many of us seem to be choosing the take offense option rather than step back and try to figure out what might be going on.

Even the best intentioned person says stupid things.  Some of them are genuinely stupid, and that person should be taken out back and at least gently explained why what they said was inappropriate. 

But if someone doesn't tell us, then how do we learn?  Oh, yes.  We learn by seeing outrageous reactions to what was meant to be harmless comments.  An e-mail among co-workers, a note among neighbors, a twit (er, tweet, whatever you call it) among strangers, or a warm open invitation among friends.

We all have land mines.  Things that even if Mother Teresa said them to us (well, maybe I should choose someone living, like my favorite, the Dalai Lama) we'd hear in the most negative light. 

I love the Dalai Lama. I've been looking back at some of his recent works to try and find the right quote for this post. 

This sorta fits:

If we can manage to refrain from harming others in our everyday actions and words, we can start to give more serious attention to actively doing good, and this can be a source of great joy and inner confidence. We can benefit others through our actions by being warm and generous toward them, by being charitable, and by helping those in need.

Refraining from harming others.  Good idea.  Benefiting them by being warm and generous towards them.  Also good.

This other one is something I've had posted lately for myself to remember by reading and re-reading

The practice of patience protects us from losing our composure. In doing that it enables us to exercise discernment, even in the heat of difficult situations. It gives us inner space. And within that space we gain a degree of self-control, which allows us to respond to situations in an appropriate and compassionate manner rather than being driven by our anger and irritation.

And I do think it fits this post well - that if we manage to practice patience and protect ourselves from losing our composure, then we can think more appropriately about the situation and how to react.

In the last twenty four hours, two separate and unrelated "events" occurred with me that has brought this issue to a head for me, and inspired this post.

The first was inadvertently tripping over a trigger for a Twitter fan.  The second was recognizing that I, now, have a new trigger of my own.

I was having friendly banter with someone new yesterday afternoon via Twitter.  Saw a post she made about a place I used to live, and at lunch, I posted a comment in return.  Read a few more of her twits, tweets, wha-t-ever - I'm not going to become a Twitter person at this rate!!! - and enjoyed some things she had to said, and made a few more comments in reply.  She replied back to me and we started an enjoyable little banter online. Or so I thought.

At one point she asked a personal identifying question of me.  The question was perfectly reasonable, and certainly understandable in the context of the banter thus far.  Well.. this raised an issue I've been trying to figure out how to deal with, and wrote about in my post Clark Kent - what to tell who and where?  So I gave a general answer rather than a specific one, and apparently tripped over a trigger with her.  What happened next may be familiar to those of you who twit on a regular basis, but let's just sum it up by saying it spiraled out of control quickly with her getting more and more upset by my responses, and me being more and more confused, dumbfounded and hurt by hers. 

What became clear from her responses is that she is someone who has been hurt a lot by others, and therefore doesn't trust anyone.  I'm a stranger - I don't expect a very high level of trust.  But I would also not expect - and did not expect - a high level of DIS-trust.  Essentially, her argument boiled down to was that "all women lie, therefore, you must be lying."  I was a bit bewildered by that because, frankly, I couldn't figure out what she thought I had to gain by lying to her about very basic things.  Nor what she thought I wanted from her.   These are questions I still have no answers to.

The only thing that was clear was that in the moment, I had irritated and angered her.  She was unable to step back and think through the situation to think about it calmly.  Let alone compassionately.

And within that space we gain a degree of self-control, which allows us to respond to situations in an appropriate and compassionate manner rather than being driven by our anger and irritation.

Instead, she immediately assumed the worst about me - a virtual stranger - that I was a lying, playing mind games and thinking it was cute. 

In the meantime, I was off on my way to spend some time with a friend.  She has a weekend get-away spot that she goes to most every weekend, and has told me repeatedly, that I'm welcome anytime.  So, taking her up on that, I joined her this past weekend.  Driving home, I felt as frustrated with that situation as I had driving up about the Twitter exchange.  I took some time to analyze my feelings, and realized that while it is "sweet" to think that I am welcome anytime - an open invitation I receive from many people - I came to recognize in that moment that I never wanted that kind of "invitation" again. 

I knew I was reacting strongly rather than responding in an appropriate and compassionate manner, and instead I was being driven by my anger and irritation. And I know, nonetheless, that the next time someone utters those words, "You're welcome anytime" that they're likely to get a reaction that doesn't belong to them.  Much as I had received from my friendly twit not 24 hours earlier.  The details and analysis of THAT situation I will save for another post. 

But when I began this post, I was very much aware of the similarities.  Perhaps it provided me a small measure of compassion for my friendly twit.   It made me realize, though, the need to encourage people to take a moment and back the bus up (the original title) and think about a situation before immediately reacting to it.  Did that co-worker mean what I thought she meant in that e-mail, or is there another explanation?  What happens when I look at the situation from a more compassionate perspective than an immediately offended perspective?  How can I avoid the spiral?

And I think the Dalai Lama got it right.  When I first read that passage, I wondered "How does one practice patience?"  I thought about those commercials where the one co-worker / friend is trying to teach the other how to wait and not feel the need to book immediately to get the best deal.  Watching the turtles race.  Going to the DMV.  And I didn't think that was the way, but I didn't know how - in real life - one "practices" patience.

Change begins with me.  It is easy to get lost and caught in that space of impatience, frustration and irritation, and then pay it forward.  But I know that whenever I do that, all that I do is increase the level of impatience, frustration and irritation in the world.  That if I respond with generosity, if I respond with compassion, maybe, just maybe, that generosity might encourage generosity in others.

Next time someone pushes your buttons, or acts in a manner that you find offensive, step back - back the bus up! - and try to respond in a compassionate manner. Try and stop the spiral.  Try to pay the generosity forward. 

If you respond, "but yeah, all women are liars, why should I trust them?" or some similar knee-jerk reaction to behavior stop and ask what you have to lose by responding with kindness and generosity rather than irritation.  (Ask, so what if I *am* a liar?  How does that really hurt you?  I am a stranger who lives several thousand miles away who you only interacted with for the first time in the past few hours.)  Try and practice patience. 

As the Dalai Lama said:  We can benefit others through our actions by being warm and generous toward them, by being charitable, and by helping those in need.

Let me know how it goes, and feel free to write me about your experiences.  Or rant.  Whichever.  The first will bring a smile to my face and the second will give me more opportunities to practice.  ;)

If you like this, stick around and read other entries. Hit a few on the right that are favorites, or go to the home page of the blog, and read from beginning to end. Take a moment to send me some feedback. Thanks for coming. Please come back soon.

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