My credit card was recently scammed. Boo. Then I got a notice saying my fraud claim had been denied. That old, caustic comfort of wanting to hate absolutely everyone and everything was threatening to stink up the whole day.
It can be hard to see the good in the world when life hands us a turd. This was a relatively small one but it was enough to sprout a bloated rain cloud over my head. I mean, how was I supposed to get on with my day knowing that everyone else was so stupid and just plain wrong?
And that’s how a negativity bias works. We experience something upsetting, painful or downright traumatic, and our mind works like crazy to analyze the situation so it can keep us safe in the future. Then it builds up stories about other people’s intentions, all to corroborate what our hurting and scared minds need to believe in order to cut others down to disposable bits of human garbage.
Thanks brain, but I’m pretty sure not everyone is out to get me.
It can be so freaking hard to believe in people’s own basic goodness. But we can and we should. So how do we start?
We start by trusting our own basic goodness. Not our righteousness or that we are more intelligent, thoughtful or just plain better than other people. Not any of those things because that is our ego trying to carve out a decent spot on the totem pole for us.
Trusting our innate goodness is about tapping into the part of us that can appreciate a sunset just because, or feels really good about a stray dog getting a new forever home. These examples don’t benefit us in any tangible way but we still feel great from being exposed to them because they are the active form of this innate goodness. It is the warmth when our souls get a much needed bear hug.
Believe in the bear hug for the soul. Accept the bear hug for the soul. Be the bear hug for the soul...especially when life hands you a turd.
I got a text message telling me where to pick up the best pork and subsequent plans to take a trip there shortly. Evidence was mounting that this person had mistakenly messaged me. For starters, I didn’t recognize the number but the clincher was that I’m vegan. I replied to the message, letting them know they’d contacted the wrong number. I received a prompt Ok sorry to which I replied Oh no worries, take care. A minute or so later I got a text back: You too, have a great day.
The message took little time and effort but I can tell you that this person’s wish for me to have a great day turned up the love. I felt a bit safer and a bit happier to be in a world where a stranger took the time to wish me a great day.
I am a compassion crazed nut about little interactions like this. They make me light with gratitude. I’m not suggesting we start sending random well wishes to whatever phone number we can dream up. Not at all. This would quickly fall into the realm of disingenuine. But when we do get a chance to be a little sweeter, gentler and more thoughtful to others, regardless of what we will get in return, then a craving for compassionate living starts to boil.
The driver that waited so another car could pull out into heavy traffic. The clerk who noticed the eggs were a little worse for wear and pointed it out before they were taken home. The person who made eye contact and gave that little nod of recognition: Hey other human being, I see you.
These tiny, fleeting interactions are nourishing for the souls of such social creatures. They remind us of how interconnected we are. And the reminder can be as simple and lovely as letting a stranger know you hope they have a great day.
I was reflecting on the solemn agreement made in a wedding vow. These promises evoke a sense of undying love so solid that nothing could ever break it. I mean, my partner is dope and I feel so fortunate to be with him, but let’s say he suddenly changed and started lying to me or cheating on me. I have developed expectations of him that exclude this kind of behavior, and this has made my love grow rigid and therefore fragile. It is the continuous choice we make each day to treat each other with respect that keeps our love and the life we’ve built together from shattering.
Our love for each other is conditional.
I think a more accurate wedding vow would say I feel a great deal for you at this time in our lives as we both currently are, and hopefully we won’t change so much so that I no longer feel this way.
Maybe it’s not as romantic as reciting Corinthians but you have to admit, it’s a lot more honest.
Conditional love can be found in any relationship, including between friends and even between a parent and a child. We have a certain set of expectations of another person and how they fit in our lives. And I think this is a good thing. We need boundaries. The trouble is that we often look to others for unconditional love and it is painful when they fail us again and again in delivering it in the way we think they should.
Only we can offer ourselves truly unconditional love. And this is so hard. Just like in relationships with other people, we have learned to put conditions on the love we give ourselves. I will love myself when I lose ten pounds. I will love myself when I get a better job. I will love myself when I am perfect. The difference here is that we can learn to let go of these conditions because we are the ones who have developed and enforced them. They are ours to burn down with gratitude for who we are. We are the only ones with the true ability to love ourselves fully, no matter how we grow and change.
Have you ever said something harsh or judgmental to another person and then, upon seeing their hurt or anger, quickly retreated behind the free pass of just being honest? I’m pretty sure most people have and it’s a sticky spot to be in. On one hand, we are told that honesty is the best policy but on the other, we also know that if we don’t have anything nice to say then we shouldn’t say anything at all.
Between these two conflicting adages is a middle ground of the social responsibility to be kind without lying. We shouldn’t have to hide or deny our values, ethics or concerns just so we don’t upset another person. But how important is it that your friend knows you think her makeup skills make her look like a second rate drag queen? What outcome are you seeking in giving a voice to this catty opinion?
The only person with whom complete honesty is the best policy is ourselves. In doing so we save ourselves and others a lot of unnecessary pain. This means questioning our reactions to other people until we have had time to wade through the swamp of feelings, past experiences and their present day biases, and our true intentions so that our words and actions can be thoughtful, kind and genuine.
Consider the following updated and non-contradicting proverbs to guide a more authentic existence: Seek the kindest option and Don’t bullshit yourself.