When I dislike what someone else is expressing—before I point a disapproving finger to blame, shame or defame them—I try to pause, breathe and ask myself: “What’s the root source of this discomfort?”
Cherished values and related needs await my deeper acknowledgment and commitment to fulfill. Blaming others, by contrast, keeps us in a blame/shame stress loop, and raises cortisol levels.
True, emotional distress often results from somebody being unkind, disparaging, hateful or accusatory. It’s natural to react protectively. Our default, primal, fight, flight or freeze programming kicks in. But I don’t want to be stuck there, especially if I’m not really in danger, but have been triggered by past experiences and habits, making me feel vulnerable.
Pausing to consider what I value and what I am needing here and now allows beneficial actions. And if I were actually in danger, I’d want my wits about me to meet the situation in an empowered way.
This can mean having to stretch a comfort zone to speak up about that nasty, misinformed or endangering thing I witnessed. But can I confront it with respect? With willingness to understand why they assert that point of view, or choose that medium of expression?
The concept of “beginner’s mind” helps me extend the benefit of a doubt. Its fresh, curious, non-judgmental orientation opens me to learning, to caring, to healing.
Yesterday, a note hung on our community bulletin board, sharply reprimanding a “thief” who “stole” food placed by our mailboxes for a USPS food drive, and for “moral bankruptcy.” OK, but might there also be a scarcity story there—driving the need to take what was meant for “needy people”?
Feeling compassion may not come easily, yet it’s the natural outflow of an opened heart. I’ll practice pausing more often to ask what I’m really reacting to, when I condemn.
What do I value, need and commit to, now, to nurture or take care of myself? And be less squirmy about confrontations.
Marcia Singer, MSW can be reached at www.lovearts.info/contact.