Author: Larry Dansky
Persons appear to us according to the light we throw upon them from our own minds. -Laura Ingalls Wilder
As we all know, we can’t control anyone else’s behavior, and we can’t make another person want to or be able to change. But we can always make the choice to shift our attention inward, to focus the lens of curiosity onto ourselves. Ultimately, self-awareness is the most powerful and profound antidote to suffering. – Nancy Colier, in Psychology Today
I often find myself wondering why other people act the way they do. I’ll hear someone say something preposterous, or act out in a way that makes no sense. I get it when it’s my grandchildren; they’re just being who they are – teenagers. But I expect adults to act differently, and find myself disappointed and upset when I witness what I think is unacceptable behavior. I’ve come to accept it in politicians, but I’m more bothered when it’s acquaintances, friends, or family. If possible, I’ll talk to them about my concerns, and yet, despite my best efforts, they don’t change their behavior. Imagine that!
I have an older brother who I have never gotten along with. We argued often as children, but as we matured into adulthood, I kept expecting him to change. I wanted him to be less self-absorbed, more accepting, and less argumentative. After many years, I finally realized that that was not going to happen, and it was me who had to change. My frustrations grew out of my expectations, not his behavior. I wasted much time and energy being frustrated and angry. Once I accepted him for who he was, we could co-exist peacefully even if we weren’t ever going to be good friends.
I’ve tried to carry this lesson with me into interactions with other people I struggle with. I try to recognize when I’m seeing others in the light I project onto them. I can still disagree with their statements, and I don’t have to pretend to like their behavior, but I can approach these encounters with more compassion and patience if I’m not so frustrated. In essence, I cannot change others. I can only change my behavior towards them.
It took me lots of practice looking in the mirror to accept this approach, and I have to admit that it’s still an ongoing process. But I’m learning that when I’m frustrated with others, if I give myself some space, look inward, and check myself first, my perspective can change. And guess what? I found that this approach also works with my feelings about many politicians!
Holy Spirit, remind me that it is not my job to dictate other’s behavior. As opposed to wasting energy being frustrated, remind me to look in the mirror, check my reflection, and let go of my expectations.