Without much provocation, each of us has the capacity to become easily unmoored, sent into the storm, and battered around until begging for surrender. Less esoterically: someone with time on his/her hands can push our buttons, cause stress and anxiety, and make us question our place in society.
The provocateur could be an intimate partner, a difficult-to-deal-with relative, a friend with strong opinions, or even a near stranger who asserts something which is blatantly false or critical of our own deeply held personal ethics. While some of the aforementioned instigators might be easily dismissed with a “she’s insane” or “he has no idea what he’s talking about,” there exists (for many of us) a wish to “set the record straight” and discredit the original false statement/assertion. Something looms large in those of us who want to share “the facts.” Oftentimes, it’s an even sweeter result if we can get the fabricator to admit not only defeat but also malicious intent. We have dramatic fantasies about those wrong-doers being exposed for their misleading/untruthful assertions or their ego-driven gaslighting.
The more human interactions I witness, the more I have been challenged to keep myself in check with my practice of cultivating equanimity. Equanimity is defined as “mental calmness, composure, and evenness of temper, especially in a difficult situation.”
(Side note: “equanimity” has become both one of my favorite words to speak and/or write and part of a mental mantra I find myself saying whenever I find myself in a particularly “difficult situation.”)
Just the other day, it was brought to my attention that someone was making judgmental and scathing comments about me to another person. Years ago, I would have likely gone from shocked to saddened to angry. I might have picked up the phone and called the gossiper. I likely would have lost my temper. I probably would have yelled. Without a doubt, I would have said, “Who do you think you are? You know nothing about me. Your behavior is out of line.” Chances are pretty good the conversation would have ended with my clear directive to the gossiper to “fuck off.”
But today, things are different. My response to learning of this slanderous speech is nearly non-reactive. I will not attach emotions, especially those of shock, sadness, or anger, to the person who decided to speak poorly of me. Instead I choose to employ my equanimity.
That calm-minded lens allows me to focus on the intention behind the words and ask, “Why would this person act in this way?” This exercise takes me away from the “offense,” i.e., my experience and instead adopt a “curious mind” to explore the underlying motivations for this person’s behavior.
After some consideration, I came to the general conclusion that those who harbor malice and anger toward others are likely people whose daily experience lacks compassion. I am not talking about that person being unable him/herself to be compassionate, rather that person has little (perhaps zero) compassion directed at him/her from his/her intimates and little to no self compassion.
Anyone who needs to tear down another to feel better about him/herself is in desperate need of compassion for he/she is living a difficult life, a difficult life which he/she needs to fill with the distraction of speaking ill of others. And while many would endorse the notion that I would be “well within my rights” to confront this person, that’s not how I choose to operate.
Moreover, I don’t have time for that. Life is short. So instead of spending my time composing snappy one-liners to dress down this person, I composed this essay on equanimity. Assuredly, my time was better spend doing this for three reasons:
- This person gets to go about his/her life without an awareness that I was told about his/her gossip mongering, preserving the “ignorance is bliss” path of life for him/her;
- I reduced to writing a method that anyone who reads this might try; and,
- I have reinforced in my mind, through reducing my thoughts into prose, the merit of continuing to work toward the goal of consciously employing this practice of mental calmness.
If I may, let me suggest that the next time you find yourself in a “difficult situation” that you put aside your “normal” gut reactions of shock, sadness, and/or anger and try to feel compassion for the person who is making every effort to hurt you with his/her words and actions. See that person in an imagined place where he/she is not regarded and tended to by his/her intimates. Picture the emptiness of that person’s inner life and feel compassion for that person’s choice to fill the space with rage and lies. Then ask yourself in whose shoes would you rather live in.
I choose my shoes with their flaws and their occasional questionable grip as they are mine and happen to get more and more comfortable every day.