“Each of one of us here today will at one time in our lives look upon a loved who is in need and ask the same question: We are willing to help, Lord, but what, if anything, is needed? For it is true we can seldom help those closest to us. Either we don’t know what part of ourselves to give or, more often than not, the part we have to give is not wanted. And so it is those we live with and should know who elude us. But we can still love them—we can love completely without complete understanding.”—Norman Maclean, A River Runs Through it and Other Stories
“Women think and talk like wires running in multiple directions,” explained a friend and co-worker, Holly, in a conversation one day after work. I am paraphrasing her words, but the gist of her point reminded me of one of my current wiry mental dilemmas: How to love, or, at the very least, be open to others with whom I either strongly disagree with their viewpoint or dislike their behavior choices?
It began as my ongoing mental struggle with how to best traverse through what I perceive as numerous negative global and national events/personalities. Then, my mind began its wiry twists of thought further wondering how to best navigate perceived negative situations with those whom I am close. This was not easy.
Perhaps I am the only person with this current predicament, but I suspect, based upon my public observations, there others silently pondering this. For example, during a recent college visit, my husband, John, and I took our daughter, Madelyn, and her friend, Eden, to one of the town’s locally owned restaurants for dinner. Behind us, we could hear a strident political conversation dominated by a vociferous, and seemingly pompous, man. His words were issued in a manner allowing all surrounding tables to overhear his opinion. Dinner companions of this unknown man seemed to be held quietly captive as he used his bully pulpit to literally and figuratively bang the dining table.
Typically, we can overlook a person like this, especially, when his high opinion of his own words was strengthened by excessive alcohol. Sadly, our ability to engage and converse with Maddie and Eden, however, became inhibited by this man’s rants. We could see diners at nearby tables who were also struggling to talk and often sent aggravated glances towards the vocal man. Meanwhile, at our own table, each time one of us would start a sentence, this man would spew more hyperbolic views. John had had enough; he prepared himself to turn and face this intruder. Thankfully, it became clear that this narrow-minded man and his dinner companions were preparing to leave, so John remained seated and held his tongue. Once departed, it still took time for the cloud of abhorrence to dissipate from this otherwise lovely dining establishment.
A week later, John and I sat in church listening to our pastor encourage parishioners to remember that all people are children of God, and it was our job to love everyone regardless of their situation, opinion, or other circumstances. Ouch!
I cognitively understand his directive, but from a gut level, I find this difficult. Sure, I can overlook the man in the restaurant and forgive him from a distance, but what about family, friends, co-workers, and other with whom there is close contact? How is it possible to unconditionally love everyone? The wires in my mind wrestled, wrangled, and tried to wrap around this predicament, but the concept seemed elusive.
As Divine Providence would have it, a podcast, to which I listened some time later, offered a bit of advice for my dilemma. While the speaker’s words were more directed at dealing with a negative work environment, my wiry-mind broke it down and connected it to my own questions regarding unconditional love for all. Here are my take-aways.
Observe: Hold your tongue and judgment. Operate from a point of compassion and attempt to withhold your personal view of “how things should be”. See the real reality, as it is, without interjecting judgment and/or condemnation.
Balance: Balance the words and/or actions not from the place in your head that is reminding you of, “how it should be,” but, instead, allow the mind (and body) time to digest and assimilate the perceived negative words or actions. This may mean remaining quiet and not immediately responding. Try to look at it from the other person’s point of view—even though it doesn’t agree with your personal view.
Take Action: This is the tricky part. After time for true reflection, is there something you can do about this? For example, with regard to a political policy in which you disagree, are there specific actions you can take to positively impact or change the situation? Can you actively and positively engage to make a difference? If so, follow through. If not, then rest your faith in our High Power.
However, if it’s a person close to your heart, ask if their belief or behavior is life threatening. If it is, is there something you can do? If so, take action. If it is not life threatening, then take no action. It is worth remembering that mistakes, falls, and blunders are often life’s best teacher. Thinking that we know what is better for others by trying to help, offer advice, or even control whittles away at a person’s autonomy and, possibly, self-esteem. Instead, we must trust in the other’s ability to find their own answers and their own path while loving and supporting their highest image of themselves—not ours.
Surrender: Finally, surrender to the moment, the situation, or the person—they are not for us to control. It is not for us to understand everything. Instead, we would be wise to embrace Hillesum’s words and work on peace within ourselves, allowing that inner peace to radiate out towards others and towards “our troubled world.”
Finally, if I am to be honest, these four actions seem lofty and easier said than done. Still, I believe, they are certainly worth not only pondering, but also worth attempting to put into practice. Life, after all, is a practice, and whenever we do point, three fingers remain pointing as us. Therefore, reflecting upon what our personal actions and words communicate might be of greater benefit.