I remember many times in the past when I have regretted letting my anger get the best of me, or when I’ve allowed my frustration to spill out onto the pages of an e-mail or a letter. When I reflect upon it now, I see that it was my fear of not getting my needs met, or that I might be taken advantage of, or that my voice wouldn’t be heard, that made me reactive and defensive in the moment. Each and every time afterward I felt I had done damage to the relationship I was engaging and that I had sullied my own integrity. I was often left feeling bruised and beaten by my own words. Usually this meant going back to clean up the mess I had created, apologizing for my behavior, and completing the interaction with more softness, compassion and understanding. The reason I came on so strong in the first place was because I felt weak inside myself.
We are hard-wired to survey the environment for signs of danger and to react quickly to protect and defend ourselves. This served us well out on the Serengeti and continues to protect us now when we have an intuitive hit that someone means to do us harm. Being quick to react is genetically woven into the fabric of our nervous system as the fight or flight response to danger. It’s no wonder that at the first sign of what appears like an attack on our person, our business, or our ego structure we either run away or lash out.
I continue to learn that there is a more evolved path. I can override my brain’s tendencies to reactivity. I can stay true to my own perspective, set boundaries where necessary, say no if required, stay on my own spot, stand my ground. And simultaneously with this, perhaps because of it, I can allow the other to be other, different from me. This means doing my best to step into the shoes of the other, even joining her with understanding and empathy. Being spacious is actually easy when I know deep in my bones that there is a spot from which I will not move. I have nothing to fear, no defended stance to take, if at the center of my being is my truth. I might even soften so much that I can give and take, negotiate from some absolute view, when I know that I’m safe in myself, staying true to that which is most important to me.
I know it is my job to be able to soften enough to listen to another person’s point of view even when they are not skillful in delivering it. If I operate in the world waiting for other people to be skillful before I am skillful, I could be waiting a long time.