lessons i’ve learned from jerks

A while back, I came across an inspirational quote that went something like: see the best in others and treat them as if that’s all you see. It’s a very Namaste philosophy. I like it. I want others to treat me this way. So I do my best to fully embrace it.

I fail at this frequently. I’ll find myself in all manner of judgment – eye rolling, sighing, cutting people off before they can finish what they’re saying. Nothing I’m very proud of, but there it is.

My truth is, however, that this kind of small-minded exasperation doesn’t make me feel better. It used to, but it doesn’t anymore. In my life today, seeing what’s ‘bad’ in others actually makes me feel worse. Small. Angry. Most definitely not what I’m for.

In those moments (or oftentimes in the regretful moments after those moments) when someone is rubbing me the wrong way, I privately challenge myself to recognize a kernel of goodness in that person. For example, ‘S/he sure has beautiful eyes or a contagious laugh.’ Or ‘S/he’s really passionate about her/his kids, job, hobby, etc.’ It’s a stretch sometimes, but it usually moves me from judgment to appreciation.

If I that doesn’t work, I’ll try compassion. For example, ‘I know s/he’s quite outspoken, but I think s/he just really needs to be heard.’ It costs me nothing to listen, so I (usually) do. Or ‘I know that s/he’s terribly moody. Maybe s/he’s having a rough go right now.’ It costs me nothing to be kind and to just let someone feel what s/he feels (provided s/he isn’t overtly unkind to me or someone I love).

It sometimes takes a beat or two, but when I make this shift, I literally feel lighter. My heart sighs with relief. It’s a good personal rule that takes me from a ‘better than’ ego into a place of ‘we’re all doing the best we can’ humanity.

But as it is with all rules, this one has a unique exception … because some people are just jerks. Not at their core, of course, but the top few layers can be nasty. They roll over people without regard. They don’t own their behavior and don’t care who they hurt. Try as I might, I can’t get a lock on their goodness and I don’t have compassion for their behaviour. Gah.

So how do I flip this on its head? What’s the silver lining to jerks? Here goes:

  1. They offer a high-impact character foil for the many, many beautiful humans in my life – from permanent members like my family and close friends to the people I teach or work with.
  2. Jerks can even make an exchange with someone I hardly know a sweeter experience. I mean, if it weren’t for jerks, the good guys wouldn’t look as good.
  3. They provide real-life examples of what not to do and how not to behave. This comes in handy for me in all sorts of ways. It’s also very helpful as a parent.

So thank you for that great personal, professional and parenting tool, jerks. I mean that sincerely.

If you’re reading this, you might be aghast at how a blog that’s supposed to be about silver linings and positive thinking could waste so many words on jerks. I get that. It’s not very Namaste. I have absolutely no doubt that underneath all the jerkness (in most cases) is a perfectly beautiful human being. But getting to the bottom of what makes a jerk a jerk? Unless it’s someone that I am heart-tethered to, it’s just not my journey.

It’s a boundary thing for me. It’s not about blame or judgment. Not any more, at least. It’s about taking my own side. It’s about not being willing to ‘hang in there’ with a toxic person at the risk of damaging the beauty within me. There’s a Namaste that counts for something.

2 thoughts on “lessons i’ve learned from jerks

  1. Love this. I remember I used to get caught up in road-rage silliness living in Calgary. I had a friend suggest I try “giving (them) an MRI” which stands for “most respectful interpretation”. Maybe they were on route to the hospital, distracted by bad news, or simply handn’t slept all night due to a sick toddler. This post reminded me of that. A really great rule of thumb in the world of things that aren’t ‘about Michelle’ (I know. Most things aren’t … like, what?!) it stayed with me and has kept me out of some murky emotional water some days. And so true. That line between compassionate-loving-zen Michelle and doormat Michelle is about boundaries—something to stay mindful of. Hard to give an MRI if I’m face-down in a stampede.
    Thank you so much for sharing this 🙂

  2. MRI … I love this. What an absolutely wonderful way to look at things. Thank YOU for sharing your silver lining perspective. Hugs.

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