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.

words of wisdom from mama t

Enlightenment comes in fits and starts for me and in the strangest places and oddest moments. I will be entirely focused on something else when an idea, thought or feeling will hit my brain and then spread like an inkblot. And then, for better or worse, the thought stays with me and I’m never quite the same again.

Such was the case on a treadmill. Long enough ago that I was listening to a cassette tape on my Sony Walkman (Yes. A Sony Walkman). A friend had given me a copy of a Wayne Dyer presentation to listen to. Not your typical ‘workout mix’ to be sure, but that’s the way I’ve always rolled.

He had a lot to say that really resonated with me and where my head was at that time in my life but on that particular day, in that particular moment of my journey, he told a story about Mother Teresa that struck me with such power that I stopped moving on the treadmill. Which caused the ‘falling off the moving treadmill’ disaster you are probably imagining right now. If you know me, you won’t be shocked by the image of me on my keister in a crowded gym.

Anyway … back to the point. He told a story that you’ve probably heard and that has probably been retold so many times that its accuracy could be challenged. But it’s the core of the story that stopped me in my tracks (literally) and has stuck with me ever since. Here it is.

According to Wayne, Mother Teresa – who was a pretty amazing gal in my humble estimation – was asked to speak at an antiwar rally. She blew the minds of the rally organizers when she declined their offer. They were like, ‘Uh. You are MOTHER TERESA. Aren’t you against WAR?’ Her paraphrased response: ‘It’s not so much that I’m against war. It’s that I’m for peace. If you call it a Pro-Peace rally, I’m there.’

And this is where the ‘falling off the treadmill moment’ happened for me. She said ‘no’ to what she was against. And ‘yes’ to what she was for. More importantly, she turned what she was against into something she was for by changing the language around it, shifting a negative into a positive with beautiful, mind-blowing simplicity. Huh.

There was plenty I was ‘for’ in my life, obviously. But in that moment – and in millions of moments since then that have followed – I realized how much I positioned myself around what I was ‘against’. I was an elementary school teacher at the time dealing with a wild assortment of mind-numbing behaviours on a daily basis. If I took a page out of Mama T’s book, I could move easily from ‘I wish these *insert cuss here* kids would just behave’ to ‘Look at that wonderful kid who’s behaving so beautifully.’ I attached myself to the behaviour I was for. It felt good, really good. I was happier in my classroom. I praised the behaviour I was looking for. And guess what? There was less negative behaviour because those kids wanted praise, not nagging. The nagging (negative) got us all stuck in ‘against’ mode. The praise moved us to a whole different planet. Woah. The inkblot spread. And I have never been the same since.

Here’s the deal for me around this beautiful seed of wisdom:

1. Attaching myself to the negative drains me. It makes me … to state the obvious … an uber-negative gal. I feel grumpy, judgmental and dark. Like my lip is curled in a continual snarl. Like my brain is in a constant smirk. I also tend to lose my confidence in this mind-space and am easily hurt because I doubt myself and personalize almost everything.
2. Attaching myself to what I’m for energizes me. It doesn’t mean that there aren’t jerks in the world or that crappy, awful things don’t happen. It’s not about dismissing those experiences. It’s about not getting sucked into them. Also, I happen to really like myself when I’m in this mind-space. It’s when I am the best version of me.

I’m still not always great at doing this, but attaching myself to what I’m for is a thought that’s transformative for me. When I’m able to do it, it changes everything I perceive. It’s not magic. Because if it was, there truly would be no jerks and crappy, awful things in the world. But it is a tremendously helpful tool for me as a human – a Pisces no less – trying to do her best in this tricky world.

I guess that’s what this whole blog thing will be about. How in the moments when my lip is curled in a snarl and my brain is smirking with judgment at others, I will try my best to shift from what I’m against to what I am for.

in the works

I’ve been thinking about starting this blog for a few years now to help me place my focus on things that lift my spirit rather than suck me into negativity. My first post is brewing but I’ll admit I’m a little nervous about putting it ‘out there’ into the world. On the other hand, being real is ‘what i’m for’. So I will let it brew just a little longer and then take the leap into sharing in (on?) the blogosphere soon.