the power of compassion, curiosity, & choice.
Practice the best of you, whether the best of them is showing up or not.
I heard this statement recently, and when a good lesson gets hooked in my brain I’ll repeat it, write it down, and recite it to others all in an attempt to integrate it and make it a part of me.
Each time it would swirl around in my head I’d find new ways to appreciate it. And this was the takeaway conclusion I’d landed on each time –
I can still choose to be kind, considerate, and thoughtful – even if the people around me are acting like jerks.
The missing piece that is likely very apparent to you write now that was not clear to me AT ALL until today was this…
… I might be the one acting like a jerk.
This morning, as I was making my coffee, my husband David, was on his 90 minute commute to work. He started enthusiastically sharing an anecdote he’d learned about multi-tasking and mindfulness. And he wanted to run through hypothetical examples on how this would apply to interactions with people at work.
I’m listening, nodding in agreement, and offering the usual uh-huhs and sures. As I’m pouring coconut milk into my coffee, he switches from work examples to how these techniques could apply at home and how this would play out with us…
If this blog were a script for a one act play – this would be the moment where the lights would go black. A spotlight would shine bright and hot down on my head, making it clear to everyone in the audience that an emotional switch had just been flipped.
His example of how this would be helpful for “us” was this –
- When you come home from work, if I’m in the middle of watching a tv show or if I’m doing work on my computer, and you come up wanting to talk to me about your day – I’ll say, “Baby, I’d like to finish x, y, or z –BEFORE we talk… Unless of course it’s an emergency.”
Here is was I heard –
- When I come home from work, he’s not taking his eyes off of the tv or the computer unless I’m on fire.
Of course, I wasn’t fully aware of what I was feeling in the moment, nor did I know that the filter in my brain that’s hardwired to fear rejection of any kind had taken hold and was scrambling my emotions.
All I knew in that moment was –
- He’s being annoying right now.
- I know more about this topic than he does.
- He’s doing it all wrong.
- And I need this phone call to end NOW.
I started getting short with him, passive aggressive, and sarcastic. At one point I even said “I don’t care about this!” and tried to end the call.
Here’s what I was doing in “therapy terms”
- And trying to emotionally cut-off by ending the phone call as quickly as possible but not tell him why.
He wasn’t having any of it and was genuinely confused. So, he started asking questions. Initially, I responded by acting like I didn’t understand what he was asking, like he was reading into the situation, my tone of voice, and making a problem where there wasn’t one.
It’s generally moments like this – when he is clearly in the right – where I want to throw my hands in the air and scream, “DAMN YOU THERAPY!”
In this moment, he was accurately and compassionately holding me accountable to my reactions. He got curious rather than defensive and waited patiently for me to figure it out.
He was practicing the best of him, even though the best of me wasn’t showing up.
The gift of him responding in this way was that it helped lower my defenses, allowing me the opportunity to get in touch with what I was really feeling and where my reactions were coming from.
When emotions become activated or triggered within us, it can feel almost instinctive to want to offload our discomfort onto someone else, and in doing so making their responsibility to make us feel better.
We turn our pain inward and become hyper critical of ourselves.
Neither response allows for insight, understanding, or connection.
Our quick, 10 minute phone call, became a bigger moment than either of us expected. The generosity David showed to me in that moment helped me get in touch with memories I hadn’t thought of in years, heal a old wound, and we felt closer to each other as a result.
Confusion is one of the most disempowering, anxiety inducing experiences we can have. For example:
- I’m doing something –> and I don’t know how to stop.
- I’m responding a certain way –> and I don’t know why.
- I’m upset –> and I don’t know what to do to feel better.
When compassion is met with curiosity we have an opportunity to show up for ourselves, an other people, in a braver more loving way.
3 examples compassionate questions I love to use
- Reflect what you’re observing and ask for clarity. Ex: “It seems like you’re upset. Is that true?”
- Encouraging questions. Ex: Could you tell me more about that? Is there anything else?
- Offer assistance. Ex: How can I help?
Showing up as the best of you, regardless of how the people around you are showing up is easier said than done. But I encourage you to try as best you can. It may just be the most generous and empowering gift you have to offer others, and yourself.
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