Picture the most infuriating verbal interaction you've had lately. When people act like that it just makes you want to hide and give up on humanity and stop being considerate of others! After all, if you have to risk that people might act this way, how can you possibly expect to feel safe or even just good in the world and why bother being nice? You can only control yourself, so you should just stick with that, right?
Well, kind of…. Let's look at that for a second. You can't control other people or predict their behaviour? True. You can only control yourself? Also true. People suck? Sometimes. (More on that later.) So you should withdraw from society because it's inevitable that you'll end up angry and hurt at some point? Very, very false.
It's always very tempting and sometimes it appears even logical to use the way other people behave is the basis for how we respond. After all, you get what you give, right? They deserve to be treated badly if they act badly! It makes perfect sense that there should be consequences for action. On this we can agree but have you considered that consequences of this kind of thinking have for you? When we let other people dictate how we react to them, not only do we disempower ourselves but we also drag ourselves down and I really don't understand how that helps us.
Which brings me to your superpower.
It's true that, like all living beings, humans are only ever doing what they think is best for their survival at any given moment, based on the information available. Predictably, this leads to false conclusions, awful decisions and sometimes even reprehensible behaviour. They remain, however, mistakes. Something everyone has made at one point in their lives. I know I've made many and they haunt me pretty much every time I left my mind drift.
Ok ok, I promised you a superpower. So, we've established that acting purely on instinct leads to some pretty awful situations and that's where your superpower comes in! Your superpower is the ability to create space between events and our response to them, be they good, bad, internal, external, physical or emotional.
"Huh? That's it???? Why you click-baiting charlatan! I thought you meant a real superpower!!! Like flight or mind-reading or something useful or cool!"
But but but, now hear me out, it is super-useful AND cool! You see, by taking the time to understand what is happening instead of just going with our knee jerk reaction not only do we immunise ourselves from reacting badly to challenging thoughts and inconsiderate people but it is also how we grow to become the best version of ourselves. Kind of like Hulk! Except that instead of using anger and rage to fuel us in a destructive way, we can channel it into personal growth and improving the world. Like Hulk, the only limit to our growth is Bruce Banner's limiting beliefs and that's the only thing getting in our way. Beliefs like "I have a right to treat others how they treat me" which really only hurt us. And yes, in this case, we want to grow without limitations because what we're trying to do is make the world a place we want to live in.
"Ok, so how do we do that?"
Let's go back to that infuriating verbal interaction you imagined at the beginning. What did you do when the person said whatever it was that set your alarms bells off? Did you come up with a witty but cutting comeback? Did you fume silently and decide then and there to give up on the world? What if I told you there was a whole other way to react? One that makes the world a better place? And all you have to do is use your superpower and create some space.
With great power comes great responsibility! So now that you've used a power no other living organism has, you can use the space you've created to analyse why you're reacting the way you are and see what you can learn from it. I know you think you're reacting because someone did something but is it possible it's something else? Is it a belief you have about yourself that is being challenged or set off? Did they fail to meet your expectations? Is it possible there is something you're not seeing? Or are they really just a horrible person?
"Ok, so I've created the space and I've answered your questions… where's the power?"
How about we look at each of the possibilities individually:
- Is it a belief you have about yourself that is being challenged or set off?
That’s OK! That’s what this power is for! To learn about yourself and grow! Thank the person for helping you see that and wish them well. As for how you deal with that, remember that you're not obligated to entertain every thought that pops into your head. Use this space to choose the thoughts that will help you grow and ignore the thoughts that hold you down. I wrote a letter to the little voice inside my head that might be helpful to you.
2. Did they fail to meet your expectations?
I find expectations are usually what inform our initial reaction to things and that when people let us down or we let ourselves down by failing to meet expectations it can be a pretty tough pill to swallow. But why do we have expectations at all? I find them disempowering. The opposite of a superpower, in fact. They make everyone else responsible for our emotional state and consequent actions. So you can see this as an opportunity to free yourself from expectations or simply adjust them. In this case, you can adjust them to accept that not everyone is going to act exactly how you need them to all the time.
3. Is it possible there is something you’re not seeing?
As I wrote a couple of weeks ago, we don't always know what's happening behind the scenes. So, yes, what they said may have been awful, stupid, inconsiderate or something equally bad and there should be consequences for that but how does it help you to get bent out of shape? Give them the benefit of the doubt for your own sake. Hold them accountable and take constructive action but don't go on the attack. They may just be going through something. And it'll save you a lot of energy and time! Super!
4. Are they really just a horrible, irredeemable person?
Let's say for a second that they really are just a horrible person. Isn't giving them exactly what they wanted possible the worst thing you can do? Why does someone so horrible have the right to take so much of our time and energy and dictate not only our emotional state but our actions? Other people's questionable actions cannot be used as a justification for our own. That's just a vicious cycle. If you want to end the cycle and change the world you need to direct that energy away from people who won't change and focus on what you can change.
Make sense? There's a common thread here. What you're putting into that space is not just good will, mindfulness and rational thinking. You are also putting in compassion and that's the real superpower! Not just compassion for people who act badly (no one is saying "be a doormat") but compassion for yourself. After all, much of what we see in others is limited by our own experiences of the world, our perspective and our hopes, fears, dreams and insecurities.
Without self-compassion, we are doomed to keep the cycle of aggression going. That cycle of aggression is tearing the world down right now but we ALL have the power within us to stop it. It's a bit of hard work and we will not do it perfectly at the beginning and we might fail at it even after we get better and make creating this space a new habit but that's ok. Accepting imperfection is a huge part of compassion and there is no better place to start than with ourselves!
The question is: Will you?
Share this with the people you want to change the world with. Avengers Assemble!