Looking for Me in Them

I bumped up against an emotionally frustrating situation at work recently and made a comment that was unnecessary. There was nothing overtly mean or unkind in what I said (thankfully), but it certainly reflected a lack of understanding or compassion on my part.

A couple hours later, while reflecting on the exchange – because, of course, I can’t just let things go – I began to understand more why I said what I did. I did understand the choices made by my colleague and I did not believe my own comment with any kind of conviction. I spoke from an emotional space of uncertainty, of personal concern. Someone else’s choice was going to make things harder for me. It was a selfish moment.

Even more than that, it was a moment – like so many others I encounter – when I was expecting my choice to be someone else’s. I saw the situation my own way and I knew what I would do or how I would react in that space. What happened did not match the narrative in my head. From this was born the discourse.

I don’t think I’m unique in this pattern. I believe many of us are surprised or shocked by behavior that is not authentic to ourselves. Perhaps we are a bit better at interpreting or understanding the mismatched actions of those with whom we are especially close. In general though, I think the lens we use to make internal decisions is the same one we use to examine the actions of others. When the observations don’t agree with the expectations, we find ourselves in an uncomfortable spot.

On the surface it makes sense that we would use the framework that helped shape our own moral and emotional foundations to view the outside world. These are our basic beliefs and hold deep value and structure for us. These are the points from which we build understanding and empathy and connection and order. When we begin to use that framework as an immovable balance point of right and wrong. though, we must use caution. What is rational and just for me, does not necessarily hold true for someone else. Let’s step away from any argument about major issues. I’m talking about the everyday decisions we make in life. My way is not the only right way.

Many years ago, as a Director, I often struggled with part time employees asking for time off work for doctors appointments or hair and nail salon visits. From inside my head, they had several hours each day outside their work schedule and even entire days when I did not rely on them and I did not understand why they would not schedule these appointments during those times. In many previous jobs I was a department of one, in some I had no sick time and precious little personal time to use. Because of this, I have spent most of my adult life working my personal appointments around a work schedule. To this day I spend extra time making appointments, trying to get the first one or last one of the day so it won’t interrupt my coworkers’ day too much. I make appointments as much as possible on the weekends, often causing tremendous strife to my own schedule or putting things off too long in order to fit this finicky schedule. I believed this was my duty as a citizen in community with others. This is who I am, and it’s not always a good thing. Yet, this is who I look for in others. I was looking for the arrangements I would make and was disappointed to find something else.

As a divorced mom with a child, ensuring that child has time with his father is important to me. For various reasons that schedule sometimes gets changed, occasionally at the last minute. It has taken many years, but I have learned to not ask why. I have learned to stop my ex-husband from telling me why. Hearing that he’d scheduled an eye appointment within the only 4 hours he spends with his child each week, knowing he is retired and that he comments he has nothing to do most of the time causes deep anger, resentment, confusion, and frustration in me. I expect him to make all decisions around our son, because that’s what I would do. I was looking for the choice I would make and get disappointed to find a something very different.

In recent years I have become a somewhat voracious reader. I often struggle when reading reviews that are so far from my understanding of a book. Knowing that another reader felt a favorite character of mine was evil or shallow is difficult for me to reconcile. Reading a non-fiction review that takes an entirely different message from a book than what I absorbed throws me for a loop. Seeing hundreds of reviews raving about a book that I struggled to get through because I felt it was so devoid of substance can keep me spinning for weeks. I am constantly asking myself “what am I missing?” or “what is wrong with me?” I am not finding ‘me’ in these other readers and it causes disunity within me. I was looking for the understanding I took and was disappointed that they couldn’t see the joy or beauty I saw.

Is it narcissism that makes us want to see ourselves in others? Is it vanity or prejudice or bias? Perhaps a bit of all of these. I don’t believe most of us are inherently bad people or necessarily wrong, though. We naturally seek comfort. The universe moves toward a place of order. There is comfort and order in what is known, and what we know is our own heart.

How, then, do we learn to see around our lens of ‘me’ and find a way to view situations from a more neutral position? Perhaps a first step is to recognize and accept that we will make judgement errors – always. We each have a skewed view, not necessarily wrong, but most certainly skewed. We need to be aware of this and pause to consider if there may be another side to what we’re seeing or hearing or understanding. A willingness to be vulnerable with each other – especially those close to us – and to ask forgiveness when it’s needed will go a long way.

We must also remember that as we work on this struggle within our understanding, those around us may be doing the same thing. As much as we ask for forgiveness in moments like my callous comment at work, we need to be willing to grant forgiveness when it is asked of us. I am slowly learning to be more gracious with myself. I still make a multitude mistakes. I let things matter too much. I am steeped in disappointment. I let the discord of these moments dwell in my head, my heart, and my soul for far too long. But I am learning. Slowly. I can reframe my thoughts and remember not everyone thinks or acts or feels like me. I still struggle to remember others see me through a different lens, though, too. I sometimes forget to be gracious with them and allow the moments of discomfort until we can find clarity together.

Someday hopefully you can let go of the weight of letting people disappoint you.

my friend, Truth, 2021

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