Morning Meditation

 

Today I am thinking about how to respond to failures. What can we do when we find ourselves looking back at something we did and that we disapprove of?  If we apply the dichotomy of control (accepting what we cannot change and only consider our actual options) this seems to be a pretty easy question. After all, we can no more change what we did yesterday than we can change the fact that a meteor wiped out the dinosaurs. But that’s not how it feels.  It feels like our past failings are a special category of event, one we are charged to carry around for the rest of our lives.  I would argue that these memories are only significant in two ways: one, we may be able to make reparations, and, two, we may be able to learn something about ourselves that will be useful in guiding our behavior in the future.  Once you have considered these two aspects, it would seem the only logical thing is to let it go. This is generally referred to as “forgiving yourself.” I see self-forgiveness as involving a sober acknowledgement of what you have done, a recognition therefore of what you are capable of doing (i.e. you are a flawed human), a comparison between this behavior and your values, a recognition that you have in this instance not lived according to your values, and a recommitment to how you want to live going forward.

What do you think?  How do you respond to your own failings?

 

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People suck sometimes. Accept them anyway.

The Twelve Ideas That Can Change Your Life (Part 6)

Humans by their very nature are fallible, imperfect creatures, capable of inflicting great pain on one another. And yet they are worthy of our compassion. We can, with a little practice, develop a mindset of unconditional acceptance of others. While their behaviors may be flawed, we can still distinguish between a person’s actions and their being. Accept that others have as much right to their existence as you have to yours (and vice versa). Accept that humans—all humans—are entitled to live with dignity.

You might be asking, why? Why are all people entitled to dignity? What is dignity based on? One approach would be to consider that dignity as arising out of a person’s unique humanity. Another approach would be to consider humans as deserving of dignity simply because they have the capacity to be rational. You might see it as being an intrinsic gift of their supernatural creator. Alternatively, you can decide that dignity comes from the potential that each person has to live a life of meaning and purpose. Finally, maybe we are worthy of dignity just because we are thinking, conscious beings—tiny pieces of the universe that have woken up and can know themselves.

Seeing others as having dignity is sometimes difficult because we are often dissuaded from doing so by our tendency to evaluate their worth. We have a nasty habit of seeing others as either good and deserving or foul and deplorable. On a daily basis, we are inundated with messages about how we can improve our status and seem better than other people by collecting possessions and accomplishments—as if all of this will be added up on some end-of-life score card. But deep down we know that these things do not mean we are truly better. The whole enterprise of rating the worth of the self or others, at best, is so difficult and complex task that it is near impossible and, at worst, an affront to human dignity. Consider simply declining to rate any person as a whole but instead to grant them dignity by default.

In a Nutshell: We can respect the dignity of all people, accepting them as they are, simply because of their unique humanity.

The Fine Print:

Unconditional acceptance does not mean unconditional approval. You will certainly not approve of all human behavior. But accepting others unconditionally means that you acknowledge and respect them as individuals. You are still going to disapprove of much of their behavior. Sometimes that disapproval will be quite strong. Accepting another person doesn’t mean not condemning their actions when they are immoral. It doesn’t mean being a doormat. It doesn’t mean staying in a relationship when you are being mistreated. And it doesn’t mean not subjecting others to the law of the land. But it does mean acknowledging that they are free, capable of making their own choices.

How to Use This Idea:

You can use this idea by reflecting on the dignity, potential and good characteristics of even the most difficult people in your life. When you see someone struggling, imagine what it would be like to be in their shoes, and offer what help you can. When others disappoint you, don’t damn them. You can criticize their behavior, but avoid labeling them or calling them demeaning names (even in your own head). And don’t forget this applies to yourself as much as anyone else. Avoid labeling yourself, even if you disapprove of your own behavior. At every opportunity work towards accepting yourself as you are and others as they are.

What This Will Help You Gain:

This idea will help you gain compassion. Your connections with others will flourish when you see them as having dignity and when you respect their individuality. Love grows when we can embrace the other for who they are. On a broader scale, this idea will help you strengthen connections in your family, friendships, and community. When you apply this idea to yourself it will help you gain self-acceptance, which is an important protective factor in warding off unhealthy emotions.

What This Will Help You Avoid:

This idea will help you avoid two things, alienation, and depression. Alienation results when we lose the ability to recognize our connections with other people because we are too focused on our differences. Without having compassion and respecting the dignity of others, we will wither in isolation—humans need to be connected to a community. Depression often results when we don’t grant ourselves the same dignity—when we make global evaluations of ourselves and put conditions on what we must be.

The Source of this Idea:

Many philosophies and religions advocate some form of love towards your neighbor, and the idea of hating the sin but loving the sinner is certainly a very old notion. But this particular conceptualization comes from Albert Ellis’s writings relating to Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy. Ellis advocated the idea that placing conditions on our self-acceptance brought us misery, and any external justification for our worth would be fragile, temporary, and ultimately futile. He advocated a position of “USA” (Unconditional Self Acceptance) and UOA (Unconditional Other Acceptance).

Next: Whenever it seems others must change. Accept that they don’t.

The Twelve Ideas That Can Change Your Life (So Far)

Idea #11: You Can Do Good Work or Seek Perfection, But You Can’t Do Both

Idea #10: Your Path Will Not Be Easy. But Ease is Not Required.

Idea #9: Emotions are not your guide. Without reason they will lead you astray

Idea #8: You are not your thoughts. You are not your feelings.

Idea #7: Whenever it seems that others must change, accept that they don’t.

Idea #6: People Suck Sometimes. Accept Them Anyway.

Idea #5: Others will not approve. Carry on without approval.

Idea #4: The world is unjust. Live there anyway.

Idea#3: To live is to confront adversity. But to be alive is to have limitless resilience. 

Idea#2: Life is risky. Live anyway.

Idea#1: Be curious. Learn what you can, but hold lightly to your truths.

 

Whenever It Seems That Others Must Change, Accept That They Don’t.

Twelve Ideas That Can Change Your Life (Part 7)

Humans naturally pay attention to what the people around them do and judging what they see quickly follows. Our minds promptly tell us what others should and must do—how they absolutely need to change.

This, inevitably, leads to problems because others are free to do as they wish. They simply don’t have to comply with our demands. People can choose to do what we see as poor behavior, mistakes, and even immoral and illegal acts. Of course, this behavior can carry steep consequences, but even so, this does not mean that they must not have chosen it.

People generally do what they believe to be the right thing for them. From their point of view, their behavior is acceptable—and while we may not agree with their “logic”, it is a losing battle to insist that they should see the world the way we see it.

Another way to phrase this is to accept that there are no absolute “should’s” or rules that people must live by. People are not trains on tracks that must go where they have been compelled to go. Even if you believe in a religious doctrine that includes strict laws of behavior, people still have the option not follow them.

Often, in our anger, we might wish to punish people ourselves for their not behaving as we dictate—as if we are angry gods who can smite and damn the wayward mortals. But this arrogance will, in the end, cost us much, and change others little.

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The only sensible solution is acceptance of the other—to allow them to be who they are, even if we disapprove of what they are doing. Acceptance will end the little war your mind is waging in a futile attempt to change what cannot be changed.

How to Use This Idea:

When you are angry at (or hurt by, or disappointed in…) someone, evaluate your thoughts and beliefs about the person. What are you demanding to be different about them? Whatever it is, let it go. Accept that they are who they are and that they do not have to change. Once you accept that, dealing with them will be far easier. You will be more effective doing so because you have already made your peace with the fact that they may not change.

The Fine Print:

This does not mean that you shouldn’t seek to influence others for the better when you can. There are some circumstances when we are able to have a powerful influence on others. Particularly when we are in positions of leadership and authority (such as a being a parent, teacher, boss, governor, prison warden, or emperor). But even in these cases, you would be better of accepting that others have free will.

Also, I do not mean to imply that acceptance of others is an easy task. This is not an immediate process. Acceptance always takes practice to become aware of your thoughts, noticing your demands, and gently reminding yourself of what is and what is not up to you.

What This Will Help You Avoid:

Anger. This idea will help you avoid the futility of trying to change what you cannot and the bitter resentment that follows. that will come with anger. If you allow yourself to damn others and insist that they be different than they are, you are the one who will suffer. The anger will eat away at you and you will find that others are less and less motivated to seek out a connection with you. This, in turn, could lead to even more anger, and a downward spiral can begin.

What This Will Help You Gain:

Tranquility. Acceptance of others will help you find peace of mind. Nothing is more disturbing than demanding that someone else or some aspect of the world be different. Allowing it to be as it is will preserve your energy for those things that you can change.

The Source of this Idea:

This idea comes pretty much straight out of Albert Ellis’s writings relating to Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy. Ellis discussed two irrational beliefs that result in much human suffering: Demandingness or the belief that the world and the people in it must be what we decide that they should or must be, and the idea that Conditional ratings of the Self (and Others) lead to disturbed emotions.

Next: You Are Not Your Thoughts. You Are Not Your Feelings.

The Twelve Ideas That Can Change Your Life (So Far)

Idea #11: You Can Do Good Work or Seek Perfection, But You Can’t Do Both

Idea #10: Your Path Will Not Be Easy. But Ease is Not Required.

Idea #9: Emotions are not your guide. Without reason they will lead you astray

Idea #8: You are not your thoughts. You are not your feelings.

Idea #7: Whenever it seems that other’s must change, accept that they don’t.

Idea #6: People Suck Sometimes. Accept Them Anyway.

Idea #5: Others will not approve. Carry on without approval.

Idea #4: The world is unjust. Live there anyway.

Idea#3: To live is to confront adversity. But to be alive is to have limitless resilience. 

Idea#2: Life is risky. Live anyway.

Idea#1: Be curious. Learn what you can, but hold lightly to your truths.