This is the second part of what would have been a lengthy post – if you haven’t read the first part yet, you might want to do so here.
After more time had passed, though, I started to consider that maybe I could want and have friends again, but I told myself it wasn’t safe. I lied to myself saying that my world was too catastrophic and chaotic and anyone who came near me would just get hurt. It was (and is) all bull shit, of course, but I was still too afraid to acknowledge that the reason I wasn’t reaching out was because I was focused on all the differences between me and everyone else and was terrified of facing rejection and shame.
In psychological research (and, really, in most forms of research), there is an ethical danger called ‘congruence bias.’ It exists outside of research as well, and in every day cognition. It means that you find what you’re looking for simply because you’re looking for it; or, conversely, you don’t find what you’re looking for because the idea you have in mind is too specific. The thing is, it backfires both ways: 1) Frequently, we have very specific ideas as to what we’re looking for, and when we don’t find exactly that, we conclude that whatever “it” is, isn’t there. For example, let’s say you were looking for a screwdriver and it happened to have a red handle. You pull out the tool/junk drawer and start tossing things every which a way, and you cannot find the screwdriver. Then someone else comes along, opens the same drawer, and says that the screwdriver is right there, handing you one with a black handle. You would probably swear up and down that there was no screwdriver in that drawer 30 seconds ago – because you were looking for the red one. 2) Similarly, if you’re looking for and expecting people to behave a certain way, you’ll interpret all their behavior to match your thinking. Let’s say you think that everybody doesn’t like you. So when you walk into a group of people and someone happens to leave at the same time, you conclude they left because they didn’t like you even though that wasn’t necessarily the situation at all. Maybe they’d had to pee for the past hour but one of the other people in the group kept running their mouth and Mr. I-need-a-potty-break-NOW! was only able to escape because your arrival caught Ms. Mouthy’s attention and she shut up for a half a second giving Mr. Potty-break the escape he needed. Make sense?
I don’t remember when I realized I had been doing this with my life exactly, but at some point in the last month and a half, I did. The Universe had been sending me little signs – showing me people who I would never think had seen and experienced the same kinds of things I had (not necessarily in the specifics, but general themes anyway), but they did. I’d been so focused on finding the differences between me and everyone that I encountered that I could not see the ways in which we were alike, the things we had in common, how we were connected. On a drive from (or to – doesn’t really matter) work, it coalesced in my space. What connects us (all) is ultimately more powerful than anything that can divide us. It is simply a matter of perspective.
Does this mean that the possibility of my being rejected by anyone who I decide to trust with some choice pieces of my history and experience has suddenly diminished? Maybe, but not necessarily. Maybe because of the new perspective I intend to take, I will draw people to me who would be accepting. And maybe not, but it doesn’t matter either. It certainly wouldn’t shock me. I recognize that a lot about me is a bit “out there” for most people, and that’s okay. What matters is that I breathe in the Truth of the power of our connection and live in that space. Whether others choose to see that or not is not my responsibility. We all behave from who we are, not at or to anyone around us. If someone I encounter is in such a place that they cannot recognize what I have recently discovered, I have a choice. Because I was in that space so very recently I remember distinctly how absolutely miserable it made me, I can choose to have compassion for them.
Thus, when I read of one of my new favorite blogger’s recent experience with discrimination, I was not surprised. Sadly, “A” has not yet come to learn what I recently have. I have been, at earlier times in my life (and still occasionally, though I try not to be), judgmental or intolerant in some way. And I’ve learned that I make my life and myself the poorer for it when I am. So while I empathize with Ollin, having experienced similar discrimination, I also have compassion for “A” because she probably has no idea of the internal consequences of her decision in her own space, not to mention that her blog will be all the poorer for the contribution she denied Ollin the opportunity to make. And I have compassion for her because of that loss of which she might not even be aware. What I found interesting was that when I was reading through all the comments Ollin’s readers made to his post in which he recounted this experience, I noticed that the comments that I interpreted as a little snarky toward “A” had me shaking my head in compassion for those individuals as much as hearing of “A’s” own action did. Perhaps its simplistic (not to mention unpopular) to think so, but at its root, I think the energy of those kinds of comments is as divisive as “A’s” action was.
I finally finished reading Eat, Pray, Love the other day, by the way. I had set it down for a while and it just seemed time to pick it up again. I’m sure that all this embracing of compassion has everything to do with what I’ve taken away from that book. I’m interested to see what else I’ve garnered from it, to watch it unfold in my space and my mind. The father of a mentor of mine used to finish every workshop he did by telling us that we were taking away and had received far more from our time together than we understood in that moment. I think the same is true for this book for me.
Moving forward, I realize that I have allowed the experience of these crises to result in an extreme and negative change for and in me thus far. I’m done with that now. From this point on, I intend to strip myself like a shameless menopausal woman in the midst of a personal summer of this fear and pain that I have been harboring and, instead, continue cultivating this new perspective on connectedness and compassion.