I really do believe that at our core, we really all want the same basic things from life.
- First: To love and be loved.
- Second: to be safe.
- Third: To be content. Not tampon commercial happy where you spend your days twirling your arms on the beach with your head thrown back and an ear-to-ear smile. I mean, sure, who doesn’t want that sometimes, but it’s not reality and, eventually, you’d get dizzy with all that twirling. No, I’m speaking of true peace, learning to be content with your life as it is.
So many of us in this world have so much excess and yet our days are filled with wanting, planning, achieving. Yet how many times do you read of someone in a third world country with so very little, not even clean water, and yet they’re talking about their blessings?
I’m not even talking about the evils of materialism and the reality of the larger global scope. I’m talking about what I believe is an even bigger issue, the true root of all of our problems.
Go back to that first item on our list, because it all begins right there. We’ve all heard the fortune cookie answers: Love your neighbor as yourself. Be the Change. Treat others as you wish to be treated. The problem here isn’t in these promising ideals. The issue is conflicting messages. The concept of the day is that we must first love ourselves to be able to effectively love anyone else, yes? Today it is drilled into us constantly from an early age. We’re all okay. You are beautiful just as you are. You are special and unique. You’ve heard it many times, in many different ways.
So what’s the problem? Well, first off, there’s a language barrier. Our understanding is way off. We don’t really know what it means to love ourselves and we don’t seem to understand how self-obsessed we really are. Don’t believe me? I’ll prove it.
When we think about being happy with ourselves, being content, what are we really seeing? A popular focus is our body image. Dove tells us to love the skin we’re in. Fitness gurus tell us the key to happiness is to be healthy. So what does that mean? If you’re to be happy with yourself then either love your love handles or launch an all out war on them complete with diet and rigorous gym activity. And then what? What if the body that you want is super-model tall and straight and you’re more of a pear shape? Try as you might, you’ll never whittle away a shape that’s genetically predisposed to be larger on bottom than it is on top. At least, not without major surgical intervention and even then, it’s iffy. Maybe your problem isn’t your weight or basic shape, maybe it’s your eyes, you want them to be a different shape. Maybe it’s your lips, you want them to be more full. Maybe it’s your hair, you want it fuller or a different texture, it’s straight and you want it curly, it’s curly and you want it straight. You want it a different color. Nowadays you can fix much of this at your local salon. But will that make you happy? Does it make you love yourself? Does it last? How long? A day? A Week? Until your next appointment?
And what really determines whether or not we really love our hair? Isn’t it the feedback we receive from others? If you walk out of the salon with accolades from the staff but then none of your friends or family says anything about your new do, do you still feel good about it? And if you’re of a rebellious nature and you believe that you don’t care what others think about your new purple mow-hawk, yes, yes you do. Whether you’re looking for shock value with a family member or someone else you’re still judging yourself by the reactions of another person, you’re just using a different measuring stick. I’m not just speaking to the ladies here either, the guys have similar, if not the same struggles. For guys and girls maybe it’s your athletic prowess. Do you like a specific sport? Why? Is it fun or is it that you’re good at it. And if you are good at a sport and you have a bad game, did you still have fun? What if your team won and your teammate scored the winning goal but you didn’t score at all and had nothing really significant happen for you throughout the game. You didn’t do poorly, but you didn’t do anything exceptional either, was it still a good game?
When you tally up the scoreboard of your self-love how many points do you give for personality traits and how do they measure against the physical? When you do contemplate your own self-worth, what’s your standard unit of measurement? Are you happy that you have your grandmothers eyes? Or do you wish they were more like your sisters? Do you think that you are witty and funny but not quite as smart as your best friend? What about your kindness, or compassion, are you gracious in conflict? When your best part of the day is seeing a friend and then that friend seems less than thrilled to see you, or is barely aware of you at all, is your first thought of your own disappointment? Or do you consider what may be at the root of their behavior? Do you ever consider that it may have nothing at all to do with you? And when your day is not what you had hoped for, can you give up the day that you wanted for the day that your friend needs?
We see the world through the scope of our own experiences in it. It’s all about me. When we walk in to a party or social gathering of some sort, do we not judge the success of said gathering by how we are treated? When you walk in to a room full of people, do you not look around for people you know or want to know? Then what? If you are an outgoing person, you immediately strike up conversations with various different people throughout the room, and if those people seem to enjoy talking to us, then the conversation is deemed good.
To my fellow shy or socially awkward types, when you walk into a room, aren’t you waiting? Aren’t you waiting for someone outgoing to come and greet you? Aren’t you hoping that someone else will come and make you feel welcome, wanted, or interesting? Maybe you’re glad to see a friendly face or hoping that someone you want to be friends with will notice you. If that happens, you have a good time, and if it doesn’t happen?
And to the servant types, to those of you who really just want to be helpful, when is the night a success? Is it when the host or hostess deems it so? Is it when they turn to you and tell you how invaluable you are, how much they appreciated your help? What if they don’t? What if they never thank you? What if no one notices your part but everyone seems to have a good time? Was it a good night? Do you feel good about yourself at the end of it?
Whichever type of person you are, here’s a challenge for you: The next time you walk into a social situation, look around. Try to find someone who seems to be struggling, maybe they are shy, maybe they are new and don’t know many people and the friend who brought them is in the bathroom or helping the hostess… go to that person with a friendly smile and introduce yourself. Have a conversation with them, really listen when they talk. Introduce them to your friends. Introduce them to the person you were most hoping to see. Go out of your way to include them in conversations. Forget completely about your night and focus on making their night. Really. It doesn’t have to be over the top, think about what you really wanted out of the event and try to give that experience to them.
If you are a student, try to do this for a week at school. Look around, be aware of the struggles of others, not just the people that you want to see, but also the people that you don’t. Go to the less popular kids and, if you aren’t popular, that doesn’t exclude you, trust me there’s always someone worse off than you. Find them, help them, focus a moment of your time on giving them the kindness that you would want in their situation. And don’t tell anyone why you are doing it. Just be genuinely nice for the sake of being nice. If they do something that makes you uncomfortable or seems awkward, try to understand why, and compensate accordingly. The next day, when that person flocks to you and clings on for dear life, don’t push them away. Try to introduce them to other people. Include them in group conversations. Try to find a commonality and encourage them. Do it without any expectations of gratitude from them or accolades from your friends or others. If your friends ask you why you’re being nice to that person, ask them why you wouldn’t be?
If you are an adult, do this at work or at home. Is there someone at work or in your life in general that is especially difficult to get along with? Someone that you dread having to deal with? Say a sincere “Good morning” to them in the elevator, ask them to have lunch with you. Bring in a coffee or tea for the boss who you dread seeing. Smile and wish them a good day. If your co-workers or friends call you a brown-noser, happily ask if they’d like you to pick them up something next time you go. If someone says something harsh or critical that’s work-related or otherwise, receive it with grace and refrain from responding in kind.
Even if you believe you have a right.
I understand that in work situations sometimes proverbial fires must be put out, but could you do it with kindness while reaffirming that they have value as well?
In the end of January when most resolutions have already gone by the wayside or soon will, try a new resolution. Set a time frame if you must, a day, a week, a month…though longer is better if you really hope to see results. Stop focusing on loving yourself, honestly, we’re already too self-obsessed. Focus on truly loving others, even when it’s difficult. Do it without expectation.
Get out of your own head and change your perspective. Are you longing for travel but going abroad isn’t really feasible right now? First of all, join the club. Secondly, look for adventures in your own neck of the woods. Have you really seen all there is to see where you are? Have you experienced all that your local environment has to offer? Are funds tight? Go to a park you’ve never been to, go on a hike, go to a fair that doesn’t initially seem interesting to you. Volunteer. Seriously. Go to a nursing home and have a conversation with someone who’s already lived an adventure, learn from them. Are they incapable of conversation? Read them your favorite book. Go to a local grade school or high school performance, even if you don’t know anyone who goes there. Bring flowers and give them to the kid that didn’t get any, give them anonymously if possible. If not, just smile and tell them they did great. Offer to walk the dog of someone whose in a situation where they can’t get out as much, could be they are elderly, sick, a mother with a newborn, do not accept a tip. Write a letter, not an e-mail, an actual letter on beautiful paper. Focus on the words, whether you encourage the recipient or thank them, do it with poetry. I’m not talking about making each line end with a rhyme, I mean choose words carefully, say something, use less words to say more and say it beautifully. Send it to the person who would least expect it, send it to a service person, a teacher who helped you understand fractions or science or Shakespeare, or send it to someone who was kind to you when you needed it most and expected it least.
These things may not sound very adventurous but you’ll be surprised where adventures can happen when you change focus.
Whatever you do, bring your new friend along, the one that you’ll find by being genuinely kind to people and putting their needs before your own. You’re going to find at least one person who is so much more than you had realized. Don’t force it though, it’ll happen. When you give people your best, you’ll often find they give the same in return. If not, don’t worry about it, continue to give kindness freely because whatever that person has going on, it has nothing to do with you and they could really benefit from some unconditional kindness.
Sometimes people are so focused on the darkness that they cannot, will not, see the sun ray right at their feet. As long as you are being genuine, kind, and considerate, you have no reason to doubt that it has nothing to do with you. Offer to be the sunshine to someone else’s gloomy day and if it’s not well received, move on. At least you tried. Don’t be cynical. Don’t go over every social interaction with a fine-toothed comb. Don’t worry over every reaction. That leads to nothing but misery. It’s self-centered and it comes from a viewpoint that is askew.
If we are to truly love others as much as we love ourselves than we must take all that self-obsessing and give it another outlet. Become obsessed with kindness. Do this as much as you can for as long as you can. It will change your world. Really.
The common denominator in all of your relationships is you.
You can start right this minute. Go visit The White Crayon. She had a bad day yesterday and could use a virtual hug. Let her know that she is not alone.