Monthly Archives: November 2014

# 69 Don’t Take It Personally

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rafters in river

Let’s focus on forgiveness.   No one can go through life without getting some emotional scars.  Most of us recall, perhaps obsess over, past hurts and grievances which we suffered at the hands of someone else.  Research in the fields of health and psychology has found that people who cannot forgive suffer broadly–not just from the emotional pain of the event itself, but they suffer from higher rates of depression, health consequences such as elevated cholesterol and high blood pressure, and a more pessimistic outlook on life.  Even moreso, they suffer a narrowing of perspective that keeps them tied to the original hurt and unable to move on to new experiences.  The focus on the past betrayal takes up space in our mental life and sends out feelings of increased tension and irritability.  It becomes like an unwanted popup message on our computer screen, or like a virus periodically worming it’s way across the screen, eating up useful and important files.

A first step in learning to forgive is to take a larger perspective on the event that happened.  Your husband had an affair;  your boyfriend dumped you;  a co-worker got credit for your work and unfairly received a promotion;  you have never felt that your father (or mother) showed you the love you wanted and deserved, but loved your sister (or brother) better. One way to take a larger perspective is not to take things personally.  These people most likely did not do what they did out of a conscious intent to cause as much emotional harm to you as possible.  As we learned in #45, they most likely did what they did out of some human frailty–ignorance, fear, emotional distress, self-absorption, even thoughtlessness, carelessness, an impulse–that the flesh is heir to.

Psychologist Fred Luskin points out that one way to not take things personally is to consider the whole population of people this has happened to.  Affairs occur in at least half of all marriages..  Most of us have to kiss a bevy of frogs before we find our prince, and the corporations of America are filled with people who stepped on others on their way up the ladder.  Few homes are blessed with two perfect parents.

  • Consider for a moment the person whom you have difficulty forgiving. Most likely you make statements to yourself like, “How could she do that to me?” or “What she did to me was terrible. I am her only daughter.”  or “After all I did for him, the way he treated me was cruel.”  Write down your statement in which you personalize what happened to you.

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  • Now, rewrite the statement in an impersonal way.  Here are some examples:

“I know my mother wasn’t very loving.  She was unhappy and preoccupied.  Her life was disappointing.  I guess she did the best she could.”   “I don’t think he meant to hurt me.  In a weak moment, he must have followed an impulse and did what he did without thinking of me at all, most likely.”   “He took credit for my work, but then he took credit for a lot of people’s work.  He got the promotion and alienated several people in the process.  I’m not alone.”

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# 68 Consider the Kindness of Strangers

pink-dot                                                                                                                                                                                my crew

We know that doing a favor for someone else makes us feel good.  For some of us it even makes us feel morally superior, self righteous.  When I notice that my neighbor’s garbage bin is sitting on the curb for a couple of days, indicating she is out of town, I bring it up to her house for her.  Doing so gives me a boost up the mood scale of a few points.  But how often do we consider the reverse?  That we are the recipient of favors being done for us all the time?

Sometimes, when we least expect it, we have been the beneficiaries of the kindness of strangers–your wallet was returned, someone gave up a seat for you in the movie theater, someone returned your “lost child” or lost pet to you. Perhaps someone let you in line ahead of them because you had fewer groceries, someone helped you jump your car battery, opened the door for you, or gave you directions when you couldn’t find your way. You’ve been waiting to enter a busy street and a driver slow down to wave you in ahead of him.  When I am on a bicycling trip and I stop to check the map, other cyclists stop to ask, “Are you OK?  Do you need help?”  I have been given food, water, maps, and directions.  Strangers on bicycles have put the chain back on the sprockets of my bike;  others have  fixed a flat tire for me.  I can recall three occasions when a stranger in a car or truck spotted me beside the road, unable to goany further, put my bike  in their vehicle, and drove me home.,

If we can stop and take note of all these small events, we soon see that we live in a benevolent world where the kindness of strangers flows around us like the wind.  When have you been the beneficiary of the kindness of strangers recently?