I do not ascribe one particular form of morality or goodness to any one form of religion or belief, but there are certain phrases and stories that I was told as a child in assemblies at school that stuck and have followed me into my adult life as being a key part of my moral values and beliefs which are obviously still valuable to me. A bizarre incident in a car park this morning led me to recalling the line I have titled this blog with and then inspired me to write this blog around it.
I will not focus on the actual incident that led to a relatively minor disagreement in a car park between myself and someone, maybe in their early 60’s. I was challenged by this person about some aspect of my parking and I disagreed with their point of view (appropriately I believe), to which I was called selfish and this person then proceeded to make their point to another person parked nearby as I wandered away, initially feeling rather bemused that someone could make such a big fuss over something I perceived as nothing important.
However, as I went about my business, I noticed myself becoming more and more angry about what had occurred. I am a reasonably self-aware person and I went through my usual routine for noticing and then managing my angry feelings and thoughts, however, they did not shift, and I found myself distracted and unable to fully apply myself to the task at hand. As such I decided to continue would be folly as it would likely lead me to become more frustrated, so I decided to return home for a time and ground myself there.
When I got home, I realised I had left my house keys at work. Something I do often and nothing to do with the incident in the car park. Normally when I do this, I roll my eyes and chuckle to myself about my memory which can easily remember a client I worked with fifteen years ago and specific conversations I had with them, but often I struggle to remember where I put my glasses before getting in the shower. However, this morning I went from angry to feeling a very strong anger, almost a rage that I focussed on my forgetting my keys. I resolved to going back to my office and getting them and this is what I did, but my very strong feelings made me incredibly curious as I could not remember the last time I had felt that angry and upset, particularly over something that was so unimportant.
The events of the morning were still fresh in my mind and as I drove back to work, I replayed the incident in my mind and attempted to make sense of things. I noticed I kept going back to the point where I was called ‘selfish’, and when I remembered that point, the anger again flared up in me, and it was then I began to make some kind of sense of my reaction.
I, like all people have my insecurities and vulnerabilities. I am largely aware of what they are but my angry energy flared because someone who doesn’t know me, what I do, who I am, the kind of experiences I have had, or even how my day was going, decided that I was ‘selfish’, because I did not agree with them on one or two of the finer points of parking etiquette.
The word selfish then began to reverberate around my head and my anger turned into indigence thusly:
‘How dare that person say I am selfish, do they not know what I do? Don’t they know my dad died in January and I have only had a week off since then and have sometimes been working twelve-hour days, supporting other people to move forward in their lives. How can I be selfish when I do that. They must have nothing better to do with their time than pick meaningless fault with those they see around them and believe that everything in the world is black and white and simple and it bloody isn’t, how dare they judge me on one little thing I have done that they didn’t like…..’
Then the old quote popped into my head. Judge not, that you not be judged. I suddenly realised I was angry at her for doing to me exactly what I was in my head now doing to her. Judging her, and judging her without knowing her at all, other than an interaction this morning that lasted probably not more than 30 seconds.
At this point, I noticed a little smile had appeared on my face and the rage, the anger, had gone. It really was that quick. Once I knew why it had impacted on me the way it did, I was easily able to let the negative feelings go. If the person I interacted with was in the room with me now, I would happily own my part in the really rather silly disagreement and apologise for my actions and words. It wouldn’t even bother me if the other person did not accept the apology or did not apologise themselves as I would know I have done all I can and it is their choice to continue to be angry and intolerant (in a really, really passive aggressive way!) The biblical quote goes on to say that we shouldn’t judge others, because that judgement itself will then be judged and we can then be held to account. I choose not to judge myself too harshly for this morning, but I hope I will learn from it and respond differently next time I am in a similar situation.
Carl Roger’s developed his Client Centred Theory (now more commonly known as Person Centred Theory) in the 1940’s and 50’s, working with people traumatised and damaged by their experiences during the second world war and also by their day-to-day experiences of life. One of the three ‘Core Conditions’ Rogers theorised, was that a therapist must be able to offer ‘Unconditional Positive Regard’ to their client. This implies a very special kind of non-judgement that I find easy to do in my office and with my clients. It is one of the central pillars on which my practice stands, and my experience this morning made me very aware of how easily I am able to lose my awareness and ability to not judge others consciously when outside of the therapy room.
In a way I am grateful to the person this morning. They have helped me realise that I am still far from perfect, that my grief for my dad is still very present and I have likely been avoiding it by working so much. They helped remind me why I dislike black and white thinking and intolerance in others (and myself) and most importantly of all, why it is better to respond openly to other people when they express a view you do not agree with and not just dismiss them and close them down without reflection and thought.
This doesn’t mean you have to change your position, but you should also not expect others to change their opinions and views just because you believe they should (unless of course the views are harmful to themselves or to other people).
I will be able to do something with all of those things as I have next week off to rest, recuperate and also spend some time with the people I love which will mean grief and tears for my dad.
As Leon Trotsky once said:
‘Everyone has the right to be stupid on occasion, but Comrade Macdonald abuses the privilege.’
We can’t get everything right and we shouldn’t even try to, but we should always be curious about our responses. If those responses are too energetic or linger too ling, it normally means we have got some of our own ‘stuff’ mixed up in there somewhere. That means we have a chance to become more aware and grow though, so it is often not a bad thing, as long as it is not happening every day!