This morning I started reading Wonderland: The Zen of Alice. As I was walking my dog and reading (my dog-walking MO), these lines jumped off the page and made me stop in my tracks:
"Most of us are like Alice, trying to get others to make sense (by our definition) and to do things that make us happy. I need to remind myself of this daily: The point of everybody else's life is not to make me happy. What would your relationships be like if you accepted the people around you exactly as they are?"
It seems so obvious: of course everyone else isn't here to make me happy. But do I really believe that? How often do I find myself annoyed by someone else's behavior? How often do I judge people for not being like me? I'd like to think of myself as a open-minded, accepting person, but when I stop and think about it -- as I literally did this morning on the sidewalk, confusing poor little Bella who tugged at her leash -- I realize that I'm not as accepting of others as I would like to believe. And, as a result, I make myself (and them) unhappy in my lack of acceptance.
Sure, I'm tolerant in the politically correct way that many people are today. I strive not to judge people on race, religion, ethnicity, sexual preference, etc. But when I think about the people closest to me and the way I react to them sometimes, I realize that I'm not exactly the embodiment of acceptance, a fact that I'm a bit ashamed to admit. Whether it's getting annoyed at a coworker for playing his music loudly in the office or getting frustrated with my sister for always being late, I'm frequently in positions where my expectations of what others should be doing cause me not to accept others for who they are.
Hurry Up: An Example of Non-Acceptance
My boyfriend is a laid-back guy (who I am incredibly lucky to have and am missing terribly right now since he's been on a week-long business trip). I, on the other hand, am not so easygoing. I generally move as quickly as possible from one place to another. I walk quickly, talk quickly, complete tasks quickly. I act as if I am in extreme hurry, no matter what the situation might be. As a result of our difference paces, I often get exasperated with my boyfriend's slower pace, holding my hand out to him like he's a small child, jokingly saying, "Hurry up, Pokey!" (a nickname for slow poke). He, on the other hand, has never once told me to slow down. He accepts me for what I am -- quick talking, quick walking girl who acts like her entire life is an emergency fire drill.
When I think about my behavior objectively, I am a bit shocked. It's not acceptable; it's not accepting. It's an all-too-obvious example of me thinking that my way of doing things -- the quick, speedy way -- is the best way. And whether or not it's the best way (and it's probably not, especially for someone who wants to be more present), it doesn't matter. What matters is that I, like so many people, assume that what I'm doing is right and what someone else is doing is wrong. Clearly this is something I need to work on -- and not just with my boyfriend. Upon further reflection, I realize that this my-way-is-best attitude permeates a lot of aspects of my life including relationships with friends, family, and coworkers.
In theory, believing the idea that everyone is here to serve my personal happiness sounds almost insane, but it seems like I might have been living with that belief tucked in my back pocket. As the example above shows, I'm not only hurting others by not accepting them as they are, but I'm hurting myself as well. Though "Pokey" might not love his nickname, he shrugs it off with a laugh, unruffled by my impatience. I, on the other hand, remain annoyed that he's not moving faster, causing myself unnecessary stress and further removing myself from living a positive, present life.
So what's a non-accepting girl like me to do? To live a more positive and present life, to increase my happiness and the happiness of others, I better start accepting others ASAP. Here's how I'm going to get started.
6 Ways To Accept Others As They Are
- Watch your thoughts. Think about what you're thinking about. I often think things about other people, judging them, without even realizing it. I'm going to work on paying more attention to my thoughts and do my best to push them in a non-judgmental, more accepting direction.
- Look for the positive. Not accepting others is a result of seeing the negative in them. Instead of focusing on why someone is different, I'm going to focus on what's good about that person and his/her choices and actions. My way is not always the best one.
- Avoid right/wrong dichotomies. It's very tempting to see the world in black and white with a right and wrong way to do things, but that's just not how it is. Things don't have to be right or wrong if I choose to accept them as they are. I'm going to stop labeling my way as "right."
- Stop judging yourself. Our judgments of others are often a result of our personal criticisms. If I stop putting pressure on myself to do things the "right" way, I'll also stop putting pressure on others as well. Not judging myself or others is a crucial step to acceptance.
- Focus on the now. A lack of acceptance can generate from comparing things to the past. I'm not going to think about what happened before and try to live accordingly; I'm going to think about now. Comparing things to the past always hinders an acceptance of what is.
- Reverse the situation. I ask myself: What if someone were judging me and not accepting me? How would I feel? I'll keep these questions in mind the next time I'm not accepting others. I will imagine someone constantly telling me to slow down (and how annoying that would be!).
Clearly I have a lot of work to do when it comes to accepting others -- especially those closest to me. It's so easy to abstractly think of yourself as an accepting person, but when it comes to your daily interactions, really pay attention to them and ask yourself if you are accepting others as they are. Are you really accepting them? Are you really not thinking your way of doing things is the best way? If you find that you're not as accepting of others as you'd like to be, think about the six ideas above and see if they don't help you to be a more accepting, more loving person. And remember: the only way to live a positive and present life is to accept what is, something you certainly can't do if you don't accept others for who they are.