On our Lake St Lucia trip we learned that hippos don’t have sweat glands – that’s why they spend so much time in the water or in mud. Because they can’t regulate their own body temperatures through sweating, the water helps them stay cool.
In other words, hippos have a great excuse for wallowing in dirt. We, on the other hand, don’t.
The other day a friend shared this on their Facebook page:
The first thing I thought was, ‘So what are you going to do about it?’ The second was ‘I wonder what your shitty friends think about this’. And the third was… Well, I’ll get to that in a second. Stuff like the above wouldn’t be popular unless lots of people resonate with it so I’m not saying these feelings aren’t real, but wallowing in your misery isn’t going to change anything. Ain’t nobody got time for dat!
The funny (third) thing is, the person who posted this status was one of the people who had been so exuberant at the prospect of seeing me again on our Durban trip, and then when the day arrived for us to spend time together at a gathering, they weren’t there. And I found out via an unrelated conversation that they’d actually ‘gone out with friends’ instead. And they’ve been pretending like nothing’s happened ever since.
Maybe they know exactly what they (didn’t) do. Or maybe they’re so engrossed in the failings of everyone else in their life to make them happy that they are completely oblivious that they could be accused – if I were so inclined – of the very ‘crimes’ they hate. And now here they were spreading their doom and gloom on my Facebook newsfeed!*
It reminds me of a time not so long ago that I used to get really bitter about friends who didn’t respond to my emails. I live a whole ocean away and they were so sad to see me go but now they couldn’t spare a second to maintain the friendship?! And then I realised that I’m not that great at keeping in touch either – and most of the time it’s no indication of how I feel about that person. So why would I assume the worst of others by holding them to a standard that I myself could not meet, and for no reason other than the necessary demands of daily life? Is it possible that my own insecurities were behind my assumptions of people I care about?
And even if they didn’t care for me – would being angry with them or fighting with them change that? It made more sense to assume the best and deal with the issue in a practical way that also wouldn’t leave me feeling like a pushover (which I think is the thing that makes this difficult for a lot of people and leads to those sad, passive aggressive status updates which they mistake for action).
Unless you change the way you do something, nothing changes.
I decided to stop writing to people who hadn’t responded to my previous messages, until I heard from them. It was a practical solution to solving the frustration of a one-sided (and therefore impractical) conversation between friends, and the best part is that it was anger and grudge-free because getting a reaction from them was no longer an objective. If I acknowledged that I wasn’t perfect and needed a break every now and again for it, I needed to afford others the same empathy I would like them to have for me.
Not to mention it really helps your general health and other relationships if you’re not a fist-shaking sourpuss (especially over somebody who may not be worth your time).
There’s this great quote by Paul Batalden – “Every system is perfectly designed to get the results that it does”. In my case, change didn’t result in an outward difference. I didn’t suddenly get an influx of concerned mail, or more amazing Friends 2.0, and if I had been waiting for those things then boy would I have been sorely disappointed! The change that took place was that I stopped feeling defined by what they did or didn’t do, and my focus returned to my own behaviour – what my motivations are, and how I work to live by these ideals.
Anyone can complain about how they’re getting raw deal from the world, but it takes proactivity and strength to find empathy for yourself and others, and make changes to the system until you get the result you want. Often the surprise is that what needs to change most is not other people, but our own perspective on these things. Sometimes that means acknowledging that you are the not the source of everything true and correct and beyond reproach. We aren’t always aware that we’re doing this, and we genuinely believe that we would never do the terrible things others would (see two examples in this post). But maybe it’s something to consider: When the system is not giving you what you need, you may in fact be a part of that very same machine.
The healthy lesson I believe, is to think of it not as a failure, but a measurement of truth. Every opportunity offers us the option of either anger or empathy. Anger keeps us insecure, fault-finding, perfectionist and most horribly – in the system. Empathy lets us be human and treat others with the same generosity of spirit. It helps us to recognise our ideals for what they are: aspirations, dreams, standards – the pursuit of which may be worthy, but not without fault.
And it’s an ongoing thing, something I’m aware of even as I write these posts – that I could be a hypocrite right now and not even be aware of it. But you know what? At least I’m working on it.
*Blocked their updates. System changed. Problem solved.