Who am I being right now? Who was I being in that situation? These are questions I ask myself every day? I want to know. If I am interacting and the interaction feels uncomfortable–who am I being that this feels so bad? Over the years I have created many images of myself which I find myself defending, attacking, or portraying to others. In my book, The Road Home, I call these false views of self. The Arbinger Institute, authors of Leadership and Self Deception (a must read book), call these self justifying images.
A few weeks ago I found myself in a conversation where the other person became very impatient with me. I, then, became impatient with her impatience. I called attention to her impatience and made it clear I didn’t like it. The next day I asked myself: “Who was I being that the person talking to me became very impatient?” The answer came: “I’m the kind of person who deserves to be treated with respect”. This person wasn’t giving me what I deserved, so obviously she was out of line.
This is the kind of thinking that gets us into more conflict. A Course in Miracles says there are only two kinds of thinking–love and fear. In love, I am caring and responsive toward myself and others. I am able to see the good in the other person. In fear I feel threatened and resistant both toward myself and the other. I tend to add up the faults of the other person and, of course, affirm my virtues. I tell myself this other person is disrespectful, impatient, unappreciative of me, and doesn’t listen. I tell myself that I am respectful, communicating well, and would never treat her disrespectfully. This is how the image justifies itself. Does this sound a little silly? I hope so, because it is silly. It is also common, everyday, insane communications between people.
Here’s the rule of thumb: if I think someone else is a problem person, then I’m the problem. This doesn’t mean people don’t do inconsiderate and even horrible things. This doesn’t mean that I never talk to someone else about their poor behavior. It means that my discomfort, my anger, my resentment, and my irritation are not about them. Who am I being that I felt and spoke and acted the way I did? As Stephen Covey has said: “How you see the problem is the problem.”. Yet, it goes beyond perception. It’s who I am being that is the problem.
If I am going through my day and I feel great, my relationships feel great, and I feel in alignment with my Self I get to say, “Great! I’m doing it. I’m in the flow. I’m responding to people and to life. I’m expressing love.” If things aren’t going well, people are impatient with me, and I feel uncomfortable, I get to ask myself the question: “Who am I being that these things are happening?” Am I the kind of person who prizes suffering? Do I maintain it by refusing to forgive others? Am I the kind of person who likes drama? Am I starring in a drama where everyone else is wrong and I, alone, am right? Am I the hero who is going to set everyone else straight? Who am I being?
There are many self justifying images that people create. Examples include “I am the kind of person who is hardworking (not lazy), compassionate (not selfish), smart (not stupid) or not appreciated (for all that I do). We find these images in areas where we are particularly sensitive, defensive, or emotional. My example is the image that I am the kind of person who deserves respect. If this is the image I am managing then I will be on the lookout for disrespect. When I think I’m getting disrespect I will be angry, resentful, irritated. I will tend to interpret the moods of others as disrespect toward me. Wherever I carry this self justifying image I will spend my energy demanding respect rather than giving it. I will focus my energy on me rather than the other person. I will resist people rather than responding to them. I will feel threatened and fearful, and my behavior will arise from a place of fear and threat. If a person offers me disrespect, my demand for respect will not encourage respectful behavior. It will invite disrespect. But, you may ask: “Don’t you deserve respect? What does one do when receiving disrespect? How do we motivate someone to be respectful?”
These are good questions. A Course in Miracles says that fear is a call for love. I have the option whether or not to answer the call. I answer the call by responding. I respond by taking the focus off me and putting it on the other person. I may ask what the problem is. I might tell the other person to back off. I may sense a deeper issue in the person and speak to it. I may let it go and not say anything. It is not what I do that makes the difference. It is who I am being in that moment. If I am responding from a place of caring about the well being of this person; of acknowledging their needs and concerns being as important as my own; and of doing what intuitively feels right, then I will respond with love. Whether my behavior is soft or hard is not important. Love can be either. Responsiveness can be either. This is not about portraying myself as a caring person (another self justifying image). It is about actually caring.
It can be difficult to get past our self justifying images because we have spent so many years crafting and protecting them. The truth is, these images are a lot of work to keep up. We must be constantly vigilant and on the defense. Wouldn’t it be great to let go of the job of image management and just respond to people. Once you have decided to become aware of self justifying images and let them go the results are immediate. You extend an open invitation to all others to do the same. A sense of ease flows through you. Relationships become easier when you are responding, recognizing the humanity in others, and seeing the good in them. Others begin changing because you have given them someone different to respond to. Your love inspires, uplifts, and enlivens each person you encounter. It’s not what you do for others that uplifts them; it is who you are being.