Readers of last month’s blog will remember that we spoke about one aspect of the first pillar on which all healthy relationships stand. For those who have not read it, all healthy relationships stand on three pillars. We are discussing the first pillar, called the Pillar of Impersonality, and, as part of that pillar, last time we spoke about how we all tend to assign direct blame to the first or most obvious cause we see for the unhappiness, when most often that is not the cause at all.
Today, still under the Pillar of Impersonality, we are looking at the innocence of our intent.
Most of us, most of the time, mean well and mean to do well.
I do not know of anybody—other than the extremely rare monster—who happily wakes up one morning, and whilst preparing to go to work, assaults their family and sets fire to their home.
On the other hand, I know of a great many of us who wakes up happily, meaning to have a wonderful day, and then life happens to us.
We get up and find that the heavy rain of the previous night flooded the basement. Or that the dog is limping even worse than when we first noticed it last night and that they do not wag their tail when they see us, and they are not eating. Or that the car battery is dead. Or one of the many and varied other things that life at its finest has to offer us.
When that happens—and how often does that not happen—our intent to have a good day and treat everyone with loving kindness shrivels up a bit, if it does not die off altogether. Our intents are real and true, but they are frail. When bad things happen to us, because we take it personally, our good intent most often does not survive at all or survive undiminished. And as we lose that good intent, or as that good intent weakens, we start acting in a way that looks almost the opposite of what our good intent had been.
When we see a threat, because we are biological creatures, we do one of three things. We fight, we flee or we freeze. Fighting, running away or collapsing into emotional immobility almost always is not what we intended to do when we got up that morning.
Unfortunately, nobody else knows what our intent was when we got up. They only see us yelling and cussing at the water in the basement, or at the poor sick dog or the dumb car battery.
In their turn, they also got up with the best and most beautiful of intentions, to make today the best day for themselves and for their family. Instead, they run into us who are yelling and cussing at what looks to be them. They in turn take our bad behaviour personally, and their good intent does not make it any longer or shrinks up into a tiny ball. They then act either offensively, defensively or withdraw.
When on top of the water in the basement, the pain of the dog and the engine that does not even turn over if we put the key into the ignition position, we observe our partner’s angry or sullen behaviour, we completely lose sight of that first good intent of us when we swung our feet off the bed and onto the floor. We also fail to understand that they too had great intent and wanted to have a good day just like we did. To boot, we do not understand that they behave the way they behave because of how we just behaved.
So now, often more than not, we take their behaviour personally as well, and in turn behave even worse.
By the time the water damage people are called, and the dog taken to the vet after we had BCAA come to get the battery recharged, the promise and hope of that beautiful, fleeting intent to be a loving and kind person and have the kind of day where are people are smiling at us and are greeting us spontaneously because of that very intent, is a dim and remote memory, if remembered at all.
Remember though: most people I know get up every day with the innocence of that intent: today we are going to have a wonderful day, no matter what. Therefore, if we run into somebody who are grouchy, or mean, or unfriendly, we will be right to assume they did start their day innocently like that as well.
For the next month, try this out: if you run across somebody else who is misbehaving, instead of taking it personally, ask them when the day started going bad for them. You will be surprised at the responses and how that very question of care and concern may help them to remember their good intent at the start of their day, and sometimes may help them to get parts, if not all, of it back.
Next time, we will talk about something closely related to this, entropy.
Dr. Strauss l Wellness Lead
Follow me on Twitter @DrPieterStrauss