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Broad Shoulders Aren’t Always Necessary

How do you deal with those situations where someone dishes out an attack on you, offering accusatory remarks that are untrue? Their words are spoken before reaching out and trying to understand where you are coming from. You know that an image of you is now out in the world, however small a corner of the world, which is unfounded and not a true representation of who you are. What do you do?

From my observation…and experience, a few common ways of dealing with this sort of situation are:

  1. You can go back and fight your corner, but now there are two of you angry and a two person fight will just serve to increase the wedge between you, and probably the misunderstanding with it.
  2. You can contact the person and try and explain your way out of the accusations. That might work, but then again it might not. Indeed it might make the situation worse. Anger, as we have all experienced at some time or another sadly blinds us of wanting to hear, understand or take a step down from the position that we are standing in. If the other person is consumed by anger, you showing up to tell your version of the story might be like throwing another coal on the fire…just your presence.
  3. You can develop broad shoulders and just learn to ignore the situations as they arise. In my opinion this is better than the pervious two in that you are not continuing the conflict, and in the best case scenario you are holding the door open for reconciliation further down the line when the time feels right. However, I believe that there is a fourth option which holds the door further open. I think that there is a danger with this third option that the broad shoulders become a stance of toughness, I can put up with that.” I don’t have to stand for their nonsense and will ignore it.” The fourth option I will expand on for the rest of this post.

Non-Violence

This fourth way might be called a way of compassion, a way of non-violence. Within the Tibetan Buddhist tradition, compassion is defined as the wish for beings to be free from their suffering or their problems. When we are angry, regardless of the how right or wrong we are, we are not happy. Our blood is boiling, our mind is mass of churning thoughts, our heart is beating fast, we’ve probably lost our appetite and it is hard for us to find any piece of mind in that moment. Within this fourth way the issue is not about what you have been accused of, rather it is about the other person who is accusing you and what they are going through as a result of their disagreement with you. It is about a relationship that has been wounded and holding the door open for reconciliation. It is not about you claiming that you don’t make mistakes or get angry, rather in this moment where we have been wrongfully accused it is about seeing if we can lay the foundations for building bridges and if that is not possible to move forward in our lives without holding a grudge.

Of course this is all easier said than done. It is easy to read these words, but when we are feeling wronged the voices inside us start shouting loudly in defense and we soon fall back into accusatory ways. The trick is to have a commitment to something that can act like a trigger to catch yourself before you react.

Presence

The commitment that I would like to suggest of you is to being present, to being aware of now. By coming back to this moment, we are moving towards the root of our own suffering. That root is not concerned about whether we have been wronged or not, but how we are reacting to the situation. Is our response going to protract the suffering or work to remove it?

This commitment of being present speaks to our mindfulness practice. It is taking our meditation practice off the cushion and into our daily life. By committing to be present, we are more likely to catch ourselves when we feel that we have been criticized unfairly. Through that catch, there is a pause. In that moment we have a choice - we can fall back into old ways, or choose another path, a path that does not exacerbate conflict but looks to build bridges.

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