Few of us ever stop to consider how powerful we really are. We all carry the ability to influence others positively and negatively. We can draw people together, push them apart, tear them down, build them up, twist them into knots, break their hearts, feed their dreams, hurt their chances, kill their spirit, ignore them, fail them in their time of need and even drive them to despair or suicide with just our words.
So, what do we choose? If we use them to diminish or destroy the light that gently glows deep inside every living being, we may get that ego-based rush of power that feels so good, but at what cost? We all end up naked and alone on our final journey home. My mother used to say (and make us laugh each time she did), “Remember, you’re going to wake up dead someday.” Now may be the perfect time to leap forward to our last moment and take a look at our choices, particularly as they affected others.
How did we treat our fellow human beings -- and all creatures on this Earth? It helps to do a short practice at the close of each day, to replay the day as though it were a movie and see ourselves in action, either darkening or brightening the lives of those around us. We may find that we have been doing the bidding of our peers or family rather than hearkening to the whisperings of our souls. The soul never invites judgment or hatred regardless of how we try to spin it.
I was given a beautiful “Aha!” moment in my 30s when a guy I worked with told me the story of two men heading for work when one stopped at a corner stand to buy the paper. He said “Good morning” to the owner of the newsstand. No response. After paying for the paper, he thanked the vendor for the paper but the vendor did not reply. Tucking the paper under his arm, the man smiled at the vendor and said, “Have a good day!” as he walked away with his friend. Again, just silence from the vendor’s scowling face.
His friend was clearly upset by the vendor’s horrible treatment of a customer and said, “Boy, that guy sure was grouchy.” The man just said, “Oh, he’s always like that!” Incredulous, his friend said, “What? You’ve come back again after he treated you that way before?”
Without missing a beat, the man said, “I buy a paper from him every morning on my way to work. I’ve been doing it for nine years now.”
“Then why do you even bother talking to him,” his friend asked, equally miffed and baffled.
The man simply and eloquently answered, “What does his behavior have to do with mine?”
That packed a punch for me as a young woman who had consistently seen the common practice of ignoring or insulting people who don’t treat us well. What a different world we would have if retaliation disappeared and we instead chose to be beacons of civility, kindness and mostly of forgiveness so that we don’t become part of the problem that sets person against person, country against country.
We have to be brave enough to act, even if we act alone. We have to be strong enough to overcome our baser common instincts of blame and punishment. There really are no good guys and bad guys. We have all hurt others. Rather than excusing our behavior while not excusing the behavior of others, we can forgive ourselves and others for our inevitable foibles. We never know when our remaking of ourselves into someone warmer, kinder and gentler will spill out and touch another, encouraging a new warmth that can thaw out this increasingly frigid world.
Our thoughts and actions belong solely to us, and we cannot pin the blame on anyone or anything else. This may be the medicine to cure our ailing society and heal the ills of the world. If we’re tempted to dismiss this as too little an act, remember this story and know that we are not responsible for what others do to us. We are responsible for how we conduct ourselves.
We cannot go on living as we have, thinking the way we have and being who we were. These pivotal times call for a radical shift in thinking. They call for stretching and reaching for our better selves. We cannot know what any other person is going through. We do know we have all been given a brain and a heart. This is the time to tune in to its depths and its yearnings to give and receive love, and to model it as well.
Marianne Stanley is an attorney, college professor and former journalist who is a former resident of Houma.