It’s so easy to be wrapped up in our own worlds we look at everything as “us” centric. We assume what goes on with other people we interact with is somehow always due to our presence in the situation.
A few years back I was traveling on Amtrak from Orange County, California to Seattle to visit Jennifer, a friend of mine from way back. Trains are great … way better than planes and cars. You get to spend hours together with people you’ve never met and probably will never see again. All you have is that single experience. You are submersed in this environment where no one has the upper hand on their home turf.
At the beginning of the trip, I met and sat next to a young man who happened to be a Buddhist. Now he didn’t look like the stereotypical Buddhist; no shaved head, no robe … just kinda look like I looked thirty years ago (except probably better looking). For miles we talked, ate and talked some more.
Note: Coincidentally, I did meet two “typically looking Buddhists” the next morning a few hundred miles up the road after being left a train station; That’s different story for different day.
One of topics of our conversation was his girlfriend – who lived with him in a Buddhist compound outside of San Diego. Over the last couple of months their relationship had declined. She would come home from work in a surely mood and stayed that way through the night. “What was wrong and what had he done to cause her malaise,” was his daily question.
“What can I do to make you happy,” was the pretty much how every evening ended up.
At wits end, my new Buddhist friend went to his monk for advice.
This is it:
“How can you be so arrogant and self-absorbed that you think everything in her life revolves around you and is caused by you.”
The next time you beat yourself up over something having to do with somebody else, try empathizing. Look at the world from their perspective.
Believe it or not – it may not be about you.
Note: This story may be one of the most important bits of wisdom I’ve shared as a parent with my daughter in her 29 years of life. It has given her a sense of relief in difficult situations, personal and professional, where control is assumed to be the normal course of action … but instead just stepping back is.