As I am working on a book club program for The Happiness Project, I read a single page in the middle of the book entitled "Cut People Slack." As I thought about this, I realized how many layers there are to the idea.
Gretchen Rubin helps us to see that people's lives are far more complicated than they appear from our personal perspective. How many times have I known someone for a while, only to find out that their journey has been a tumultuous or tortured one at times? In the process, they reveal their vulnerability, usually in an offhand, cavalier way that seems to disregard any possible obstacle to the very best in their life. And perhaps I do the same thing, myself.
Their situation is not based on my history.
I think back to how I've approached people as I meet them and begin to learn about them, and I see that I compartmentalize them to fit into all the boxes that I have created for my life. Each tidbit of information, opinion, and feelings are compared to, and matched with, ones that I have experienced. I now have a "reference" point of my own history with which to view what they say or do.
With this set of reference points, I could sidestep the onerous task of admitting that I don't know everything. Yet, in truth, I cannot know their experience, because it is not my experience. Sometimes it's not even close. This ignorance seems to make me uncomfortable, but once it has become clear, I can accept and admire. Or not.
They are constantly changing.
One of the most recent revelations about the people I meet is that this is who they are - now. Then, this is who they are - now. It is constantly changing.
I can only offer this freedom once I have discovered it for myself. When I can see that I am not the same person that I was a year ago, and I can say that this is OK, then I can open my mind to that fact that the person in front of me is in transition. Always.
If I let go of what I had come to know about them up to this moment, I give them the freedom to discover more about themselves. It is through honoring this transition, their transformation, that they are affirmed to continue their journey.
"Forbearance is a form of generosity."
Gretchen uses this sentence to cut people slack who might be in a challenging circumstance that requires otherwise rude or rash behavior. We have no idea why someone is driving erratically, or reaches a flash point for seemingly innocuous events. Their circumstance may be something that we would react to with equal behavior.
But generosity isn't just about identifying with the reaction, or the cause of the reaction. They are doing their best. Just like you and I are. They may have less skills at this, they may have different reference points from which to handle circumstances. Generosity allows for these extremes. Generosity says that I don't have to understand.
My last thought: peace. Is it really important to know anything, to rationalize anything, to excuse anything? If I want peace, I can let go of all judgment and righteousness. Maybe it's not mine to own. Maybe it's not mine to grade. I can witness. Maybe my simple gift is to witness and be there, to hold for them the OK-ness of who they are in that moment. To cut them some slack when they can't. And I know tomorrow is another day for them. Today, I begin again.
It starts with me. Ease up on yourself, Larry.
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