We all interact with countless people during the day. Each one of them brings a unique perspective and way of being. It is easy to get caught up in the energy of the people we encounter and momentarily lose track of who we are. We can save ourselves time and energy by recognizing what is happening and doing something proactive to get things moving in a positive direction.
In the teaching world, this is not an uncommon experience. If one of my students is having a challenging day, for example, I might inadvertently get pulled into a power struggle with them. Although their attitude has nothing to do with me, and more to do with whatever happened before they saw me, they might not be conscious of that fact. Some students arrive with a head, or heart, full of challenging experiences. This can lead to coping behaviors, such as arguing, that might target me as the enemy.
In moments when we feel attacked, or betrayed, it is important to remember that although we cannot control outside circumstances, we can choose how we are going to respond to them. This is an important tool if we are going to live a life that reflects who we are, and not a life that is based on reacting to what others are doing, saying, and thinking.
The truth is that we never really know what other people are thinking, why they are thinking that way, or what is going on in their lives outside of the present moment. Remembering this, it becomes progressively easier to let go of judgment when others are acting in ways that we do not appreciate. At those times, it is helpful to check in with ourselves. We can ask ourselves what it is that we are really needing from the other person in that moment.
The reason why this question is so liberating, is that once we identify what we are seeking from someone else, we can start to provide it for ourselves. If I am seeking approval, or appreciation from my students, for example, I typically find that I have not been approving of, or appreciating myself enough. With practice we can learn to give ourselves the praise, and the respect, that we believe has to come from outside.
I recently had an experience in my lunch group that served as a great reminder. A student was being verbally combative with me, and I was tempted to argue back. I wondered how someone would dare talk to me that way, especially a student. Then I realized that I had been thinking very poorly of myself earlier that day. I had been judging my work as a teacher and my ability to facilitate the lunch groups as being inadequate. It turned out that my student was being a perfect reflection of my own self-condemnation.
When I recognized what was going on, I felt instant relief. I was no longer compelled to fight with the student. In fact, I was able to ask the student if something was wrong in their own life. After some resistance the student admitted that they too had not been feeling good about themselves. After a few moments of talking together, all the combativeness was gone and we returned to our typically pleasant relationship.
The thing to remember is that we do not need the approval or attention of others to feel good about life. In fact, the reverse is true. We must get into a place of feeling good about ourselves and appreciating our lives, and then extend that appreciation and acceptance to the people and conditions that surround us. When we do this, life becomes an exciting adventure, full of positive experiences.
If there is someone in your life who is pushing your buttons, take a pause. Sit down and ask yourself what you believe you need to get from them in order to feel better. When you are aware of what it is, reflect on ways that you can give that very thing to yourself. Appreciate yourself more, approve of yourself more, and then see if you can extend that appreciation and acceptance to the very people that were getting under your skin in the first place. The relief you will feel as you reclaim your power, and get back into the flow of life, is well worth the effort.
Photo (Top): Your opinion matters. Focus on the good in yourself and others and you will bring out the best in life. Jonathan Mitchell, a seventh grader at Culver City Middle School, brings out the best in every situation with his smile and positive attitude.
Edward Biagiotti is the Inclusion Specialist for Culver City Unified School District. He is also co-host of the popular radio show, Funniest Thing! with Darrell and Ed, to find out more go to www.DarrellandEd.com.