5 Lessons I keep coming back to
Life is a series of lessons that we learn at every step. Some lessons are like jumps over small puddles and some like high jumps, while some are like steeple chase and some seem like pole vault jumps. While most of them, we prefer to forget or better still they just fade away into oblivion, very few of them tend to leave an impact on us which we carry with us forever.
Amongst the few lessons that leave a deep impact are the ones which shape us into a new and evolved human being. So here are a few lessons learnt in the journey of my life (so far) that have helped me become a better person, build healthier relationships, and helped me develop understanding for the other person (or so I think). These are learnings based on personal experiences, through observations, through education forums and also based on a lot of wise advice from mentors. I still have to keep practicing what I have learnt so that it becomes ingrained and makes me an improved person (better than what I was yesterday). I am aware, that it will be possible only through conscious and sustained effort. So here are five gems (not original though) which I keep coming back to.
A) Already Always Listening - situation
We think of ourselves as open and objective. But in fact, our approach to ourselves, our circumstances and others is often filtered and even obscured by pre-existing notions/values, through our upbringing, peer influences, culture and past experiences.
For instance: You are in a conversation with a friend or spouse or colleague, exchanging thoughts and words and emotions, very animatedly and discussing very openly (presumably). You are having this great dialogue/conversation that is flowing very well between the two of you. But how many times during the conversation have you truly been listening to what the opposite person is saying or trying to say.
Most of the times, aren't we just waiting for the person to stop speaking so you can start voicing your views, opinions and thoughts about the subject of conversation. We have already formed this opinion about the world and we think that's the right view of things. And these thoughts cloud our mind so much that we are not even listening to the views of the opposite person. Moreover, we want the other person to shut his gob, so we can hog the conversation to voice our opinions, assuming that what we have is the best and the other person HAS to accept it that way.
That's 'Already Always Listening' to the thoughts in our mind which is based on our own upbringing, peer influences, culture and past experiences (which are limited) and not to what the opposite person really has to say. And in all this, because of our blinkers, we are the real losers as we are not open to new thinking, new point of view and new ideas.
B) Hidden Power of Context
All behavior, all ways of being and acting are correlated to the context(s) from which we live our lives.
For instance: “The Good Samaritan” experiment from the book The Tipping Point
To establish the 'Power of Context' analysis, two groups were formed amongst the Theology students (study of religion). Both groups were asked to prepare a short extemporaneous talk on any biblical theme, then walk over to a nearby building and present it. Along the way to the presentation, each student ran into a man slumped in an alley, head down, eyes closed, coughing and groaning. The question was which student group would stop and help?
To make the experiment more interesting there were some variables introduced.
a) Before the experiment started, some students were given a questionnaire as to why they had chosen theology. Did they see religion as a means of personal or spiritual fulfillment?
b) Others were given the parable of Good Samaritan (The famous story of how a traveler who was beaten and robbed and left for dead by the side of the road, was overlooked by 2 priests while they were passing by but helped by a man- a Samaritan, member of a despised minority, who not only helped him heal his wounds but provided shelter too)
c) Some students while they were being sent to the other building were told, “Oh you are late, they were expecting you a few minutes ago." (Basically a hint to make them aware that they are already running late)
d) While some students were told, 'It will be a few minutes before they are ready for you, you have time but you might as well head now."(A hint to make them know that they have some time at hand)
The experiment was to understand which group of people would stop by and help the destitute lying on the road.
It was interesting to note that the group of students which was told that they had very little time, literally stepped over the victim as each of them hurried on their way, in spite of the fact that they were told the parable of “Good Samaritan”, (a story about compassion) before they were sent to the other building.
The words 'Oh you are so late' had the effect of making someone who was ordinarily compassionate into someone who was indifferent to suffering; of turning someone, in that particular moment, into a different person.
And that's the Power of Context. What this study is suggesting, in other words, is that the convictions of your heart and the actual contents of your thoughts are less important. In the end, what becomes important in guiding your actions is the immediate context of your behavior.
In a nutshell, we can stop being judgmental if we understand the context of a person's behavior or background of an event.
C) The Vicious Circle
There is a human tendency to overlap what happened, with the story we tell what happened. The intersection or superimposing happens so fast that it is hard to separate the two and we think of them as one and the same. And over time, the story we tell ourselves becomes the way it is - the reality WE know. It limits what is possible in our lives, robbing us of much our joy and effectiveness.
For instance: Imagine you are walking on the road and someone you know from your locality who is also known to you, is walking towards you from the opposite direction. However, as you come closer, that person suddenly decides to cross over to the other side, without as much looking at you. Not even acknowledging your presence. Leaving you feeling awkward with half a smile left on your face and a little hurt with this sudden 'turn' of events.
The immediate interpretation we make out of the situation at that time is, he/she has ignored you purposely or he/she may be upset with you over something that may have happened (you are not aware) and hence deliberately overlooked you.
Now, if you look at it objectively, the situation was simple, the person in his/her sheer absent-mindedness must have crossed the road and not even realized the presence of you, who was walking towards him/her. May be he/she was engrossed in his/her thoughts or that person may have their own personal issues which he/she is tackling, we don't know!
But the interpretation of this situation has already been created in our mind and that becomes the reality for us. Maybe the same situation takes place a second time.
So going forward, every time you both meet, there would be some instances where you will try to find ways to justify that your friend always ignores you, gives you a snub and then that becomes a Vicious Circle.
The solution is to stop believing the stupid assumptions and stories we create in our minds to justify our actions or to judge others and start communicating and breaking down the invisible walls we have created, to challenge those assumptions.
D) Rackets - Pay off and cost
A Racket is an unproductive way of being or acting that includes a complaint that something shouldn't be the way it is. Often, we don't notice that while our complaints may seem justified or even legitimate, there is a certain payoff- some advantage or benefit we are receiving that reinforces the cycle of behavior. At the same time, this way of being has steep costs, whether in our vitality, affinity, self-expression or sense of fulfillment.
For instance: In a relationship with your spouse or parents or even a close friend, do you always have a typical complaint that you use to win an argument or get better of a situation? You may be justified in that complaint or it may be legitimate as well, but have you seen that just because you want to win that argument or get some benefit in that short term, you invariably use it as a trump card.
What we don't realize is that it very much stifles the relationship and does not help us to take the relationship to the next level of happiness, fulfillment or satisfaction. That's why it's important to let go off the past, let go of these rackets we hold on to because only thing that matters is what we choose to be now or choose to see now.
E) Access to being Extraordinary (In the words of Landmark Forum)
“Each of us would like to be extraordinary; to have our lives matter, to excel in the areas that are important to us - our families, our work, relationships, our health and our financial futures. Every day we are presented with the opportunity either to live a 'business as usual' life, or to create something beyond who we've been and what we know. To explore the opportunity that we have, is to express ourselves individually and fully, to set aside current standards, to question firmly held assumptions, to be at ease no matter what the circumstances and to break and reinvent the mould."