trust

Be kind to everyone, but trust only those who deserve it

Recently someone asked me what she should do if she couldn’t trust a person she was being kind to. In the past she’d tried to be compassionate to a roommate she didn’t trust, and had even felt herself to be in danger. She didn’t say what the exact circumstances were, but it sounded scary.

Being kind to someone means treating them as a feeling human being who, like us, has a deep-rooted desire to be happy and an equally deep-rooted desire not to suffer. It means empathizing with the fact that happiness is elusive and that suffering is all too common. Bearing these thoughts in mind makes it harder to be unkind to the other person and easier for us to treat them with empathy, kindness, and compassion. It becomes easier to care for their wellbeing.

Trust means knowing or believing that someone can be relied upon. It might mean that they can be depended on to look after our best interests. It could mean that they can be relied upon to tell the truth. It might mean that they can be relied upon to do what they say they will.

I think generally we can in fact trust most people, even complete strangers, but when there’s a history of dishonesty or manipulation, or when you pick up on a bad vibe, it’s best to err on the safe side.

But kindness and trust don’t necessarily overlap. We can treat everyone kindly, but a person may have a track record of not caring for our wellbeing (possibly even of being cruel or exploitative), or of being unreliable, or of being untruthful. Under such circumstances it might be very unwise to trust that person. They simply haven’t earned our trust. They’re not trust-worthy. Trusting everyone is what we call “idiot compassion.”

But you can still be kind to a person who isn’t worthy of your trust. Knowing that they’re a feeling being, you don’t have to want them to suffer. You may have to say or do things that make them unhappy (like saying “no” when they ask if they can borrow money) but you don’t do that with the intention of making them suffer. In fact if we’re being kind we may say “no” to another person because we want them to be happy! We don’t make people genuinely happy by enabling their vices.

I’m not saying, incidentally, that it’s easy not to have ill will for someone we distrust, just that’s it’s possible and that it’s what we should aim to do.

It sounds to me that the woman who asked this question had got herself into an enabling or codependent situation. Not wanting to appear cruel, she didn’t want to stand up to the other person. Wanting to be kind, she didn’t want to say no. But she was confusing trust and kindness.

If we fear that the other person is trying to exploit or harm us, we need to be very careful. Some people want to rip us off or even physically harm us. Sometimes we need need to be kind to ourselves by getting the hell out of Dodge! We should be kind to everyone, but in some cases we should be kind from a safe distance.

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Tuning in to the love that fills and surrounds you

Take a breath right now, and notice how abundant the air is, full of life-giving oxygen offered freely by trees and other green growing things. You can’t see air, but it’s always available for you.

Love is a lot like the air. It may be hard to see – but it’s in you and all around you.

In the press of life – dealing with hassles in personal relationships and bombarded with news of war and other conflicts – it’s easy to lose sight of love, and feel you can’t place your faith in it. But in fact, to summarize a comment from Ghandi, daily life is saturated with moments of cooperation and generosity – between complete strangers! Let alone with one’s friends and family.

Love is woven into your day because it’s woven into your DNA: as our ancestors evolved over the last several million years, many scientists believe that love, broadly defined, has been the primary driving force behind the evolution of the brain. Bands of early humans that were particularly good at understanding and caring for each other out-competed less cooperative and loving bands, and thereby passed on the genes of empathy, bonding, friendship, altruism, romance, compassion, and kindness – the genes, in a word, of love.

Nonetheless, even though the resting state of your brain – its “home base” when you are not stressed, in pain, or feeling threatened – is grounded in love, it’s all too easy to be driven from home by something as small as a critical comment in a business meeting or a frown across a dinner table. Then we go off to a kind of inner homelessness, exiled for a time from our natural abode, caught up in the fear or anger that makes love seem like a mostly-forgotten dream. After a while, this can become the new normal, so we call homelessness home – like becoming habituated to breathing shallowly and forgetting the richness of air that would be available if we would only breathe deeply.

So we need to come home to love. To recognize and have confidence in the love in your own heart – which will energize and protect you, even when you must also be assertive with others. To see and have faith in the love in others – even when it is veiled or it comes out in problematic ways. To trust in love that’s as present as air, to trust in loving that’s as natural as breathing.

How?

Take a breath. Notice how available air is, how you can trust in it. Notice the feeling of being able to rely on the air.

Bring to mind someone who loves you. Feel the fact of this love – even if it is, to paraphrase John Welwood, a perfect love flowing through an imperfect person. Can you feel your breath and body relaxing, as you trust in this person’s love for you? Can you feel your thoughts calming, your mood improving, and your heart opening to others? Let it sink in, that trusting in love feels good and refuels you. Then if you like, do this same reflection with other people who love you.

Bring to mind someone you love. Feel the reality of your love; know that you are loving. As in the paragraph just above, absorb the benefits of recognizing and trusting in your love. Try this with others whom you love.

Scan back over your life and notice some of the many times when there was love in your heart – expressed one way or another, including generosity, kindness, patience, teamwork, self-restraint, affection, and caring. Appreciate as well that there have been many times when you wanted to love, were looking for someone or something to love (friends and good causes, too, not just romantic partners), or longed for more love in your life. These are facts, and you can trust in them – trusting in the lovingness of your heart.

In situations, open to your own lovingness. Privately ask yourself questions like: As a loving person, what is important to me here? Trusting in love, what seems right to do? Remember that you can be strong – and if need be, create consequences for others – while staying centered in love or one of its many expressions (e.g., empathy, fair play, goodwill). What happens when you assert yourself from a loving place?

Tune into the lovingness in others, no matter how obscured by their own homelessness, their own fear or anger – like seeing a distant campfire through the trees. Sense the longing in people to be at peace in their relationships, and to give and get love. What happens in a challenging relationship when you stay in touch with this lovingness inside the other person? Notice that you can both feel the lovingness in others and be tough as nails about your own rights and needs.

Don’t sentimentalize love or be naïve about it. Trusting in love does not mean assuming that someone will love you. It means confidence in the fundamentally loving nature of every person, and in the wholesome power of your own lovingness to protect you and touch the heart of others. It means coming home – home by the hearth of love.

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Admit fault and move on

Have you ever watched two people quarrel, or otherwise be stuck in a conflict with each other? Usually, if either or both of them simply acknowledged one or more things, that would end the fight.

Recall a time someone mistreated you, let you down, dropped the ball, made an error, spoke harshly, was unskillful, got a fact wrong, or affected you negatively even if that was not their intention. (This is what I mean, very broadly, under the umbrella heading of “fault.”) If the person refuses to admit fault, how do you feel? Probably dismayed, frustrated, uneasy, distanced, less willing to trust, and more defensive yourself. The interaction – and even the relationship – gets stuck on the unadmitted fault and is shadowed, dragged down, and constrained as a result.

On the other hand, if this person had admitted the fault, how would you have reacted? Probably pretty well! When someone admits fault (always broadly defined, in my usage here) to me, I feel safer, on more solid ground, more at ease, warmer toward them – and more willing to admit faults myself.

Turn this around, and you can see the benefits in admitting faults to others. It cuts to the heart of the matter, reduces a cause of their anxiety or anger, let you move on to other topics (including your own needs), takes the wind out of their sails if they’re lambasting you, and puts you in a stronger position to ask them to admit fault themselves. And as part of admitting fault, it’s natural and important to sincerely commit to avoiding this fault as best you can in the future.

Then you can get beyond the hassle and bad feelings of the unadmitted fault, and move on to something more positive.

For example, recently our adult son called me on a certain – ah – intense positionality I sometimes expressed when he was growing up. I sputtered and deflected awhile in response, but then had to admit the truth of what he was saying (and acknowledge him for his courage in saying it), and told him I wouldn’t do this any more. When I said this, he felt better and I felt better. And then we could move on to good things – like more sushi!

How do we admit fault?

Start by reminding yourself how it is in your own best interests to admit fault and move on. We might think that admitting fault is weak or that it lets the other person off the hook for his or her faults. But actually, it takes a strong person to admit fault, and it puts us in a stronger position with others.

Sort out your fault(s) – mistake, unskillfulness, misdeed, error, etc. – from the other pieces of the puzzle of the interaction or relationship. Don’t overstate your fault out of guilt or appeasement. Be clear and specific in your own mind as to what the fault is – and what is not a fault. You, not anyone else, are the judge of what your fault is.

Admit the fault directly. Be simple and direct. It’s alright to express or explain the context of the fault – like you were tired or upset about something else – but avoid justifying the fault, or getting lawyerly about it; and sometimes, especially in charged situations, it’s best to simply acknowledge your fault without any explanation wrapped around it.

Try to be empathic and compassionate about the consequences of your fault for the other person. Remind yourself why this is good for you to do! Stay on the topic of your fault for a reasonable amount of time; don’t jump quickly to the faults of the other person, but don’t let the other person repetitively pound you for your fault after you’ve admitted it.

Make a commitment inside your mind, and perhaps to the other person, not to do this fault again.

When it feels right, disengage from discussing your fault. Then it could be appropriate to bring up ways the other person could help you in not doing the fault in the future (e.g., getting home in time to help with dinner will help you not yell at the kids). Or bring up a fault of the other person.

And then – sheesh! – it’s time to move on. To more positive topics, or to stepping back in the relationship, or to more productive ways of relating with the person.

Last, to plant a seed I’ll explore in a future JOT, it’s also good to admit a personal fault to yourself . . . and then to let go of guilt, self-criticism, and inadequacy, and to move on to self-compassion, self-care, self-worth, happiness, and inner peace.

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A Buddhist’s perspective on biblical ways to love

I just read a list of ways to show love and I was inspired to write this article including a Buddhist’s perspective of ways to carry out the biblical suggestions on the list.

Ten ways to show people you love them:

  1. Listen without interrupting. (Proverbs 18) – When someone is speaking, the most loving thing we can do is listen. And, if we are really listening, we are not thinking of how to respond or how to get our point across or asking questions or saying anything. We are simply listening to hear and understand what the person is saying. So, the next time you are listening to someone, wait until the person is finished and then respond.
  2. Speak without accusing. (James 1:19) – We all have times with our partners, family members and friends when we disagree, feel disappointed, feel hurt or get angry. When someone accuses us of doing something, we can respond honestly, without blaming or accusing them, by gently speaking from our own experience including: how we felt, what we heard and how we responded. Whenever we accuse or blame someone, they feel defensive and communication is blocked.
  3. Give without sparing. (Proverbs 21:26) – A friend of mine suggested “Always follow through on an impulse of generosity”. I love this idea and put it into practice as often as possible. Yesterday I was selling tote bags and jewelry at a Crafts Fair. A young woman, with two young children, was at a table next to mine. She came to see my jewelry and found a necklace she liked. She told me she would love the necklace but she works at a Child Care Center and cannot wear jewelry to work. She went back to her table where she was selling things her students made so they could take the proceeds and purchase holiday gifts for children who otherwise wouldn’t have them. I put the necklace she liked in a box and gave it to her and told her I would like her to have it. We were both very happy. At the end of the Crafts Fair, she came back to my table with a box, filled with goodies to make a gingerbread house and offered it to me. I accepted her gift and agreed with her when she said “After all, it’s all about creating community.”
  4. Pray without ceasing. (Colossians 1:9) At times in our lives when we feel overwhelmed, uninspired, exhausted or hopeless, the best we can do is to meditate or pray.
  5. Answer without arguing. (Proverbs 17:1) Recently I received an email from a friend (Cindy) who told me she heard from a friend (Janet) who was upset because they had not gotten together for a long time. Janet has a relationship that is on again, off again and Cindy hears from her when the relationship is in the “off again” mode. Janet expects Cindy to be available when Janet wants to get together. Cindy loves Janet but feels Janet takes advantage of their friendship. Cindy wrote to Janet and expressed her feelings. Janet got defensive and argued her case. Cindy refused to enter into an argument and although they didn’t come to an agreement, Cindy left the door open for further communication. When two people argue, it is unlikely they will find a resolution.
  6. Share without pretending. (Ephesians 4:15) Real sharing comes from the heart, without pretense of giving something because it is expected or given with strings attached.
  7. Enjoy without complaint. (Philippians 2:14) Real enjoyment comes when we are wholeheartedly in the present moment. When we have a tendency to find fault with or complain about things, we stop ourselves from enjoying life.
  8. Trust without wavering. (Corinthians 13:7) Many people grow up in situations where they learn not to trust people. This lack of trust can become a habit, a way of protecting ourselves, but it also interferes with closeness with others. When we are aware that we lack trust, it is important to make a resolution to learn to trust again, not blindly, but with wisdom and compassion for ourselves and others.
  9. Forgive without punishing. (Colossians 3:13) People will disappoint us and we will forgive them and when we do, the forgiveness should come without conditions or punishment.
  10. Promise without forgetting. (Proverbs 13:12) It is so important to follow through with our promises so that we are trustworthy and dependable.
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