Thinking over the thousands of miles under my belt and beneath my tattered shoes, there’s one thing I wish I could have comprehended at the beginning of it all. And that is the notion of other people’s feelings.
It’s absolutely impossible to control how other people feel. There will be people who hate us just because we walked into the room after they experienced something negative. They may dislike us because of our skin color. The very thought of us may bring people disdain because of something they watched on the news or a pre-established community opinion of the place we’re from.
But we should never allow this to be seen as anything personal. There are a million things that influence how we act and react. Among them are fear of rejection, fear of reprisal, fear of hurting someone’s feelings or inadvertently insulting someone based on tradition, culture, values, status and on and on. The list is neither small nor simple. It’s a complex network of interactions that have shaped our communication throughout the ages.
The important thing to note, though, is that, while it is the righteous thing to do to be cognizant and proactive in our efforts to remain positive and bring positivity to others, we ultimately will never have complete control over others’ feelings.
By our normal, everyday actions, we are sure to offend others. We will disrespect people based on their beliefs. We will enrage others because of actions we neglected to take. And worse still, we may even be attacked for simply being at the wrong place and time.
But equating any of these notions with that of personal accountability makes about as much sense as waging a war based on rumor alone. When we travel, we do not represent our government. So we should never let people speak badly to us because of what our president has done. We should never assume that it is a reflection of ourselves that a person becomes inflamed at an act of which we were not conscious. And we should, therefore, very easily be able to let go of the prideful or aggravated emotions that often accompany what appear to be unprovoked assaults on us.
The next time we find ourselves feeling badly about what someone is saying or doing to us, we should first ask ourselves if this activity is founded. What could we have done to deserve this negativity? And if the answer is “nothing,” than this is exactly what we should do about it. Because this strife does not belong to us, we should never assume ownership of it.
Carrying on through life is much easier when we can say with confidence that we neither invite negativity, nor offer it to others. But thriving in this life can be found by focusing only on those aspects we can control, and freeing ourselves of those we cannot.