'How often do we let others determine
who we are and what we do?' Are we
like chameleons who change
according to how we are treated?
A man went with his friend, a Quaker, to buy a newspaper. While his friend was buying the paper, the clerk behind the counter was extremely rude.
Even though the clerk continued being obnoxious, the Quaker friend responded with kindness and politeness. This type of exchange went on during the entire business transaction.
Afterwards the man said to his friend, 'Why in the world did you put up with the cashier's ugliness? You should have told her off.' The Quaker friend said, 'Don't I know myself well enough not to be controlled by the bad actions of others?'
This story presents us with a challenging question, 'How often do we let others determine who we are and what we do?' Are we like chameleons that change according to how we are treated? If other people are kind to us, we are kind. If they are angry, we are angry.
We know we are reacting and giving power to others when we find ourselves excusing our bad behavior by saying, 'you were rude to me first. I am angry because when I came home you seemed angry.'
After we have hurt another person, some of us will blame the injured party for our violent or hurtful actions by saying, 'see what you made me do? I would not have done this if you were different.' We may even have a feeling of justification because we believe the other person's behavior towards us warrants us getting revenge, or getting even.
During a meeting, if someone puts us down, we may spend the rest of the meeting trying to figure out how to embarrass that person in front of the group. We think about the different ways to settle the score and in our mind we rehearse what we are going to say that will shoot them down. The truth is: to believe that we have to get even or settle the score takes a lot of energy and time. It can keep us uptight and on edge. So why give that person so much power over us?
There is another point we must consider: not everything that happens is about us! In the opening story, the rude behavior by the clerk might have been due to her having problems in her personal life. We have known times when we misinterpreted someone's behavior towards us only to discover that there was something else going on in that person's life.
Many of us misinterpret the statement, 'If someone hits you on the cheek, turn the other' to mean that we should be a doormat and let everyone walk all over us. However it is actually a call, for us to be people who do what is right and loveable even when others are acting differently. It is a call to be a responder, not a reactor.
Dr. William E. Austin is a licensed psychotherapist and holds a Doctor of Divinity degree. He is a therapist with Tidewater Pastoral Counseling Services . He is well known for his warmth and sense of humor. His book, Creating Our Safe Place - Articles on Healthy Relationships, can be purchased through www.amazon.com.
Tidewater Pastoral Counseling: 623-2700