Everyone wants the best for other people.
But despite these good intentions, it’s easy to make a critical mistake: projecting your thoughts about what makes a good life onto others.
Thoughts like “Tim should be on time,” or “Rose should listen to me more closely,” often come from a place of love.
You perceive certain qualities or behaviors as “good” or “right,” so you want to see those things in other people!
But in asserting that someone else should be a certain way, you’re attempting to control them.
The Arrogance of “Should”
Picture yourself saying the following:
“The way I want you to be is more important than the way you choose to live your life.”
Sound a little overbearing? Controlling? It is!
After all, everyone has different values and priorities. There is not one right or best way to live ones life.
Even when it comes from a place of love, saying someone or something should be different than it is is an arrogant proposition.
This doesn’t mean the world can’t change, and people can’t grow.
It just means that even when you think you know what’s best for someone else, you can never really know. Because you aren’t them!
Three Types of Business
As Byron Katie illustrates in Loving What Is, at any point in time, you can be in one of three places:
- Your business: The things you can control in life. Your actions, choices, and behavior.
- Their business: Other people’s’ lives. Their actions, choices, and behavior.
- God’s business (or the world’s business…): Everything else in life (e.g. Time passing, the changing seasons, …)
Nearly every time you feel pain and suffering, it’s the result of being in somebody else’s business.
If you think “Dan should be here by now!” and Dan is not here yet, what does that feel like?
Probably not very good.
You might feel anger, or sadness.
But what if you approached the situation with greater mindfulness?
Instead of resisting the fact that he is late, saying it should be a different way, you accept what is without judgment.
This doesn’t mean you need to condone the other person’s behavior. It just means you can see reality without resistance.
Staying in Your Business
The big picture of staying in your own business means cultivating greater awareness of the expectations and assumptions you carry with you in life.
Seeing these clearly means you have the opportunity to let go of them when they clash with reality.
On a zoomed-in level, this applies to all parts of life. Here are a few ways it’s shown up in mine
- Relationships: I might think my partner/friend should act a certain way. But they aren’t me…so when that idea conflicts with reality, can I have the awareness to love what is? Maybe this is an opportunity to learn about them more deeply. Or perhaps it’s an important topic and we should have an open conversation about it.
- Work: I might think a colleague/client should act a certain way. But they aren’t me…So when their behavior conflicts with my idea, can I accept that they’ve acted in the way they have? Instead of getting upset about it, I can refocus on my business. What action could I take to support them more in the future? Maybe they don’t have the level of experience I have, so I have the opportunity to share some helpful tips.
- Health: I might think my body should look a certain way, or feel a certain way…But that’s usually getting out of my business. I’m not in full control of my physiology. Can I accept and love my body as it is? If I can, then I can move forward with intention way to treat it well with exercise, food, and rest.
- The World: I might think that it shouldn’t rain while I’m in vacation in California…But I don’t have control over the weather! If it does rain, can I embrace that fully and make the most of the situation?
Embracing what is doesn’t mean you need to put up with things that conflict with your values or priorities. But instead of arguing with reality, and getting upset about something out of your control, focus instead on taking action on what is in your control.
You always have control over who you spend your time with, what you do for work, and where you invest your energy.
Living With Serenity
Although I’m not a practicing Christian, there’s a prayer that sums this topic up frequently. I often call it to mind.
“God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change
The courage to change what I can
And the wisdom to know the difference.”
~ Reinhold Niebuhr
It’s great wisdom. Let’s apply that wisdom in our lives by:
- Accepting what we cannot change by staying out of other people’s business
- Changing what we can by taking action in our business
- Cultivating awareness to recognize the difference.