As I often do, I made a social media post which was intended to remind people of their power to control their responses to their world. In this case, the post was “Pain is inevitable. Suffering is optional.” The intent of the sentiment is that we cannot prevent painful things from happening to us, but we can choose our response to it and whether we choose to suffer in that pain or deal with it in other ways.
Some people were inspired by this post and others were offended. I was hurt by their taking offense. I understood that those who were upset read the words through the lens of their experience and took a different meaning from that which was intended. What it took some time to recognize was the source of my own pain at the misunderstanding.
In the book The Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz, the author discusses the fact that humans have so much trouble connecting with one another without pain.
He describes it by comparing it to physical touch. When healthy skin is touched, it is pleasant, but if that skin is cut or infected, then the touch is painful. We are covered in wounds from our pasts, so when we come in contact with other people, the contact is painful.
Our animal instincts are simple. Our instinct is to strike out when we are hurt. But the world is not simple. It is complex. If we have been hurt by a villain, then the response is simple. Strike back against the one who hurt you. But life is rarely so simple.
Perhaps we have been hurt by faceless circumstance. Perhaps we have been hurt by someone who didn’t know better and was doing their best. Perhaps we were hurt by someone who is repentant. How can you feel good lashing back against such a person?
Yet we are still driven to lash out. That is the instinct when we are hurt. So we create straw men. We create simple villains and strike out at them.
Consider what you see on social media in that lens.
Everyone you meet and everyone you speak to has been wounded by their past. Some wounds are deeper than others. Some are wounded by the harms they have suffered. Some are wounded by the fears they were fed. Some are wounded by the stories they heard or even by the stories they invented for themselves.
When we are wounded, we want to lash out.
This morning, I heard an interview with Bryan Doerries on On Being. Doerries runs Theater of War Productions in which he uses readings of classical stories to bring to light our modern psychic wounds. The interview was profound, and I highly recommend it.
As I listened, I was reminded of a quote I heard once: “We are all damaged goods.”
None of us came through life without scars and cuts and open wounds. Every one of us has sensitive spots, places that, when touched, cause us pain, cause us to lash out.
We are we sensitive to certain ideas? Why do they upset us so?
They upset us because we fear they might be true.
There are ideas that we teach ourselves because they are ideas that bolster the person that we most want to be. We tell ourselves these things over and over. Perhaps it is the entrepreneur who tells themselves that they are capable and competent to run their business. Perhaps it is a person who was abused telling themselves that they had no power to change their situation. Perhaps it is the doctor who tells themselves that they are doing everything they can for their patients.
We tell ourselves these things over and over and over because we need to believe they are true, and very often they are objectively true, but the real reason we repeat them is that our deepest fear is that they are false.
I tell myself that I share ideas which will help people who need to hear them. I tell myself that I can make people’s lives better. I tell myself that I am competent to coach and guide and teach.
I am sensitive to the idea that my words which are intended to heal may cause harm. I am sensitive to the idea that I have nothing real to offer people. I am sensitive to the idea that I am an imposter.
I am sensitive to these ideas because my deepest fear is that they may be true. If they are true, then who am I? What do I have left?
This is not just me. This is the nature of imposter syndrome, and almost everyone suffers from it in one way or another.
But in our modern, connected society, it becomes worse. Bryan Doerries, in his interview said, “We are constantly consuming each other’s suffering.”
Through social media, conversations which would normally be reserved for quiet, reflective moments are out for all to see among conversations about politics, health, food, pets, kids, war, peace, disease, and disaster.
The constant barrage touches our wounds on a daily basis, and we lash out. We want, no, we need to discredit the person who threatens our most important beliefs, so we attack them.
The attack does nothing to salve our own wounds, but they lead to hidden doubts in the other person. Nothing they’ll ever admit to, because to admit that the words wounded would admit to themselves their own doubts about the ideas which must be true to support their identity, so they strike back.
And then we have a world of people, lashing out at strangers and friends alike, wounding as we go, and seeking the visceral satisfaction of vanquishing a foe, only to discover that the foe we vanquished was nothing more than a friend trying to move in a way that did not aggravate their own wounds.
We are all damaged goods. We are all wounded by the injuries and accidents of our lives.
I am wounded by my failure to understand and effectively serve the first community I built. I am wounded by various failed relationships. I am wounded by the impression of others that I am a shiftless wanderer, drifting from project to project.
That community was a powerful force for good for many people, and I learned much from that experience, but the failure still haunts me. The relationships are long past, but the hurt I may have caused still haunts me.
My business is now focused and is driving in a direction of growth, but I still worry that someone will look at me and see a dumb kid who’s pretending to be a businessman or even that I am simply repeating my past mistakes unwittingly.
You see a grey haired connector and entrepreneur, but when I picture myself, I still sometimes see that 23 year old trying to figure it all and making a lot of mistakes on the way.
Next time you look at social media and shake your head wondering why people can’t get along, remember that we are all damaged. We are all wounded.
Remember that we all tell ourselves certain things every day, as loudly as we can, because we fear at a deep and visceral level that they may not be true, and we cannot imagine how we would live if they were. So we will fight with all our strength against anyone who might even suggest that the ideas should be questioned.
When you find yourself angered or triggered or feel that sensitive spot, ask yourself why. How does this idea threaten you? What are you afraid might be true that you need to be false?
Look at your own supporting beliefs. Look at the ideas which you desperately need to be true, fear they are false, but which are objectively factual. Meditate on those ideas, find support for them, and work to become more comfortable with the idea that they are, in fact real.
Having done this, you’ll start to see that the other person did not intend to hurt, but merely to touch, or was just lashing out from instinct from their own wounds. Either way, it is not their words which hurt but, your own wounds which made the interaction painful.
It is in this way that we might all get along a little better.