Recently, I did a several favors for a woman in my community. Because she is in a similar line of work as I am, I also offered to help her when she expressed frustration about her success. Seemingly abruptly she mentioned a recent accomplishment I had and said curtly, “You attributed ____ to the wrong person. There was a person that said it before.” Shocked, I changed the subject.
While processing this situation with a friend I began to defend my work. “Well,” I said, “It was in the Bible and predated her reference by thousands of years. Besides, if she really knew anything she would realize that time doesn’t even exist!” With that, we both burst out laughing. I was defending that which didn’t need defending. I was being absurd.
It wasn’t even a few hours later that I was reading Pema Chodron’s, Start Where You Are: A Guide to Compassionate Living. In the book, she contemplates the slogan “abandon poisonous foods.” At first, I read the slogan literally and set the book down while attending to my kids. “Who eats poisonous foods?” I thought. “Maybe that is some kind of throwback to the days of Siddhartha Gautama.” Then I realized I had been nibbling on poisonous food for hours.
In response to this person’s comments I felt hurt, attacked, and betrayed. I wondered about her motivation. I did realize that whatever her motivation was, I have undoubtedly made the same mistake. In any case, she was a teacher for me in this situation.
Marianne Williamson talks about people in our life who challenge our defenses as having been sent by “central casting.” It is possibly by design that these petty tyrants come into our lives. In Start Where You Are, Pema Chodron writes about a situation where a group of monks are being challenged by another monk with difficult characteristics. Finally, the monks had enough and the challenging monk fled his home. When the head monk found out about his departure he pursued him. The monks wondered why he would do this. His retort was, “I pay him to be here!”
If you receive feedback that feels justified in some way, make a retraction, apologize, and rectify a wrong. But if the shoe doesn’t fit, don’t indulge the negativity. When someone tries to ruffle our feathers, we get to see just how far along we are on our path of personal and spiritual development and just how far we have to go. Progress may mean we are not bothered as long as we used to be or we may notice we no longer wish to seek revenge.
The unsupportive comments of this person bothered me, but not to the point of distraction. I recognized the gifts quite quickly. I know all behavior that isn’t based on love is really just a call or cry for love. I probably won’t go back for more, but I got to see how silly (and funny!) it is to defend yourself against untoward attacks and how ridiculous it is to gobble down poisonous food.