Can’t Live With Them, Can’t Live Without Them
I studied Business Administration in university. At that time, which was about 23 years ago, it was the most common degree, especially with Asian students. How time flies… Anyway, during the course of my degree, I studied Psychology as one of my general requirement classes. To my surprise, I enjoyed that class very much, which made me realise that I like understanding people and how their minds work and un-work.
As I began my career after graduation, I also saw that I was more inclined to areas involving human resources, although my main role was in the operations and administrative departments. I was working in a manufacturing facility producing latex examination and surgical gloves, which at that time in the 90s, was not as fully automated as it is today. Therefore, I dealt a lot with people, from locals to foreign workers from Bangladesh to the UK; both male and female whose ages ranged from 18 to 65 years old. Some were highly educated like professors and some less educated like housekeepers.
After nine years in manufacturing, I embarked on another career in network marketing, which again involved dealing with loads of people. This time I dealt with people with different levels of greed, and saw how twisted people can get in order to reap personal financial gains. I guess I can say that it was from here that I started to see the other side of human nature, which was more complex and infuriating. If I had a degree in Psychology, and not Business Administration, I would have diagnosed these people as Psychos! As the leader of my team, I spent hours counselling them through their difficulties to the point I felt drained of every ounce of breath. Talk about being breathless!
In addition to human exposure at work, of course I had my share of human exposure in my personal life with friends and lovers. I am after all 44 years old and have never ever lived life as a hermit. In fact, I was considered aimlessly sociable. I loved my parties. Notice I speak in past tense (ahem!). At my age today, it takes too much effort and time to get ready for parties. Plus, I have three boys to raise and that in itself is my best party these days.
Now, I shall come to the essence of this article. The human race is indeed one which is filled with 500 shades of grey. You can’t live with them and you can’t live without them. So with time and personal growth in the occupation of Living Life Happily, I have derived some guidelines, which make me still appreciate the light at the end of every human encounter. Let me share with you my five most favourite Guides to Living with People:
#1: It’s All About Me
Generally, people are selfish – regardless of their field, place or the occasion. People are always motivated by a personal agenda. Even when they come to the Dharma, or any spiritual centre, the initial reason is selfish – Finding Salvation for One’s Soul.
So with this in mind, when I am dealing with people, I will start with appealing to what ‘pleases’ them. I will accommodate in the direction of what they want to hear. One might say that this is hypocritical, and I would agree but instead of labelling the method, I ask you to check in with the motivation.
What is the point of communicating when people are not listening? And why are people not listening? Well… BECAUSE people generally only want to hear what they want to hear and say what they want to say BECAUSE it is ALL ABOUT THEM. So instead of fighting the ‘natural phenomenon’, I suggest going with the flow by first getting their attention, then proceeding to deeper meanings and achieving your initial motivation. Will this work? Yes, I believe so because intrinsically people do want to be Happy and Good. Why? Again, BECAUSE it is ALL ABOUT THEM!
So until you accept this, and work around it, you are not going to make much headway with your communication skills. And then you will literally end up only talking to yourself… and your pet.
2) Life IS Shades of Grey
It is never black or white. We have to see all that is in between the black and white. I feel that when we are so absolute in life and choose to see things in only either black or white, we make life harder than it should be.
There is one thing I learnt called unconditional listening. It is basically listening wholeheartedly without any interruptions from all your inner voices. It is to ‘see’ with your ears. And trust me, when you do this, you will see all the shades of grey. You will understand that most of the time, things in life are not what they are on first impression, and even if they are, you will also recognise that they are not permanent and thus can change to another shade of grey!
This I find to be quite true especially with complicated people – you will need several impressions before you can form one that is consistently the same shade of grey. Be compassionate to these ‘complicated’ people as they do not know better and are ignorant that life can be simple if they so choose. So until you can impart onto them this wisdom, be nice and go with their complicated shades of grey until you have a chance to stabilise them to only two shades of grey, and then you can proceed on stabilising them to one consistent shade of grey.
3) Time Heals All Confusion
When I hear someone say, “I’m confused”, I will think to myself, “Yeah, right! Which part of what I said is so complicated, it was in English”. Ok… I am being righteous but seriously, think about it, is one really confused or just too lazy to understand?
What’s my point here?
If we can accept that people declare confusion because they are not willing to accept what you are saying, and you accept this, it will improve your skills in communication. How?
When you accept this, and what you want to share and say is important, then you will be more alert, sensitive and skilful in the delivery of your communication. Communication is not about talking (that you can do with yourself) but about relating your message in a way that the listener gets you. It involves practice and observation to assess the person with whom you want to communicate. And it seriously involves you listening to them! Ah ha… that’s a tough one, huh? Half the world does not listen! I am guilty of that too, more so five years ago, but I am much better now.
Thus, with time and practice to master the skill of communication, you will heal all confusion.
4) Personal Judgement is Overrated
I am guilty of this but I am watching myself these days not to say it. We have all heard conversations which start with, “Personally…”. Most of the time when I hear this I will think to myself, “Oops… looks like this is going to be a conversation with personal judgements”. Our personal judgements come from our ego, don’t you think? In any situation, if you want to leave the person better off, you cannot hold on to your personal opinions because it is not about you but the other person.
In any communication, the objective is to relate a message so that the other person gets it. So if our thoughts are laced with personal judgement and opinions, how do we see the other person’s point of view? I am not saying that we do not form our personal opinions on things, but this should not be from the onset of things but perhaps, if need be, at the end AFTER we hear the other person out.
On top of this, when we are absorbed in our own opinions, then we might as well really just talk to ourselves. Look in the mirror and have your best conversation. When we listen to our own voices, how can we hear what others are saying? How do we learn and grow? How do we make things better? How do we end conflict?
Our personal judgement is neither bible nor an authority, but simply an opinion formed with experience and time. And it is not absolute. It can change with more time and experience. Let’s ask ourselves how many times we have changed our minds over our own judgements? A simple example: You marry the love of your life, only to divorce him or her 20 years later. What changed? Our personal judgement. Thus my point.
5) Truth Hurts But Won’t Kill You
Bad driving can kill you, drinking cyanide will kill you but the truth won’t. If the truth kills, then all survivors, you and I included, are all liars. So, if you are not a pathological liar and the truth won’t kill you, why do we resist the truth? Why do we not face up to what is true although it is not nice to hear or know?
Facing the painful truth that I was a spoilt brat who always wanted things my way led me down the path of much unnecessary pain and mistakes, including wrong friends and bad business decisions. Today, I am much wiser with fewer mistakes in my life, mistakes which cost me too much in the past.
Accepting the truth is hard and hurts in the beginning because accepting the truth means taking responsibility and making a change. When you see beyond the initial inconveniences, the truth is actually liberating.
I will be honest. I am still a work-in-progress, even if I have come to understand and accept these guidelines. The truth is, if I did not have the faults myself, how could I see them in others? And now that I am involved in Dharma work, how can I not have the compassion and human kindness to cut back on my flaws so that I can serve others better? So, if we can all just improve ourselves every day by making that conscious mental effort, I assure you we can live happily and can Live with Them. Most of all, we can live with ourselves!
Lastly, I must share my emotional journey that has allowed me to get to where I am now, where I can actually write about my top five Guidelines. I am sharing my journey so that you can learn from it and decide to practice Surviving People sooner than later.
- I went through anger, despair, resignation, hopelessness, you name it!
- I cannot tell you how many countless times I visualised taping the person’s mouth shut and running masking tape round and round their head!!
- But with time, my negative and hostile emotions settled. Having the Dharma in hand definitely helped the process in terms of time efficiency. I could escape my destructive emotions faster.
- After the emotions settled, I could see the light.
- One more thing, during the period of adjusting my emotions and my thoughts, I went through a stage of detachment. I was also highly impatient and irritable. I was accused of being selfish and cold. I did not let this deter me and I let the process continue because I was driven by the fact that I wanted to be Happy and I couldn’t live without humans around me, so I had to find ways to survive with them and yet be Happy without them. And more importantly, share my life to serve a bigger purpose effectively.
With this… Happy Practising the Art of Living with 500 Shades of Grey! J
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