Living in accordance with your values is freaking hard
It’s one thing to talk about compassion and apologizing, a whole different thing to actually LIVE those values.
It’s one thing to talk about “doing the work” and living in accordance with your values, and then it’s an entirely different thing to actually live that shit out.
It’s one thing to share compassionate quotes and spiritual inspo on Instagram, and it’s an altogether different thing to embody it in daily life.
Here are two examples from my life these days.
Example 1: Compassion
I recently had dinner with an old friend. We don’t see each other as much as we used to, maybe only once or twice a year. So, while we’re definitely not as close as we were, I was still shocked when she informed me over appetizers that she thinks transgender people are mentally ill.
“The media’s trying to program us to think being transgender is ok,” she said. “But it’s not. They’re sick. I feel sorry for them.”
“I know it’s not a popular opinion,” she said, making it clear that she was well-aware she was dropping a politically incorrect bomb. She looked across the table with eyes that said, come at me, bro.
“I just think it’s unfair that I’m supposed to bend over backward to use different pronouns for people just because they’re confused about themselves.”
- What I wanted to do: flip the table over and shout, “HAVE SOME FUCKING COMPASSION FOR PEOPLE WHO ARE DIFFERENT THAN YOU!”
- What I did instead: took a deep breath.
If my problem was her lack of compassion, then my reaction was a call to consciousness, a flag that I had the opportunity to model the compassion I wanted to see in the world.
If I had beef with her judgment towards folks she disagreed with, then I couldn’t go getting judgey myself. My work was to forgo my righteousness, and stick with my higher value.
If my friend couldn’t find her compassion, then I had to find mine.
“I’m not with you on this one,” I said. “I see everyone as god in drag, and so even if I disagree with someone, I see it as my work to have compassion for who they are as a human — even when their actions or identities are challenging for me.” Then I shared some conversations I’d had with trans Offbeat Bride readers, conversations that had helped me better understand their perspectives.
I stayed calm and soft. I can’t very well claim to be about compassion, and then shout them down for not being compassionate enough, can I? I could find compassion, even in this moment.
This is where we’re at in America: we’re all terrified, and we’re all desperately looking for safety rafts. Some of us turn to meditation, radical inclusivity, and Ram Dass quotes (me) while others of us turn to right-wing YouTube videos and conspiracy theories (her). But regardless of the methods we find, the motivation is the same: we’re afraid, and we’re looking for ideas and practices that help us feel safer. We all want the same thing.
I can’t hide my head in the sand. In the same way that the far right and the far left both homeschool, the far right and far left both love to doubt the media and indulge in fear-based conspiracy theories. We’re all afraid. We’re all looking for comfort. It’s important for me to get out of my liberal bubble and understand that on a more complex level.
I have compassion for the fear that got my old friend to the place she’s at, even if I’m not with on her ideas on how someone’s gender identity is a mental illness or some sort of personal threat to her.
I did not flip the table. I also did not give my friend the satisfaction of a fight or martyrdom. I made it clear that I disagreed, shared my perspective, and then moved on.
I chose to stick to my compassion guns, even in the face of someone I cared about speaking ideologies that turned my stomach.
It didn’t really feel like I did the right thing (I wanted to convince her to change her mind!), but it felt like I did the best thing I could to live in accordance with my values.
Example 2: Apologizing
My son’s father missed a deadline for turning in some administrative school paperwork. It’s not a big deal, but the more significant issue for me was that he didn’t hold himself accountable for making the mistake. He did not own it, nor did he apologize.
In my frustration, I snapped at him via email: “I’m disappointed but unsurprised.”
He replied immediately, doubling down on not apologizing, and also pushing back about how that was an unfair jab, bla bla bla.
What I wanted to do: Fire off another angry email about how maybe I wouldn’t need to make a jab if he’d just recognize that he’d made a mistake, or better yet, apologized for making the mistake.
I wanted to go knock on his door, tell Tavi to cover his ears, and rant about how easy it is to just say you’re sorry, how much more effectively you can relate to people if you’d just hold yourself accountable rather than always doubling down on defensiveness.
I wanted to scream at him about how saying “Oops yeah: fucked that one up, sorry!” is so much less work than getting all fragile and shitty and refusing to acknowledge that you’re human and made an understandable human mistake.
…But wait, if my whole issue with my son’s father was that he wasn’t holding himself accountable and apologizing for an understandable mistake, then I needed to forgo my righteousness, and stick with my higher value… which was modeling accountability and graceful apologizing.
Yet again, my reaction was a call to awareness about my own behavior.
What I did: I put my phone down, took 12 hours to sit with it, and realized that really the issue was just that there’s a part of me that’s still tender as fuck about how he ended the marriage, and that ultimately that’s mine to heal.
Then I ate shit and sent this email:
Ok, that’s fair. I’m sorry, that was an unkind and unnecessary thing to say. I still have a lot of pain around accountability and apologies from you, but that’s my work to do. In the future, I’ll try to step back and take care of my own tenderness before reacting.
Ultimately, other people’s issues with accountability are out of my control and not worth my time. But if personal responsibility and clean apologies are important to me, then it’s on ME to embody those values.
Maybe I should start thinking of this as anti-hypocrisy training.
Maybe it’s “she who smelt it, dealt it” as a spiritual practice.
A call to radical accountability
Whatever you want to call it, I’m slowly getting better at recognizing my reactions as clues. Other people’s behavior is god’s finger poking my arm, reminding me that I have an opportunity to embody what I see missing.
I can’t control other people, but if I want more compassion and accountability in the world, then it’s on me to bring it to the table, even when it feels difficult. No, wait: especially when it feels difficult. That’s when it’s the most needed.
This old friend is showing a marked lack of compassion? Me yelling at her about her close-mindedness and lack of compassion doesn’t really help. If I value compassion, I have to be compassionate. I can’t yell at her to be kinder while refusing to demonstrate kindness myself.
This ex-husband isn’t owning up to making a small mistake? If I value accountability and owning mistakes, then guess what I get to do? EAT SHIT AND APOLOGIZE FOR OWN MY OWN MISTAKES.
Both of these moments were difficult. My ego had a whole list of reasons for why I should fight back. There was endless logic about how both these moments were hills to die on. My ego told me that I would be losing something (a part of me dying!) if I didn’t push back, flip over that dinner table, fire off that angry email.
I don’t know that I made the “right” decision in either of these situations. One could argue that the friend should have been told off, that I was enabling hate speech by not flipping the table at the restaurant. You could argue that I should have demanded my ex-husband apologize for his mistake, and that my unkind and unnecessary jab was just fair consequence for his behavior. You could argue I was a doormat, or bypassing conflict. You could argue about whether my behavior was coming from an ego standpoint (“this is me being better than you”) or a place of service (“this is me embodying the kinder world that I want to live in”).
I don’t know, man.
I genuinely don’t know if I made the “right” decisions. I do know that I had the experience of embodying more of what I value in the world. I want more compassion. I want more accountability. I want more kindness. I hope I’m able to model my values while still making myself clear, but I may have failed.
There’s no way to know for sure.
All I can do is keep staying curious about the friction between righteousness and compassion, between defensiveness and accountability.
All I can do is keep using my judgments towards others as a call to consciousness.
All I can do is keep spotting little red flags in my daily life that shout at me WAKE UP! over and over again because it’s human to fall back asleep.
All I can do is keep remembering that god is is everyone, and we’re all just walking around looking into each other’s faces and seeing our own work reflected in the distortions and cracks.
When your eyes are open, you see your own work everywhere.
When I hold myself to radical accountability and do the work internally, it radiates outward. I’ve seen it. I’ve felt it. I keep forgetting, and I keep getting reminders.
I try to remember that the growth is in the friction, that the grace is in finding the balance between the polarities.
I try to remember that the sweet spot is finding the non-dualistic ALL, between what feels like opposites.
I keep forgetting. I keep waking up.
MY QUESTIONS FOR YOU
- How do the most challenging people in your life hold up a mirror for you to see your own internal work you need to do?
- What are your patterns in how you respond to challenging people in your life? Do you blow them off? Try to change their minds? Smile and change the subject?
- What if, the more sure you that someone’s flaws aren’t about you, the bigger the call to awareness it is? This accountability can be brutal. “She who smelt it, dealt it” can be some tough love, as is “If you spot it, you got it.” Consider that the more convinced you are that your criticism is about them and not you, the bigger your blindspot may be.
- What are the red flags in your life that help remind you to wake up?