I often wonder how deeply folks think about all the sayings they circulate and receive on social media, forwarded emails, and the like. At first glance they always seem to make sense. They’re sometimes attributed to well-known people like Albert Einstein or some ancient sage – always from ‘away’ as we say in Nova Scotia. I’m a contrarian. I am as naturally drawn to an alternate perspective (or lens, as we say nowadays), as a fish is to water, and so I decided to be more deliberate about one of these circulating messages, and here it is: My take on the ‘7 Cardinal Rules in Life’.
Make peace with your past so it won’t screw up the present.
Yes, and it takes a lot of getting used to. It is such fun to beat myself up about the stupid mistakes I’ve made, like taking investment advice from someone I suspected of drinking too much. The key here is ‘so it won’t screw up the present’. ‘Making peace’ doesn’t mean ‘forget about’ it. It means coming to terms with it: what have I learnt. (Here I believe the quest isn’t to become a better person, but to acquire a small bit of wisdom perhaps.)
What others think of you is none of your business.
I don’t know about this one. At all. For starters, my strongest motivator is the avoidance of embarrassment. When I was a student I ended up organising a conference to avoid the embarrassment of having to admit to the Director of the School of Social Work at Dalhousie University that our proposal for a significant chunk of student council funding was so that we could party. It was a great conference and the start of my skill as an event organiser. I’ve achieved significant career successes with embarrassment avoidance as the true goal.
Then, take this to an extreme: people who exhibit manifest anti-social behaviour, who ostensibly subscribe to this rule, are often a threat to peaceful communities.
We are social creatures we are profoundly influenced by our relationships with others, which included being mindful of how we affect them, and hence, how they perceive us. ‘Not giving a shit’ is not to be confused with ‘I am whole; I act with integrity’.
Time heals almost everything, give it time.
I like that this is qualified by ‘almost’. Some wounds take longer to heal than others. Scar tissue is as real on one’s psyche as on one’s surgically abused ankle. Some of the healing just happens – the memory of the pain gets neutralised by more recent stuff that goes on all around you all the time, but some of it I find I really have to work on.
And the other side of this coin is that time tends to wash out the joy as much as the pain. Happy memories are also prone to being neutralised by current busyness. So I give this one a qualified ‘yes’.
Don’t compare your life to others and don’t judge them. You have no idea what their journey is all about.
This one is a bit obtuse. The first part seems to be an admonishment not to be jealous. Isn’t there a Commandment that says something about being covetous – that you shouldn’t want stuff from your neighbour’s life? On the other hand, how do I reconcile this with all the leadership and development stuff about being a role model, or having one? What is that, if not comparing your life with someone else’s – and judging – yourself and the other person.
The second part I like – this thing about not judging others. It’s so hard to do. I judge all the time and constantly have my come-uppance when I discover what’s really going on for that person. As they say in the 12-step programmes, we strive for progress, not perfection. In getting my act together as an aspirant guru on cultural factors in conflict resolution, I’ve had plenty of time to remind myself to be open and not to judge. It IS a journey.
There are others. The fifth principle says ‘stop thinking too much.’
Yea, right. I think it works better to say ‘Think and then don’t think. In the not thinking the answer will
come in the form that you can recognise it.’ The 6th one says ‘you’re responsible for your own happiness.’ Yes, and, if happiness is your goal you’ll never achieve it. Happiness is a by-product of how you live your life, I think. And the seventh one is so trite I don’t know what it’s doing here: ‘Smile. You don’t own all the problems in the world.’ Nothing puts me off more than that vacuous grin you get from people who think they have the answer and they want to share it with you. Fundamentalists are prone to it. When I smile it is because I’m either amused or happy or both. Period.