Friday, September 19, 2008

We Only Hurt the Ones We Love

About a month or so ago, I was at the DMV getting my driver’s license renewed. As is common there was a fairly long wait. I was sitting there, observing my surroundings and meditating a bit. A man and woman came in and sat down across from me with their son (maybe 4 or 5 years old). The boy was interested in exploring a bit, but not straying far from his parents. The father decided the boy should be sitting in a chair next to him rather than wandering about. After the boy was placed in his chair, he got bored and got up to stand in front of his chair. The father gently popped his behind and told him to sit down. The boy really didn’t want to so the father decided it was time for some disciplinary action because the boy was not obeying. So, the man took the boy by the arm and walked him down a hallway to spank him. The boy knew what was coming and started to cry, causing much more disturbance than the boy was causing before.

When they came back the boy was sniffling a bit and the father placed him in the chair next to him. The boy got up and wanted to go sit on the other side next to his mother. The father was insistent that the boy sit next to him (the mother was reading something and not getting involved). When the boy went to sit next to his mother, against his father’s wishes, the man took the boy again by the arm down the hall. This time the boy was crying much louder than before and trying to pull away. He said through his tears, “I just want to be good.” Despite the boy’s plea, the father proceeded to take him down the hall and discipline him. It was very heart breaking and frustrating to watch.

When they came back the boy went over and sat by his mother, which was allowed this time. Meanwhile, I was grappling with my own emotions over what I had witnessed. I felt extreme compassion for the little boy who was just trying to be good. But I was having problems having compassion for the father. I thought about how this man was probably raised the same way and was under the impression this was the best way to raise a child. I thought about how this child’s karmic disposition placed him in this situation to somehow shape his life in unimaginably positive ways. I thought about the mother who stayed out of it the whole time, wondering if she had been taught by her husband not to get involved.

Despite all of this, I was still feeling anger toward the man. I tried doing The Work in my mind which lead me to remember something Byron Katie said in one of her books. She was asked how she would react if she saw a mother in a store abusing her children in some way. Katie said that she would see that and remember a time when she too felt that way, angry and confused at her children, lashing out at them. She said she might approach the woman with a deep compassion and ask if she could help, or even tell the woman that she too had been in her situation.

Since I have never been a parent I couldn’t quite identify from that perspective. But then it hit me. A few days earlier, my wife Shelby, and I were out running some errands. We had stopped at a store and I was going to run in for something. Shelby asked me something about getting a bite to eat while we were out, and I said something out of frustration, dismissing the idea as I got out of the car. As I got into the store I was struck by what had just happened. I saw Shelby’s face and mood go from upbeat to defeated. I saw the smile disappear from her face. I almost started to cry when I replayed the scene in my head.

I thought to myself, “What have I done?” “How could I be so unfeeling?” “How many times have I done that and not realized it?” She was trying to be nice and I had just acted pissy. I basically reacted out of unconscious habit, which I’ve been doing most of my life, causing unnecessary suffering each time. This time I caught it and I felt the pain it caused. I got a glimpse of true compassion. When I got back to the car I apologized for my behavior and resumed the conversation I had so rudely cut off.

Once the memory of this came back to me at the DMV, I was able to look at the man and see myself in him. I have been just as abusive to my loved ones without knowing it. How could I condemn someone else for doing something I myself have done in one form or another? I then felt compassion for this man (who is me) hurting the one he loves most out of total unconsciousness. It makes me want to cry thinking back on it all.

In hindsight I can see clearly that we are all just trying to be good. But when we are punished for it we shut down. It’s a self defense mechanism to protect us from getting hurt again. We begin to put up barriers to prevent future pain, barriers which also cut us off from love.

I can look back and find countless ways in which I have hurt my loved ones, which can lead to deep feelings of guilt and shame. But guilt can be a teacher showing us that there is a better way. The better way is to become fully conscious of our habitual thoughts and transcend them. Be willing to drop the barriers we have put up. Find compassion for all of our fellow human beings.

Now, when I find myself judging someone else, I just take a quick look and see that I too have been just like that, felt just like that, acted just like that. I am no different from anyone else on this planet. I have no one left to judge but myself.
Lots of Love,


Anonymous said...

Esther Hicks tells a similar story It is so cosmic how our consciousnesses
are converging and this is just an example.
You know you do the best you can but sometimes you act out of frustration.
You feel bad enough and then you judge yourself and then you're judged by
But when we judge, or are being judged by others, we are only mirroring our
own insecurities and self judgements aren't we?

Anonymous said...


I have not responded to any of your emails in the past but this morning this email finds me in a very hurt and vulnerable place and I felt compelled to write. I have two things I want to address. One is forgivness I have borrowed these passages because I cannot say it better:

Forgiveness works! It is often difficult, AND it works!
We often think of forgiveness as something that someone who has done us wrong must ask of US. There is always another way of looking at something. My thoughts on forgiveness suggest that you focus on offering forgiveness TO the person who has wronged you. To not forgive them is like taking the poison (continuing to suffer for what they did or didn't do to you) and expecting THEM to die!

Alexander Pope once said, "To err is human; to forgive, Divine." Believe it!

Forgiveness is a gift you give to yourself. It is not something you do FOR someone else. It is not complicated. It is simple. Simply identify the situation to be forgiven and ask yourself: "Am I willing to waste my energy further on this matter?" If the answer is "No," then that's it! All is forgiven.

Forgiveness is an act of the imagination. It dares you to imagine a better future, one that is based on the blessed possibility that your hurt will not be the final word on the matter. It challenges you to give up your destructive thoughts about the situation and to believe in the possibility of a better future. It builds confidence that you can survive the pain and grow from it.

Telling someone is a bonus! It is not necessary for forgiveness to begin the process that heals the hurt. Forgiveness has little or nothing to do with another person because forgiveness is an internal matter.

Choice is always present in forgiveness. You do not have to forgive AND there are consequences. Refusing to forgive by holding on to the anger, resentment and a sense of betrayal can make your own life miserable. A vindictive mind-set creates bitterness and lets the betrayer claim one more victim.

There is nothing so bad that cannot be forgiven. Nothing!

I am not yet ready to give myself forgiveness for my current situation but I know in time it will come because I do believe that Forgiveness is the answer.I am trying to remember that ..."Forgiveness is a gift you give to yourself."

There is one other topic I would like to cover but I find myself stimied by the subject matter and will hopefully address it at a later time.

I hope this finds you and your family well.

Thank you for the thought provoking information you send out.

Anonymous said...

As adults, we can look back and see something that we would have handled differently. I still believe it is our responsibly - to the child - to speak up when we see abuse. Whether we have our own children ( I do not), or not. A story, or white lie, will save the man face in front of his wife and child - and those around - while protecting the child. Which is our true duty. How about "I see your son is bored - I don't blame him. It is hard for a child his age to be as good as he is being". Here is a piece of paper and pencil. Could he draw us a picture while we wait?" The father may have been raised that way and felt it was the best way to handle it . Doesn't make it right. If you feel it is wrong for the child, it usually is. Judith

Trey said...

I also wanted to follow up with what happened that day. A very nice employee at the DMV came by and did just what you said. She handed the boy a piece of paper and pencil and asked if he would like to draw something. It was the perfect approach and brought about a total mood shift.

I just read about a lady in a grocery store who kept passing a mother and young boy on each aisle. The mother was getting increasingly frustrated at the boy for wanting to grab things off the shelves. Eventually the mother got so frustrated that she was grabbing the boy by his arms. The woman stepped in by commenting on what a sweet boy he was and said something about how intrigued he was by all of the colorful boxes. She said that he must be quite intelligent given his level of curiosity. Boom. The mother snapped out of it. She picked up her son, brushed his hair out of his eyes, began smiling and saying yes, he is quite smart.

Later the lady heard the mother talking about how they were going to go home and make the boy his favorite, macaroni and cheese. It's amazing how well a kind approach can create peace out of conflict.
Lots of love,