Do you ever have that experience of doing or saying something and instantly regretting it or at least wishing you had done whatever it was differently? I certainly have, frequently. It can be in all sorts of contexts, but what is concerning me this week is in the light of the fleeting relationships we have with the people around us, with our neighbours (in the broadest sense). Recently I have found myself regretting not showing enough generosity of spirit to people around me, and seeing that kind of behaviour in others making me feel somewhat embarrassed by my own falling shorty of the standard that I would prefer to uphold.
For example, I find myself being quite a rule based person, and as well as following the rules myself, I do tend to feel everyone else should too. So when I see people littering, or blatantly ignoring signs for no cycling say, or not cleaning up after their dog, it makes me cross. Sometimes I have to say something. That is the point it all goes a bit wrong.
Now, I am not saying for one second that it is not right to point out to people that maybe something is wrong with their behaviour. Anything we do effects the other people around us and the environment to some extent or other and whether we see it or not. ‘Minding your own business’ is one of the worst concepts anyone ever came up with and eventually leads to much worse things happening than the dropping of litter. Society and each other are always ‘our business’ in my opinion.
What I sometimes get wrong is not what but how I react to this sort of thing. Too often it is some kind of low level righteous indignation that some miscreant is not following a rule and a burning need to point this out. In fact, it is a pompous, Pharisee like obsession with the rule, and not on the consequence or the person that I am attempting to reprimand. All I am doing is creating a place where embarrassment and anger can fester – on both sides – and not resolving anything.
But there is another way, albeit one that requires a bit more thought and effort. In many cases, a softer, gentler approach might be more productive. Gently pointing something out, even with a bit of forced humour is more likely to get a better reaction than a sharp reprimand. Even if it does not, it make me feel better about it because I can find it easier to let whatever it is go when it is clear that the offender is the kind of person that probably needs some kind of help. And yes, sometimes I should just let it go, because maybe I am not the right person to resolve this particular little problem (goodness knows there are plenty in the world to deal with).
I guess I am thinking here along the ‘loving your neighbour’ lines and recognising that when we have to pull each other up on something it needs to be from a place of love rather than anger or outrage. There is a time for anger, but in many of the interactions we have it is inappropriate and counterproductive. To be honest, I have a kind of fantasy of the kind of person I would like to be and am a long way from achieving it, but then there will always be some room for improvement and I would rather change things with a smile then a sharp word – if at all possible.