The Universal Human MistakeBy Emily Agnew
November 10, 2008
Inner Bonding facilitator Emily Agnew describes how you can deepen your compassion and create respect and intimacy in your relationships, by owning your point of view.
I'm a musician by profession: I play the oboe. After a concert this summer, I stayed to celebrate with colleagues and audience members at a fancy reception. As I stood chatting with a few people and eating salmon and cake, I gradually became aware of the music playing in the background. Over the loudspeakers, a CD of an earlier festival was playing - and I had a big solo coming up! I walked over and stood alone at the intersection of the two speakers where I could appreciate a balanced sound. AsI listened with pleasure, and with the perspective that two years can give, I saw a friend approaching. She explained that she had come to rescue me, because I looked so alone to her. I laughed with surprise! When I explained how I was actually feeling, she said that she could imagine nothing more uncomfortable, embarrassing and painful than being conspicuously alone at a party, and she had assumed I'd feel the same way.
I call this phenomenon "the universal human mistake": assuming that others feel, think, or react as you would do. It is inevitable that we each have our own conditioning, arising from our upbringing and our life experiences. It is impossible not to have a point of view. We inherit one just by being in a body: life looks different from a two-year-old's height than it looks to a six-foot-six man.
It is theoretically possible to transcend all of this human conditioning within the span of a lifetime. But this precious event is rare, achieved only by a few highly evolved individuals over human history. What options are left to you orto me, given our human tendency to make "the universal human mistake"?
The most powerful solution I know is a powerful devotion to self-awareness. We must commit ourselves to remembering, moment by moment, that everything we are seeing, doing, and assuming is colored by our own unique life experiences-and that each person we encounter has his or her own lenses, too.
In order to do this, we must develop an aware, internal presence. In Inner Bonding, this presence is called the loving adult. My loving adult maintains the awareness that I have beliefs, and that these beliefs cause my feelings, as I react to different situations. My loving adult cultivates curiosity, and a wish to learn about these beliefs and their effects. If I am operating from this stance, it is inevitable that I will develop compassion for others, and tolerance for the ways they are different from me. In fact, it is impossible for this not to happen, once I have perceived my own beliefs and acknowledged the way they have colored my experience of the world.
When I accept that I have a point of view, I realize that others must have one also.I perceive that their point of view is as legitimate to them as mine is to me. This stance sharply distinguishes my loving adult self from my wounded, judging self. My wounded self does not acknowledge that she has a point of view, and refuses to take responsibility for the pain this point of view may be causing her. She sees my pain as caused by others, and this means her only recourse to avoid this pain is to find a way to control others.
This is a painful, fruitless road, because people do not like to be controlled. The harder I try to control others, the more they will resist. If I want to have true intimacy with others in my life, I must take full responsibility for my point of view. I don't have to have uncovered all my beliefs, assumptions, and blind spots; for most of us, this is a life-long process. But I must commit to learning as much as I can about my beliefs, so I know what my point of view looks like. The more I know myself, the better I can take responsibility for myself in my interactions with others.
As I travel this road of deepening self-awareness and self-responsibility, there are questions I can ask myself to enhance my awareness:
- "What am I assuming here?"
- "Is there any way I may be perceiving this situation, that might reflect a certain point of view?"
- "Which do I want right now: to understand this person better? Or to be right?"
- "How can I be sure what looks "true" to me, is "true" for another person?"
Asking these questions, I begin to see areas in which I thought I knew "the truth", but was mistaken, in a way that was creating great pain in my life. I see that I had very good reasons for doing what I did - within the framework of my beliefs and assumptions. Sometimes these beliefs and assumptions turn out to have been false. Out of this humbling experience, true compassion begins to grow in me, for myself and for others. Inner Bonding offers a framework and a concrete set of steps to achieve this, helping me move into curiosity, learn about the truth of my beliefs, and connect with my spiritual guidance to determine loving action I might take.
It is so easy to make the universal human mistake: to mistake our own point of view for the truth, then impose it on others. To truly know another, in an intimate way, means seeing that person for himself: attempting respectfully to understand his point of view and his good reasons for having it - whether or not I agree with it.
©Emily Agnew, 2008
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Today, try an experiment. Focus all day on everything you are grateful for, and choose to have compassion rather than judgment for yourself and others. At the end of the day, notice how terrific you feel!
By Dr. Margaret Paul