Our experience on this planet is comprised primarily of two things–circumstances and our thoughts about those circumstances. Circumstances are things outside of ourselves–other humans, life events, facts.
We cannot control the circumstances in this world.
Then we have our thoughts about those circumstances. Those thoughts are completely within our realm of control.
I can’t control COVID and how other humans respond to COVID, but I can choose how I think about it. Those thoughts will generate feelings that will fuel my actions or inactions. Those actions/inactions become a circumstance for both myself and others and the cycle continues.
Why does this matter?
When we are in an argument with another human, it’s usually a tug-of-war over whose thought about a circumstance is more “true.”
The problem is that thoughts are not universally true or not true. They are our opinions and perceptions about a neutral circumstance. Sentences we are choosing to make “true.”
A thought is not better than anyone else’s thought simply because I’m choosing to believe it.
I had a client who was furious with her best friend because she didn’t call her on her birthday. She is my best friend, why would she not call me on my birthday? What kind of a friend would do that?!
Whenever we are angry with another human’s behavior we have first try to imagine why they acted that way. Why would they say/do whatever they did?
I asked my client to take some guesses as to why her friend would do that. She told me that they had gone out to lunch the day before her birthday and that her friend had paid for her lunch and wished her a happy birthday.
We were able to guess that the reason her friend didn’t call her on her birthday was because she had just seen her. She had just bought her lunch and wished her a happy birthday. In her friend’s mind, she had already celebrated with my client.
Her thought was probably something like: I celebrated my friend’s birthday by taking her to lunch and wishing her a happy birthday so I don’t need to call her and wish her happy birthday again the next day.
In contrast, my client was fuming: That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t call me on my birthday, friends should call each other on their birthdays!
Both women had thoughts they had chosen with respect the birthday and the birthday lunch. Those thoughts were mutually exclusive. Each woman believed their respective thought to be true.
But here’s the thing–neither of those thoughts are true. They are simply choices.
They are not facts. There is no universal guide on how people are supposed to regard birthdays. Each woman is free to choose how she wants to think about the experience.
Recognizing that this is simply a battle of divergent thoughts and not FACTS can be refreshing.
This is not a battle of epic proportions; this does not have to end a friendship. It is simply two humans, making different choices about a particular event.
So often, we take the thought we choose and we treat it like gospel.
Then we take that gospel and try to beat others into submission with it.
Disagreements usually happen because we want to treat our thoughts as facts. We are clinging to our thoughts and treating them as if they are a universal truth that everyone, including our current adversary, should endorse. And when they don’t, we lose it.
What if all the humans were allowed to make their own choices and select their own thoughts freely? What if we didn’t judge those choices and try to convert them to our thought model?
Furthermore, what if we didn’t make these divergent thoughts mean something negative?
Underlying all of this was my client’s thought — She’s not a good friend. She doesn’t care about me. She was letting her friend’s simple choice of a thought mean so much more about the relationship. About herself.
As humans we will experience conflict during our lives but imagine how much simpler life could be if we recognized that those conflicts often arise because we are treating our own thoughts as gospel and judging the thoughts of others as inferior?
How would your life be different if you just allowed others to choose their own thoughts and didn’t make those choices mean anything negative about the relationship? Have an extra 45-minutes lying around, let’s find out!