Last month, a friend posed the following question:
Many people responded, with the most common advice being to apologize, but also to remember that other people’s burdens are ultimately not about you. In other words, you can’t fix what you didn’t (and can’t) cause.
My response was too big for a single screen shot (previous lines cut for privacy):
The last time Facebook created a blog topic, the post was my answer. This time, my friend specifically requested me to expand my reply:
With her vote of confidence, I attempt to do so now….
What my response didn’t mention was that I described how I handle all conflicts, not just those in which people blame me for their unhappiness. I strive to confront conflict with the same mindfulness, respect, and honesty, regardless of who or what precipitated the situation.
I learned this wisdom several years ago, when the owner of a yoga studio (and my boss) confronted me about reports that I had encouraged students to attend classes at a competing studio, where I also taught classes. I had not done so, but my denials sounded hollow to him. Even when I asked how he could believe the ludicrous rationale of encouraging students not to support his studio, where I earned income, he refused to consider that the stories could be rumors.
Fortunately, my intuition recognized not to accept projections from people who were delusional about my integrity. I saw clearly that another person or other people blamed me, to some degree, for their lack, for their unhappiness or frustration. Though I never confronted those who accused me, I think jealousy motivated their actions. My classes were among the most successful at the studio, despite the one on Friday night being an unlikely time for high turnout.
However, the dynamic between me and the owner, and thus my job, never recovered from the false gossip. Though I held myself accountable and subsequently monitored my words even more carefully, he remained attached to his perception.
Within a few months, I was fired. Not surprisingly, my abrupt departure shocked my longtime students, particularly when it was framed as my own choice—by the owner and replacement teacher who lied to them. But as any politician who’s had an affair knows, the truth will always surface. Eventually, my former students learned of the untruths.
Meanwhile, I had more important matters to which I had to attend—namely, not being steamrolled by resentment and anger. I was devastated at being fired. I had been working since age 14, the youngest legal age I could have a W-2 job, and I had never been less than a model employee. At the time I was in my mid-twenties, naively believing that being fired proved I was a failure.
Moreover, I had first begun practicing asana at this studio; it was the first place I ever taught any kind of yoga. I had done extra work for the owner, such as publicity, for free or very cheaply. The betrayal from someone I trusted bothered me even more than being fired. I struggled with the constant temptation to contact all my past students and tell them my side. Probably for the best that this conflict occurred pre-Facebook, when that task would have been easy, instead of so daunting that I did not do it.
Instead, I focused on how to handle the situation as constructively as possible:
~ I took responsibility for myself. When the owner first confronted me about the rumors, I acknowledged the possibility that my words could have been misconstrued. Inevitably, students asked what I knew about other studios and teachers. I analyzed my past conversations, considered if something I considered harmless had in fact misled someone to report something valid. And I apologized to the owner if in fact my comments—always delicate and diplomatic—to those queries was somehow taken as disloyal to the studio. I even asked teachers at others studios I supposedly recommended if anyone attended their classes because of my recommendation. (Not at all.)
~ In this process, I determined that I had not, to the fullest understanding from myself and others, behaved inappropriately. But after being fired, as I remained angry and resentful, I realized that I had to detach myself from needing those who had treated me so poorly to feel any remorse. Highly unlikely. Furthermore, I had to detach from needing an apology. Even more unlikely. They were never going to apologize.
~ I considered my contribution. Not just in terms of arousing jealousy, but how my actions may have worsened the situation. At first, I did not argue about the legitimacy of the claims against me; I didn’t want to seem overly argumentative. But perhaps in doing so, I legitimized the rumors. Later, I told the owner that I thought people were lying to him, but by then my word was too damaged. I don’t know whether a different response would have made a difference. Not that I care—more important that I consider my fullest potential participation in a conflict. Certainly in other instances my own actions have definitively affected the situation.
Since that virtual conversation, I have mostly been thinking about how my views of conflict have changed. As a child, I was conditioned to consider fairness as most important—for all parties to feel satisfied with the resolution. As an adult, I recognize that many people are not concerned with justice or integrity. And as if everyone agrees on a single definition of fairness!
Though it might seem counterintuitive, sometimes disregarding the feelings of others is the best option. I find that perspective much more empowering, actually. Some people will never forgive my mistakes, regardless of how much I try to atone. Other times, people will never atone for their wrongdoings.
One of the many, many lessons Eastern philosophies have taught me is that needing or wanting something (such as fairness) simply maintains attachment, which prolongs my own dis-ease. The people who “owe” me apologies—those people are least likely to do so. However, so what? So what. I saw how unempowered I was by craving something that others would never provide. I realized that I was blocking my own recovery from the situation—that I did not actually need what I wanted so badly. Nor do I want to depend on the actions of others to liberate me. When I confront conflict with full honesty and without attachment, I can be at peace with my own integrity and actions, rather than cling to past behaviors and mistakes. Consequently, reconciliation for mySelf is always possible.
∞ Special thanks to the beautifully grounded Katy Jo Schroer for starting this conversation and affirming my response.
SK © 2013