Reflections

A Coward’s Path?

As the full moon climbs high overhead in a cloudless sky, I find myself seeking clarity once again. Dichotomies abound, and with them the ever-present choices they demand; either/or becomes much more compelling than both/and, even if somewhat less satisfying…

Tonight I discovered something about myself I would not choose to admit: I am a coward. I will do almost anything to avoid a confrontation, especially an angry one.  I know this because I find myself getting most irritated these days with people who will not stand up for themselves.  And I have learned that such irritations always reflect some truth about myself back to me.

There are reasons for my cowardice, of course, and excuses as well, and the two are not the same.  And there are a lot of wise souls out there who strongly advocate against such cowardice.  I acknowledge and accept that I cannot reasonably expect love and respect from others if I do not love and respect myself.  I also understand that I cannot reasonably expect to be accommodated if I do not stand up for myself, because honestly, no one else is particularly concerned with whether or not my needs are met, since that is rightfully my responsibility to see to.  I get that.  I really do!

It is also true that I have seen what damage can be done with impulsive words and actions.  In the heat of the moment, a person may react, and feel justified in doing so to “stand up for themselves.”  And they may well be accommodated for this act; after all, it usually is the “squeaky wheel that gets the oil.”  But my experience teaches me that words once spoken cannot be unspoken, no matter the reasons or regret, and the same is true for actions that cannot be undone.  While we may sincerely apologize, and attempt to make amends, we can never actually undo what has been done.  And the scars from such impulsiveness are apparent on individuals, family systems, social groups, nations, and international relations as well…

I choose to live a life where I do no harm, at least not intentionally, though that has not always been the case.  And because of that, I must, in a moment of anger, pull back, be still and think.  Later, when the initial heat has passed, and I have had time and space to determine what set me off, I am better prepared to speak of it with an attitude of problem-solving rather than attack or defense.  The problem with this approach is two-fold.

What most often occurs is that, by stepping back for a calmer perspective, I discover that what I was angry about is really unimportant in the larger scheme of things.  Perhaps it merely highlighted some aspect of myself that needs work, or pushed some sensitive button, or maybe what angered me isn’t personal at all, but rather someone else’s baggage that I choose to not take on.  In any case, that extra time renders the anger impotent, and requires no follow-up.

On the other hand, there have been those occasions when time has dulled the heat, but does not resolve the issue for me.  At those times I must, in order to be true to myself, go back and confront the person or organization that did me wrong and seek resolution.  Unfortunately, experience has taught me that, more often than not, such a re-visitation is futile.  Either the person involved has already forgotten the incident, or simply doesn’t care, or they are not particularly motivated to change anything “after the fact.” I hear, “I don’t remember it that way,” or “Maybe if you’d said something at the time…”  And nothing changes for me, except that I am left feeling powerless once more…

It’s even worse when dealing with organizations and institutions who are not inclined, at the best of times, to accommodate any individual; unless, of course, said individual is throwing a fit and drawing unwanted and negative attention to them.  If the person is loud and obnoxious enough, they may very well get what they want as the organization simply tries to get rid of them.  Play by the rules, be polite and reasonable, provide proof of your claim, and you will likely get nowhere; even winning a case in court does not guarantee satisfaction, as you will still have to collect on the judgment (which I discovered is expensive, time-consuming, and frequently unproductive anyway).  But throw a temper tantrum in public and, right or wrong, deservedly or not, you will likely get what you demand.  And I am left feeling powerless once again…

My training tells me there must be a balance point between these two extremes, a place where I can get those important needs met without devolving into some vicious, self-centered, attention-seeking monster, but I have yet to find it.  Instead, I have had to accept, over and over again, that I am powerless to change other people, that I am powerless to change the world.  I can choose to act out, to be the squeaky wheel, and I have done so on a few occasions, when my anger and frustration vented outward onto others; and on those occasions, I have often gotten what I demanded.  However, the guilt and shame I felt after that initial glow of success robbed me of my sense of triumph, leaving me embarrassed and unable to enjoy whatever concessions I had “won.”

So I find myself more often choosing to do nothing.  I mean, if it is important enough to me to act, I will try to get satisfaction, but I do so without much expectation of success.  Because I have found that while I can certainly enjoy any concessions earned this way, I find others are much less likely to honor them in the long run; even the best intentioned will “forget” after the initial agreement if they are not motivated by profound love or fear.  And as a gentle, compassionate, pacifist coward, I do not often engender either extreme of “respect.”

So what can I do?  I do not wish to be a coward, and yet I know that I must live with myself whatever I choose.  And so it seems to me the coward’s path is the one that most enables me to maintain my dignity and my integrity, even though it costs me much…

And while I acknowledge this about myself, the moon moves steadily across the night sky, revealing much but changing little…

 

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