Thursday, October 25, 2012

The Choices We Have

I am the proud fur-mother to three delightful cats. They provide me with comfort and fill my life with joy and love. I adore each of them for their individual personalities and quirks.

I love them unconditionally. They bring home smaller creatures they have caught, sometimes still alive, at inconvenient times like 3am, when I'd rather be sleeping. They track mud into the house and leave crumbs in my bedding and fluff all over everything I own. They occasionally claw the carpet or the furniture. 

These things do not bother me for two important reasons: 

1. I adore having fur-children, the company they provide and the delight I feel when I spend time with them. 

2. They are cats and it is in a cat's nature to kill small things, run around outside, roll in dirt, shed fur and claw things. They cannot help how they were made and having a cat is a choice I made and one I made because of the reasons listed in reason #1. 

In short, you can't get angry at a kitten for being a kitten. 

I've written on this subject before but I felt like revisiting it for a few reasons. 

I believe that the world is made better through the practice of compassion and that compassion is found through empathy - our ability to understand someone else's experience regardless of our own. 

I also believe that we do the best we can with what we know. Therefore, it's not unreasonable to apply the thought that you 'can't get angry at a kitten for being a kitten' to your neighbour, or that terrible driver who cut you off, or a random stranger on the tube. 

I want to be very clear, however, that I am not excusing ill behaviour. If someone causes us pain, physically or emotionally, their actions are still not deemed "O.K." purely because they didn't know any better. Their lack of skill is not an excuse - but it is a reason. 

I spend a lot of time thinking about this because it's so very easy for us to judge a person by their actions without seeing the many experiences and consequences which led them to behave the way they do. If I'm ever struggling in this department I like to keep this phrase in mind: 

No one does anything because they want to feel worse. 

Human beings don't like suffering. This is a plain fact of life. When we look around us we can see proof of it all over the place. We care a lot about what other people think of us. We care about our health. We want to be comfortable, safe, warm, full, and happy. We strive for it. 

So when someone does something which we might find offensive, appalling, or downright mean, remember: They're not trying to make themselves feel worse. They're just not going about making themselves feeling better in a particularly effective way. 

The choice we have is how we choose to act in the face of 'a kitten just being a kitten'. We might not be able to change how someone else chooses to behave but we always have a choice when it comes to our own behaviour as long as we are paying attention. To pay attention means to recognise when something isn't particularly resourceful or effective. 

If an action, a phrase or a particular behaviour is going to make a situation worse or perpetuate an already difficult situation, we have the choice to change our own response. It's not an easy task but it's definitely worth doing if it means we become better able to handle the general bumps of life. 

What do you think? Can you think of a particular time when you were able to change your own way of thinking or behaving so that a difficult situation could be resolved or diffused? 

Please comment below! 

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