So, who amongst us has had to tolerate a truly awful and toxic personality in their world? I know I have endured decades of exactly this in the past and, if you've read Too Relieved To Grieve | The Alternative Heartbreak Handbook, you'll probably know who I'm talking about.
They say there are two types of people in the world: Radiators and Drains, and this particular individual - who we will refer to as Cantankerous - was a Drain, by every definition. Oh what they didn't think they knew, and their opinions were facts, apparently. This is the kind of person who would ask a question about your field of expertise, and then have the temerity to tell you you're wrong - from the dizzying heights of their threadbare literacy, and without ever explaining how they were in fact right. Infuriating.
I met Cantankerous when I was young, full of energy and youthful arrogance. Upon reflection, it's fair to say I wouldn't give my younger self the time of day now, much less spend any quality time with her. My younger self had so much to learn about nuance, patience and strategy. She also had so much other wisdom and experience to acquire, but then, that's exactly what your youth is for, isn't it? To eventually become old and wise, you must first have to be young and stupid.
Anyhoo, because of who I was then and who Cantankerous remains to this day, we did not... [ahem]… get along. Hey, I'm being super polite and non-defamatory here, but I will require you to project your worst imaginings onto my subtle nods and winks. Now, because I was young and stupid, and Cantankerous often behaved like an ignorant braying donkey, I felt compelled to correct or defend against every one of those rude and ignorant utterances. This in itself was a fool's errand, and I wasted a lot of my finite life equity braying back to a wholly inconsequential person and their wholly inconsequential opinions. It's worth noting here that when I described earlier how Cantankerous was a Drain, it's only because I allowed them to be; I always had the autonomy to change our dynamic in the blink of a mind shift.
Finally, with age and maturity came wisdom. Long overdue wisdom it has to be said, but better late than never. I earnestly took a couple of lessons from a former sister-in-law who had also endured decades of 'Cantanktimonious BS', but now demonstrated a high degree of mastery over the continuous stream of verbal arse gravy that spewed out of them. I watched and eventually learnt that it was me who gave away my power and inner peace, simply by feeding my ego's need to engage with Cantankerous. This made me stop and ask myself why I cared what they thought about... well, anything really... and I didn't. I didn't care one little bit. It was clear at this point that we were never going to be close, or enjoy any kind of meaningful relationship, so I decided to switch into Damage Limitation Mode whenever I was around them. This was a game changing realisation.
Now, as a NLP (Neuro Linguistic Programming) practitioner and mindset coach, the central essence of my work is to awaken clients to the realisation that they also have the power to choose one thought over another. And thoughts determine actions. This means that none of us are, ever have been, or ever should to be a hostage to our own thoughts. I learnt this basic truth long before my NLP training though, thanks in large part to my careful navigation around Cantankerous. You see, nothing in life is ever wasted if you keep your eyes peeled for inspiration and learning, because it's all around us, all the time. Never let any experience go to waste.
In fact, I'd go so far as to say there is no such thing as a bad experience. Sure, there are many challenging, terrifying, horrifying and truly heartbreaking experiences to endure, but what doesn't kill us makes us stronger and all that. Where's the lesson in it? Where's the growth? Where's the inevitable hidden opportunity? You will find what you're looking for, so be looking for lessons, growth and opportunities in everything, everywhere.
Once I finally realised that I didn't care about Cantankerous' pontifications, the power I had naively and unintentionally given to them, all came back to me. Unfortunately there was still the background braying to endure, because they never could STFU, but it's impact on me was massively reduced - it became more like the sound of distant road traffic noise: not something you'd ever download on Spotify, but it's not making your ears bleed either. I then began to visualise Cantankerous as nothing more significant than mere house dust: something I did my best to keep it at bay, but it kept coming back and, for the most part, was nothing more than a harmless annoyance. This neutralised the power I had unwittingly imbued Cantankerous with during my naïve adolescence.
You can choose which thoughts to think, and when you do, your feelings and corresponding actions will follow. It's been well documented how the simple act of smiling - whether you're genuinely happy or not - releases dopamine, serotonin and endorphins; the feel good hormones. Sounds too easy and too good to be true, doesn't it? Yeah, maybe, but it doesn't stop it from actually being true. The same can be said for your autonomy over your thoughts and by extension, your feelings and actions. Too easy? Not always. Too good to be true? I personally don't think so, but if you think grass is blue then I'm not going to argue with you. Which leads me to this fabulous fable...
THE DONKEY, THE TIGER & THE LION
One day the donkey told the tiger: "The grass is blue".
The tiger replied: "No, the grass is green".
The discussion quickly began to get heated and so the two protagonists agreed upon arbitration with the King of the jungle, the lion.
Before reaching the clearing of the forest where the lion was resting, the donkey started screaming: "Your Highness, is it true that grass is blue?"
The lion replied: "It is true, the grass is blue".
The donkey rushed and continued: "The tiger disagrees with me, contradicts me constantly and annoys me. Please punish him".
The King declared: "The tiger will be punished with five years of silence".
The donkey jumped joyfully and went on his way, smug AF and repeating: "The grass is blue, the grass is blue".
The tiger accepted his punishment stoically, but before he left the clearing he asked the lion: "Your Majesty, why have you punished me? After all, the grass is green".
The lion replied: "In fact, the grass is green".
Exasperated, the tiger continued: "So why are you punishing me?"
The lion sighed and explained: "The punishment has nothing to do with whether the grass is green or blue. The punishment is necessary because it is not wise or acceptable for a brave, intelligent creature like you to waste time arguing with a donkey - and then come and bother me with such trivialities".
The most heinous waste of time is arguing with a fool or a fanatic, who doesn't care about truth or reality, but only in the superficial victory of their beliefs and illusions. Never waste time on discussions that make no sense, because there are people who will not, or cannot, understand the evidence we present them with. Alternatively, they may also be so blinded by ego, hatred and resentment, that all they want to be is right - whether they are or not.
Simply put, when ignorance screams, intelligence shuts up - just because a donkey brays doesn't mean you have to bray back.
Here's to your continued inner peace.
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