If trees fall evenly in the forest but we only hear the trees that fall on one side of it, we’ll put more effort and resources into fortifying that side. We’d have to take a walk through the whole thing to see that trees have fallen everywhere.
Applying the metaphor to relationships: if you only hear concerns about discomfort and unfairness voiced by yourself you may miss the flip side of these struggles that your partner is enduring silently.
In other words, just because someone isn’t complaining it doesn’t mean they don’t have anything to complain about.
If a relationship — any kind of relationship — is going to be successful, we have to use our ears and eyes to listen and observe, rather than talk and project.
Naturally, it’s easier to listen to and observe another person when they are right in front of you. It’s harder to appreciate the humanity and nuance of another person through the lens of the Internet, which is all some of us have these days with the stay-at-home orders. However, this makes it all the more important to take a step back when we engage with others and ask, “How would I want to be treated if I was on the other side of this interaction? Would I treat a family member or a friend this way?”
Take a look at any individual walking down the street and you wouldn’t be able to say with any certainty what experiences they’ve gone through or the privileges they have had or not had. If anything, you might be able to make assumptions about how they have reacted to their experiences or what their current priorities are. You’d really have to have a conversation with them to find out.
Complaints and judgments are replacing conversations these days. I don’t know about you but most of the complaints that I hear and read about are based on superficial comparisons with other people. I think it comes from the same place that jealousy comes from because jealously largely seems to be about dissatisfaction with one’s own achievements and creations.
It makes me wonder what this scarcity mindset is doing for the people engaging in it… have you seen complaining or jealousy lead to a happier and more meaningful life? I haven’t.
“The most important decision you make is to be in a good mood,” said Voltaire (supposedly).
What do you think? Is it a choice?
I think it’s true, but it isn’t always an easy decision. Sometimes it’s extremely difficult and challenging. Especially since life is full of trade-offs. Some that we choose, some that we don’t, and it often doesn’t feel fair. On top of that, we must contend with the fact that humans are not always kind to one another.
As an example, one of my girlfriends and I were chatting the other day. She said, “Sometimes I feel like I have to yell in order to be heard.” I replied, “I also have a hard time being heard but I’m on the other side of it — I am so soft-spoken that people don’t hear me.” We laughed. It seems like no matter what you have to say or how you say it sometimes others aren’t ready to hear what you have to say or simply don’t care to hear what you have to say. We could let the way others react to us get under our skin and wonder why they feel like what we have to say is not worth listening to or we could focus on the times when we are heard.
So many of us also let other people have far too much of an effect on our well-being. We even let what others think influence our ability to be kind to ourselves! This doesn’t serve us because there are always going to be situations where others downright ignore us and dismiss us or actively try to manipulate or hurt us.
Something I have found is that even when someone else takes your power away or cuts you down, you still have the power to give to yourself or help someone else. You still have the power to create something and you still have the power to control your inner dialogue and to focus on your own growth. You have the power to do a lot of things, positive things; the biggest thing holding you back is your imagination.
Personally, I find just complaining about something to be boring. It doesn’t solve anything and it puts the burden of problem-solving onto others. Concerns can be valid but they are more likely to heard and addressed when they are accompanied by questions to get the other side’s perspective and potential solutions where both sides can be involved and work together. Because chances are, if you don’t participate in the resolution you aren’t going to like what the other side comes up with and the cycle will start over.
Probably the worst situations are when people around us have valid concerns that go unacknowledged and unaddressed and they get to a desperate place. They might not speak up because they don’t know how or they downplay the impact on themselves. That’s when it’s good to go on a walk through the forest together and see where the trees have silently fallen. This “forest maintenance” is something we can do for ourselves, too. Lord knows we all need it, from time to time.
In sum, can we have a little more compassion for each other, please? And can we be more thoughtful and creative in our problem solving rather than fetishizing discord and taking sides? Complaining is like consuming empty calories. By contrast, working towards something is more likely to lead to satiation. Anyone with goals or something to lose that they care about knows what I’m talking about. It’s the feeling of being motivated, the feeling of being inspired. The desire to do something. To build something. To see what you are really made of when the world knocks you down by having the strength to get back up. It’s hard to complain or be jealous of others when you know who you are, what your value is, where you are going, or would like to go. If you don’t know those things, dig deep and find out.
Related reading: Love is Expansive