This is possibly one of the most frustrating sentences in the English language. Mistakes were made (but nobody made them).
My beginner class is tackling the Yamas and Niyamas as a way to organize the classes. The theme for this week was Satya – the truth. The truth is much more than a mere absence of lies. It’s truth in word and deed. Walking the walk as well as talking the talk… more or less.
Several weeks ago, against my better judgment, I voluntarily associated myself with a group of people for the purpose of completing a project. It’s become one of the most maddening experiences of the last decade of my life, chiefly because I’ve had to deal with one of those people for whom the words “Mistakes were made (but nobody made them and especially not me)” is a lifestyle choice.
The facts of the matter are mistakes were made and PEOPLE made them. It wasn’t done out of malice or out of greed. Mistakes were made because sometimes we shut up when we should talk; we talk when we should shut up. We listen with our brains for the purpose of countering another’s points in the ensuing argument instead of listening with our hearts to hear what the other is saying beyond the words. We imagine another to have our same values. We project our wishes onto others. We assume others can read our minds. We say words that we think will mean X – they get heard as Y.
Personally, I don’t think any human being who has ever attempted to communicate with any other human is immune to these mistakes. It’s part of the human condition. How we cope with these limitations on language is by being aware of them.
I’ve had several run-ins with a work colleague who seems to excel at the poison email. I’ve tried ignoring him but that strategy only seems to fuel his anger. My problem when I find his frequent loads of toxicity in my in-box is that I eventually have to deal with him and therein lays the choice – I can take the high road and try to be the bigger person or I can just let vintage “Kate MacKay” out of the cage. If you have the mental picture of someone bellowing “Let loose the hounds of war”, you’ll pretty much sum up the concept “vintage Kate MacKay”. I have a biting anger that works like a cutting torch on mere mortals. I can slice, dice, and julienne most people with my tongue. My command of language combined with a full head of steam can result in absolute brutality. I’m sarcastic and quick to form judgments. I can usually figure out someone’s weak points and on my lesser days, I go for the jugular. These incidents have never the proudest moments I’ve had in my career as a human being. The temporary satisfaction of triumphing over my perceived enemy has never been worth the long-term shame over how much damage I inflicted. That’s my satya – within me lie demons of ego that best lay sleeping – in spite of my desire to lash out like a two year old. At some point in the game, I need to square my shoulders, be the responsible adult, and do what I can to keep things moving forward in a productive manner instead of indulging my infantile longings for revenge.
Satya — it’s so much easier in theory. It is so much easier in theory. We speak the truth. We don’t tell lies. But what happens when the “truth”, as near as I can figure it out, is “you’ve made a rotten business decision”, or “that decision was ill-advised, poorly thought out and an excellent example of short term thinking”. How does one delicately say, “that particular course of action can only be described as the perfect storm of egoism, strategic ineptitude and irrationality”?
When I’m asked directly, do I speak the truth and invite the hyper-defensive backlash or do I polite murmur something soothing, anything to keep the peace, and let the situation build to hurricane strength?
Getting into a ‘flame war’ with this individual would only goad him into upping it another notch. I suspect he really wants someone to take him on so he has a reason to blow up. It’s a control thing. It’s how he manages people issues in his life – by making his perceived enemies (which is just about the population of the entire planet) want to slit their wrists rather than deal with his emotional baggage one more time. Truly, how does one make peace with someone who thrives on war? When every interpersonal transaction is reduced to a zero sum game – I win; you lose – the soul wearies quickly. Passive-aggressive people are difficult to deal with because they are so emotionally dishonest – with themselves. They’re the masters of ensuring no one can win. It’s a strategy of what I’ve always called “blow torch diplomacy’. The peace is kept by ensuring that everyone within arm’s length is burnt to cinders.
Mistakes were made… damn right. What was my role in the mistake making process? Partly, it came about because I wasn’t honest with others. I had a longer history of dealing with this man than the others. Previously, I’d been on the receiving end of his complete abdication of any sense of personal responsibility for anything. This work project was something I entered into against my better judgment. Was it just last year that I swore I would NEVER do business with him again in any capacity?
So why did I go along with it? I did it because I didn’t know how to voice my objections in a way that didn’t sound like pettiness and backbiting gossip. I did it because I didn’t know how to say, “I can’t deal with this person. We have a history, and I don’t have the capacity to deal with him.” I didn’t know how to say to him, “I don’t want to work with you because whenever I do, I develop this never-ending throbbing pain in my ass that lasts for weeks.” I did it because it was easier to go with the flow and hope for the best than pay attention to the wisdom of my own voice.
So, Kate, how do you like your dukha – over easy or sunny-side up? We create our own suffering. I got caught out here trying to respect the principle of ahimsa (non-violence) over satya (truth). I would have avoided the whole mess if only I found the courage to respect my own wisdom on the issue of working with this man. It would have resulted in some embarrassment. I might have even risked being perceived by others in my work group as being “mean” or “jealous” or “insecure” because I didn’t want to work with this seemingly charming man.
Inwardly, even as I write this, I’m cringing because I know that things are eventually going to come to a head between this man and me. Ignoring each other isn’t an option. At some point, I’m going to need to put the concepts of Ahimsa and Satya together and directly say, “No, I don’t want to work with you on this or any other project because I find you too difficult to work with.”
Does that sound mean-spirited and cutting? Hmmmmmmm, do you see what I mean? I got myself into this mess in the first place because I was overly concerned about how I would be perceived by others. Maybe in the future version of myself, I will have grown a spine. Otherwise, mistakes will be made.
Namaste and thanks for reading,