We humans, like these starfish, have a way of pointing fingers at each other when things get rough. The current state of our economy is a lovely example: we all know the seeds of economic collapse were sown long before Obama took office, but that doesn’t stop people (and not just Republicans) from blaming him for our economic woes.
But it happens on a personal level as well: most parents know that when a fight erupts among their children that the one who gets caught hitting is not necessarily the one who started the fight – as the old saying goes, it takes two to tango.
But what do we do about that, and how do we stop the escalation? And how do we learn to cope with the difference between ideal relationships and reality?
I’m thinking now of how things went with our daughter yesterday. She was excited to see us and looking forward to introducing us to her roommate. But almost as soon as we arrived the barbs started flying: “Mom, you don’t have to take a picture of the house. Mom, hush, no singing.” Which is okay, at first; it’s teasing.
But when later, at dinner with our friends (who serve as her surrogate parents), she admonished her father for eating a second piece of bread, he fought back by referring to her tendency to run the family, and though this time he was doing the teasing, she got touchy and reserved, and the dinner conversation grew a little stilted. Afterwards she explained she didn’t like us making her look bad in front of our friends.
Of course we wouldn’t have gone down that road if she hadn’t drawn attention to his eating habits (and, by implication, his weight). But that was probably motivated by a genuine concern on her part. Or so she says.
There’s no way we can really know why people say or do what they do – we don’t always understand why WE say or do what we do. Throw hunger (we had missed lunch) or exhaustion (we’d all been up too late the night before) into the mix and everyone is likely to be edgy, quick to flare up, quick to project motives onto others’ behaviors.
Which is why the conscious decision to let it go, to release and forgive, is so important. Yes, there are times when we need to take action, to step away from a bad situation, or to take a stand against abuse. But there are also times when it’s important to just … let it go. Because if things are starting to escalate, chances are that that old bogey, ego, has been triggered again, and is trying to take a stand. Chances are there are two dancers tangoing here, and however justified their explanations may be, the moment comes when it’s better to step back from the fray, stop pointing fingers, and just say, as Richard Fish used to intone on Allie McBeal, “Bygones.” Let it go.
Easier said than done, of course. But easier done if a strong foundation of love and trust has been built. Easier done if we understand the distinction between ego and self. And easier done if we’re constantly working toward a deeper compassion – and understanding -- for our own foibles and those of others.
Peace may seem at times to be an awfully elusive goal. But paying attention, noticing when the ego is starting to get hooked, accepting our own responsibility, practicing compassion, and releasing what’s gone before will keep bringing us ever closer.