I was recently talking with a friend of mine about a person I once had great difficulty with. Yes, the other person had a challenging personality at times, but I am also no saint. I remarked at how if things were different, and I was meeting this lady now, I would have handled things so much better.
This lady was in a supervisory position to me, and she had a few personal issues that she brought into the workplace. I decided that she wasn’t professional, at the time, but managed to begrudgingly work beside her. Now, this was quite a long time ago, and as my life changed, I changed along with it. Well, I like to tell myself I’ve changed, and seeing as I reinvented a new way to handle that situation, I think I am correct in my assessment.
What would I have done differently? Well, first and foremost I would be a lot more compassionate and patient with her. I would stop judging what she should or shouldn’t behave like because people aren’t robots that can easily separate all the spheres of their existence, neatly and categorically. I would listen to her and try to make her life easier, perhaps by doing little or big things that would make a difference to her and possibly lighten her load. I would recognize that what she was experiencing was probably only temporary, and so it wasn’t my place to give her a permanent, negative label.
As I told these things to my friend, I thought it funny that I would have changed anything at all, and immediately assumed that this was the growth and maturity process. But after I left my friend’s company I decided that there was more to it. Rather than congratulating myself for maturity and forgiveness, and ultimately feeding my ego (two steps in the wrong direction, if you ask me!), I decided to ponder the root of my whim. Why did I care to rewrite the past?
I suppose it had to do with regret, guilt, and shame, those ugly little markers that remind us of our infallibility. We often think that we should avoid these emotions or quickly rid ourselves of them. After all, no one got happy by being negative, but I don’t think we should be so quick to dismiss negative thoughts or emotions.
I think negative thoughts or emotions, when not left to fester for too long, can be useful tools. Obviously using negative thoughts or emotions to fuel negative actions is never a good thing. However, I think if we use these thoughts and emotions to improve ourselves, the world will be so much better for it. Thus, identifying this negativity can be a very beneficial thing.
Much like how pain brings an ailment to our immediate attention, so we don’t walk around bleeding or broken, I think negative thoughts and emotions are also messengers of truth. When you recognize their significance, you are already that much closer to your solution.
In my case, regret, guilt and shame represented the feelings I had about my own behaviour. If these feelings happened while I was still working with this lady, I might have used them to change direction and try another approach. Or they might have been totally different emotions at the time, representing the drama and tension I was feeling, which later turned into regret, guilt and shame, signposts that I had unfinished business.
Sometimes the easy way to handle such a situation is to apologize, but when it’s complicated or not possible, another solution is to change future behaviours. Just by making a vow to ourselves to do things differently, even if it’s scary, means we can change the world by first changing our own world.
Negative thoughts and emotions often signify the harmony that is missing in our lives. Being happy is wonderful, but ignoring negative thoughts and emotions and instead replacing them with positive ones isn’t necessarily what we need. Rather than pretending away our imperfections, we could instead use them to learn more about ourselves. By being truthful with ourselves, we might recognize what we need to do in order to walk in the right direction. Pausing to reflect on what is behind negative thoughts and emotions will often reveal our solutions.
The only caveat is considering the source of our negative thoughts or emotions. If we crave more closeness with others, then we will do what is needed to foster that atmosphere. If we operate from pride and ego, then those negative thoughts or emotions will probably never bring true harmony.
We may not get a Groundhog Day, like the Bill Murray movie, but we may lighten our hearts when we take opportunities to recognize our negative thoughts and emotions and transform them into positive acts that will benefit not only ourselves, but also those around us.