“…for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.” Plato
Wow, it is hard to remember that sometimes. On days when the voice in your head is screaming “MY battle is hard. Mine is hardest.” On the days when you feel the universe whirling around outside of you and realise it is not, in fact, revolving around you. On days when other people’s actions don’t suit your plans, your agenda, your needs, it is hard to be kind.
Those days are when you need kindness the most. Not to receive it, but to give it. In spades. And to those that seemingly least deserve it. Plato knew what he was talking about, although I really can’t envisage what kind of “battles” humans were up against in ancient Greek times. That’s not to say they weren’t hard – tortuous even – but simply me acknowledging that I really and truly cannot find the imagination to think what they would have been. I think it is almost guaranteed that 95% of the battles we each feel we are facing nowadays would have been minor or irrelevant in the context of Ancient Greece. Few of us these days face starvation, death threats, indescribable agony without relief, exile. (Is that what life was like back then? I am purely guessing here.)
But there are battles that, without comparison to Plato’s contemporaries and their struggles, seem hard, nevertheless. Or they would do if we knew of them.
Yet those are the ones of which we need to be mindful; the ones about which we have no idea. On the surface, we might only see someone’s selfishness; lack of consideration; laziness; poor attitude; surliness; anger, resistance to our ideas…And we will be enraged, at worst; mildly irritated on a good day. (Like a day when we have meditated and we are sending out positive vibes into the universal energy field. Irritated positive vibes, but still… )
But the truth is, we have no idea what is going on behind the scenes – what went on, before we even came onto the scene. What we might consider as “bad” behaviour is almost invariably the outward manifestation of an inner crisis or turmoil of some kind. Anger is usually hurt in disguise. Laziness is grounded in lack of confidence in our own abilities. Resistance is borne of fear. The inconsiderate are often simply too caught up inside their own thoughts to be thoughtful and mindful of the needs of others; ignorance sounds too harsh a description – perhaps oblivious would be more fitting.
There is no single, simple answer to the problem of how to respond to what we find unpleasant in others. Some self-help guides and psychologists would suggest we use these discomforts as a mirror, reflecting back to us what we most fear or dislike in ourselves. This can often be hard to swallow – especially when what most infuriates me is, at first glance, a quality I consider in direct opposition to my own dearly-held values.
Yet on closer inspection, the root cause of the poor conduct is often very similar to the root cause of my own response to it. I dislike anger because I fear being hurt by it. I sneer at laziness because it makes me question my own priorities. I fear resistance – can I withstand it? Are my judgments sound in the face of it? And thoughtlessness forces me to analyse my own levels of empathy towards others, and whether these are accurately and kindly reflected in my own words and deeds.
There are people I do not like. Few, but some. There are people I adore who display behaviours of which I am less than enamoured. Yet, as I sit and consider carefully, as I must, why I struggle so much to respond to these people or behaviours, I keep returning to Plato. I may never understand their manners, their conduct, their demeanours – I have no automatic entitlement to the back story that created them, and there is an arrogance to the assumption that, were I to ever hear these tales, it would even make one jot of difference to my judgements.
Yet for my own sanity, blood pressure and peace of mind, I instruct myself – a hundred times over if needed, and some days it is needed -to simply be kind. Thank you Plato.