We are living in a time where anxieties are generally high, especially when regarding whether or not we did something that might have hurt or offended someone. This is obviously because of our political and societal climate at the moment, but I also think it’s largely due to our use of social media. We routinely share brief glimpses into our thoughts all the time online via Instagram captions, late night tweets, Snapchat stories and what have you. The things we say can be interpreted in multiple different ways depending on who is reading it, the context in which they are reading it in, the last interaction you had with them, and many, many other factors. And this is constantly happening. The slightest indication or hint that what someone shared online could be directed personally towards you or your relationship with them is usually internalized, and I feel that this contributes to an insane amount of social anxiety our world is experiencing right now.
We’ve all been there before — the moments after an awkward interaction with a colleague, or an intense blow-out with a loved one, or even just a negative energy exchange with a stranger — where we are left analyzing the situation and wondering how things unfolded. Re-playing the scenario in our minds over and over again, adding the details that were overlooked, making closer connections, and drawing to conclusions.
I actually found myself doing this recently, more than once, and in various situations involving different people (hence why I decided to write on this topic). One example I’ll briefly expand on happened when I interpreted a friend’s reply message with a tone of hostility from the sender, which initially felt like a kind of threat. My human reflexes prepared to defend myself in response, but then I read the message again. This time, I understood it in a different context, and I felt like I needed to explain myself more clearly. While racking my brain for the appropriate words to start with, I happened to—yup, you guessed it— read their message over once more and perceived it with a complete different lens, where this time I felt I should apologize to them, or no—I should probably just make a joke. I think you get the picture. I had this ongoing battle with myself, in my head, trying to decide how I should react to the situation.
Placing my phone down to take a conscious breath and turning over to my right, my eyes landed on Becoming by Michelle Obama sitting on my bedside table, which led me to conclude that it must be a test! The Lord, or the universe was testing me, because Mama said when that when they go low, we go high, right?! While on the brink of a headache as a result of the mental roller-coaster I took myself on, I considered another point of view, a new one; that what this person meant had absolutely nothing to do with me, and one hundred percent to do with them. It was a response that reflected on their circumstances, and their own struggles, their trauma, their stage of life in this moment, etc.
In times like these, we usually recite the words that were exchanged to ourselves — ruminating on what was said over and over again, dwelling on it by having one-sided conversations with ourselves. But these conversations usually only touch on the way we understand it; our interpretation of their words and how it made us feel. Whether it’s in the heat of the moment or upon later reflection, we are usually blind to what the true intentions of the person’s were and how they would explain to you what they meant with their words.
Now, I fully acknowledge that the effects our words have on people matter more than the intent, but my message in saying this is that there are always more aspects of the other side we can consider. And yes, Michelle Obama is definitely right—we should not stoop down to another’s level of pettiness just to get back at them. We should take the high ground, morally. But speaking on my particular example, I feel that my emotions were misplaced and I was wrong in the beginning. The way people act towards us or around us really has nothing to do with us, but everything to do with them. Even if they are driving you crazy, or bringing you sadness — it is not because of you, or what you did, or who you are as a person. It is not because that person is trying to bring you down or because they are the ‘bad guy’ in your life movie. We are all just trying to get by the best we know how; and each of us is carrying around our own baggage.
I want to take it a bit further, so bear with me.
Sometimes, once we come to this realization, we might begin to blame these misunderstandings on a one’s characteristics as a person. For example, we may blame it on the differences in how they were raised in comparison to you, or because they may be surrounded by many negative people in their life. I’ve been guilty of concluding that said person is acting out of jealously; they want something that I have. It might lead us to victimize ourselves, where we feel and believe we are being targeted. Or maybe, like me, you’ll view it as an opportunity to prove yourself good, a test of ethics. But what I came to realize, my lovely friends, is that thoughts of these natures are born from our own ego. Having these thoughts do not serve us in any way, and they most definitely do not serve our community.
I wholeheartedly believe that our lives really have nothing to do with the things that happen to us. Life will constantly throw things at us that require dodging. Life is guaranteed to present us with difficult situations, an array of challenges, and plenty of thing we planned go wrong — especially when we’re interacting with other people. Still, I think that what really determines the quality of our lives is how we choose react to what life presents us; how you respond to things that happen to you — the awful stuff, the challenging times, the moments of fear and vulnerability; that is what determines your happiness and grants you peace in mind. That is how we can begin to maximize the love and light within our lives and the people we share it with.