Picking Our Battles (Part 1)

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The art of being wise is knowing what to overlook ~ William James.

Scott Peck was right when he said that life is difficult. The opening line to his best-selling book The Road Less Travelled, he was seeking to articulate through that statement, that life is full of challenges that we are called to confront and overcome. With these challenges come conflicts that we must engage in along the way. Being waged both internally and externally in our environment, these tensions are where we must direct much of our precious energy, in order to evolve and reconcile the nature of our humanity.

Rather than resist this reality, we should just accept it, not passively but courageously, holding true at all times to our higher aim of fostering understanding, peace and fulfilment, for ourselves and others. A test of our willingness to become all that we were created to be, this opposition requires us to learn to draw the line between constructive and destructive battles. The former allows us the opportunity to grow and improve the quality of our existence; the latter, if we choose to take them on, can easily produce severe fragmentation, with disastrous consequences for our inner state and the state of our world.

We see this a lot in our personal relationships where we are taught to pick our battles. We will not agree with everything that other people do. Some of what they do will mildly irritate us. Other things they do, we will find completely unacceptable. But through it all, we must have the awareness to know that in each of these relationships, we are the other person to them. Not everything that we do appeals to others. Some things will grate on their nerves, while other aspects of our behaviour will have a harsher impact. The lesson then is to balance our expectations of others with what they would expect of us. Of course, not all expectations are reasonable, but we can assume that those with whom we choose to relate, expect similar things of us as we do of them.

Why then is there such a tear in the fabric of our relationships. So often it is because we hold others to a higher standard than we are willing to hold ourselves. Orienting our awareness externally, their shortcomings become the focus of our attention. Being sometimes large but more often minor, these flaws are what we criticise them about, in the vain hope that our righteous observance and accompanying notification will somehow raise their behaviour to a more tolerable realm.

Instead of having the desired effect, this approach drives their determination to not be imposed on, and they become defensive in the face of our attack. Retaliating in kind, their response is just as swift and brutal in their assessment of our faults. Invited to pervade our interactions with one another, these character assassinations will soon doom these relationships, unless one or both of the parties to them can practice functioning from a place of love, rather than ego.

The essence of this entry, we must learn to direct our focus towards what is important and meaningful, and pay less attention to what is superficial or trivial. What is important in relationships is being able to see the essence of who that other person is, and appealing to the best of who they are. It is raising others up by evoking the spirit in these interactions, and not wanting them to change, but to evolve. Relating with love is valuing the other person for who they are, rather than disparaging them for who they are not.

Such a large part of the process that love takes us through, is learning to overlook so that we may appreciate. Never can we appreciate what we criticise in the moment that criticism is being levelled. Focusing our attention on that which we are criticising, we take it away from that which we could and should be appreciating. I know that this can be difficult to reconcile when we are unconsciously acting out our relational scripts, but if we are to maximise the quality of these relationships, it is utterly necessary that we come to understand the connection between what we give our energy to and what we draw forth in others.

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