Dying Daily #326: Ideas and People

Continuing from yesterday.

We cannot engage the world without ideas about it, but these ideas often cause us a degree of suffering because they distort pure experience with notions of what we want and don’t want and place expectations on things.

This is particularly true with other people.

Yesterday we used a red light as an example, a simple timed mechanism that doesn’t play favorites or make choices. It has a time to turn, and it does.

People, on the other hand, should know how to act. Or, at least, our mind tells us they should. There are things we do and don’t do as people, and everyone should adhere to these things. It’s simple.

Except that it’s not.

We continually make exceptions to these rules for ourselves and the people we love and like. When we break these rules, it makes sense. We had to do it. Grace and relativism for me, justice and absolutes for everyone else.

Shoulds

This idea that people should act a certain way is useful and convenient and lets society function in a relatively smooth manner. The problem slides in when we let these simple agreements and expectations become ironclad laws in our mind, and we start dealing with other people’s behavior with judgment and criticism and shoulds. We can get so caught up on how someone else is acting that we lose sight of why that even matters, and get invested in things beyond our control.

When it comes down to it, it does not matter what we think about how others are acting or how they should act. They are completely beyond our control. Even if we influence them, this is because they allow it, it is never actually ours.

The stoplight and the other person are not all that different; we just have social expectations for one of them. We can choose to be in relationship to them or not. Granted, not being in relationship can be costly (not driving is nearly impossible where I live) but it is still a choice. It might be very costly to remove some people from our lives, but we do have that choice. This is important because it helps us remember that we are remaining with them through our actions.

This isn’t about blame, but it is about recognizing that we have power in our own lives.

Are other people the problem, or is it our ideas about the other people?

Is their behavior the problem, or is it our ideas about how they should behave?

How often do your ideas about people cause you trouble with them?