Part of my day job is calling people to schedule coaching appointments. Usually people are polite and respectful, and even sometimes downright kind hearted and pleasant to talk to. Which is good news, since I’m calling them to put them on my own coaching calendar, so we’ll be talking again. It’s helpful to start the relationship off on a positive note.
But today I called a gentleman who wasn’t any of those things. Quite the opposite, really, he was quite mean and disrespectful. I asked if he wanted to set up a call, and he responded with sentences that tended to start with “you people” and “do you even realize” and so on, punctuated by sarcastic chuckling. In short, he made it personal and he wanted me to acknowledge that I was in the wrong. I was the enemy, and he was going to let me know it. Usually I am good at being able to internalize the fact that everyone is dealing with a plethora of issues that I do not know about and that are quite probably very challenging, resulting in unfriendly behavior; and hey, maybe this man was just having a tough day, or week, or year. His energy is absolutely the product of our broken culture, and at the end of the day, he needs love, too. But today when he was essentially scolding me for not being able to meet his expectations, all I could hear was “you aren’t good enough” and “this is why it’s doing me a disservice.” I felt like the bad child who doesn’t measure up, and I found myself apologizing and trying to hold back tears. Which is really interesting, as 1. I did nothing “wrong” and 2. I was quite kind, professional and offered what I had to give. He just didn’t find it acceptable. When on the call, I knew intellectually that his issues and his anger were not about me at all, but in the moment his energy triggered a response that I couldn’t control. I had to hang up the phone.
I’m not sure what to make of it really. A minor part of the day when is all said and done, but something like this hasn’t happened at work for a long time, and I like to think that I’d have developed a thicker skin over my nine year tenure as a corporate health coach. But maybe that’s the lesson. Maybe I don’t actually want “thick skin.” Maybe I want to be able to feel what I feel without having to stifle it to provide good customer service. Maybe I want to be able to offer a service that I know people value, not something that they feel forced to do via an incentive program by their employer.
I don’t want to talk to him again, yet parts of me say, “This is just another opportunity to grow – working with this person will help you develop better communication and conflict resolution skills.” But my gut says “No. There’s absolutely no reason that you should have to interact with that energy again. It’s not your job to fix whatever was broken in that interaction.”
Clarissa Pinkola Estes writes:
Ours is not the task of fixing the entire world all at once, but of stretching out to mend the part of the world that is within our reach. Any small, calm thing that one soul can do to help another soul, to assist some portion of this poor suffering world, will help immensely. It is not given to us to know which acts or by whom, will cause the critical mass to tip toward an enduring good.
We can choose, to a point, where to put our energy and where to remove it. There is nothing wrong with placing a boundary between ourselves and something or someone that generates bad energy. It isn’t our job to fix everything that crosses our path. We can’t always hold space and be the light – it’s too much for any one person to take on. That is not to say that we should close ourselves off to the world and stay cocooned in our own little no conflict oasis…but it does mean that we should exercise our ability to choose our reality by what we give energy to. It does mean that we should put up boundaries when we need them to stay true to our authentic nature. Maybe in this case it means to send this gentleman light and love, but by way of assigning him a coach with whom he can start off a bit more positively. Sometimes letting go of trying to fix it works better than forcing the outcome you want.
So, even though parts of me still say, “come on, it’s so not a big thing, just suck it up and deal,” another part of me acknowledges the simple fact that instances such as this (one human talking to another human in a way that is not mutually respectful) are common place…well, that is a big deal. It happens all the time in our world, and that’s not okay. It makes me realize that we as a human collective don’t need thicker skin. We need more compassion, more love and more understanding. We need more empathy, more play, and more respect for the other. We need systems that support us and we need work that matters. We need autonomy and the freedom to choose. We need to honor the boundaries that help us to function at our best. We need to care for ourselves, and ensure we aren’t compromising our own wellbeing to satisfy someone else.
Dr. E goes on to say:
Struggling souls catch light from other souls who are fully lit and willing to show it. If you would help to calm the tumult, this is one of the strongest things you can do.
There will always be times when you feel discouraged. I too have felt despair many times in my life, but I do not keep a chair for it. I will not entertain it. It is not allowed to eat from my plate.
I’m going to take that advice and not entertain despair over a negative blip in the day that illustrates all that is wrong in the world. Instead, I’m going to remember that the light of the fully lit soul is infinitely more powerful than even the most challenging of interactions, and ensure that despair gets not even one crumb.