“You are not responsible for a person’s perspective of you.”
I heard Alicia Keys recite these words the other day, and they stopped me mid-scroll. I paused and felt my soul awaken as I reflected on some emotionally draining circumstances that had unfolded several months prior.
A Big Misunderstanding
Have you ever felt deeply misunderstood? Or been able to sense that someone isn’t seeing you in the right light? It is downright excruciating (especially for people-pleasers like me) to know that someone’s viewpoint of you is inaccurate. You feel like you’re not being given a fair chance, so naturally you want to fix things.
My need to fix things began one day last year. I was suddenly feeling very desperate to defend myself to an old friend with whom I had a sort of “falling out.” She agreed to meet with me to hash things out and allow me the chance to convey my side of the story. I was excited and grateful for a chance to be heard, as I was convinced that the whole debacle had been nothing but a giant misunderstanding. It seemed to me she simply didn’t understand my point of view, so I was going to make it my personal mission to make things right between us.
Unfortunately, I had a cringe-worthy level of confidence about how I assumed the conversation would unfold (I guess I never learned that lesson about assuming things…). I imagined myself calmly explaining my side of the story and her receiving it like a revelation that she had never before considered. I could envision the light bulb suddenly switching on: her eyes growing wide as she listened intently to my story, feeling horrible for judging me and allowing all this time to pass with resentment in her heart when it was never warranted in the first place. We would then part ways with me having justified myself (I would probably give myself a nice little pat on the back), and her having learned a very important lesson that she would remember for the rest of her life. BOOM.
Clearly, humility wasn’t my strong suit here. And much to my dismay, the conversation didn’t go that way.
A Doomed Conversation
Maybe you have found yourself in a situation where you needed to defend yourself with every iota of your being, but just couldn’t muster the words. The only way I can describe my state of being two minutes into the conversation is pure panic mode. She laid it on THICK, and I could feel my blood pressure rise and my heart pound within seconds. While I struggled to get a word in, she executed her perfect strategy of repeating these five little words: What you did was wrong.
In hindsight, I can see that the conversation was doomed before it began. It seemed clear that defending myself was out of the question; she had made up her mind. All the bitterness that had festered in her heart for the past few years was, in fact, justified. Why? Because from her perspective, what I had done was wrong.
She was unable and unwilling to see my version of events and how things went down on my end. Her ability to empathize was blocked because where I saw shades of grey, she saw black and white. Put simply, the circumstances weren’t up for negotiation. I realized quickly that we are just wired differently.
Regrettably, our conversation went in literal circles for 45 minutes: me trying to defend myself, her telling me that what I did was wrong, me trying to defend myself. You get it. It was a fast track to nowhere.
I wish I had reacted differently. I wish I hadn’t been so naive by being overly confident. If I had a do-over I’d be calm and collected, confident and curious. Ah well. Such is life.
A Humble Apology
What happened next surprised me: I apologized (I know, I know). But in a brief moment of maturity, I came to realize that all she really wanted from me was to own up to how I had hurt her, even though it was unintentional. I truly had been unaware that she had suffered as a result of the way I had navigated through the situation years ago.
If you’ve never had to apologize for something you didn’t intend to do or feel was wrong, you’re not missing out. It’s freaking hard. This goes back to the “shades of grey” thing. Different perspectives create different realities. Our realities both looked very different based on the unique lens with which we had viewed them. The fact of the matter was, her reality didn’t match mine, so therefore it was unfair for me to believe I was right and she was wrong. In the end, we had both traversed a confusing situation the best way we knew how, and unfortunately it took a heated argument to reveal that to me.
I told her I hoped we could “agree to disagree” and move forward. We hugged it out. I sent her a loving text later that evening to thank her for allowing me the opportunity to speak my piece.
A Journey to Humility
I wasn’t prepared for her reply: that she should have shut me down when I took it upon myself to name-drop and “insult” the person who I believed to be responsible for the mess we were in. That she had let the conversation go on for too long. That I had made things worse by opening up old wounds that were too painful for her family to bear yet again.
As you can imagine, this INFURIATED me. Over the next several weeks, I shut down. Bitterness consumed me. I cried, complained, wallowed, lost sleep. I lost weight.
And I vowed to never speak to her again.
But this state of mind didn’t serve me, as you can imagine. I didn’t want to be bitter. And ignoring her at our daughters’ dance practices? It wasn’t in my nature. I prayed a lot during this time. And actually, my solo pity party turned out to be a blessing of sorts. It taught me that part of being human is learning to release our control on the world, our expectations of others and ourselves, and our unhealthy need to constantly uphold our fragile egos. Because we have nothing to prove. And it’s not our job to make everything right in the world.
A Lesson From the Grey
There are so many grey areas in life. We frantically attempt to paint our lives in black and white so we can make sense of our surroundings and of others, but grey inevitably shows up. Those tricky shades of grey look like tests with questions that clearly have more than one right answer, but somehow we are expected to figure out what the test-creator wants. It’s impossible, right?! We have to accept that in life, sometimes there is no best way to navigate a situation… and sometimes there are multiple ways to navigate a situation. Basically, no rulebook for life exists, folks. Much of the time we just have to accept the grey; it actually has a lot to teach us…
If there is ONE lesson I took away from this whole fiasco, it was that oftentimes humility is the only answer. We can defend ourselves and our choices all we want; we can wrestle, writhe, punch, kick, bite, scratch, protect, justify, rationalize, excuse, and prove a million times over just to uphold our delicate reputations. But often, the only thing that will save us from ourselves is making the choice to humble ourselves.
Can we muster up a meaningful apology, even if we, too, have experienced hurt?
Even if we do not feel that we are in the wrong?
Even if we aren’t receiving the same empathy and compassion that we are offering?
Can we learn to just “let it be”?
A Path to Peace
In our effort to preserve ourselves, it is easy to lose ourselves. In fact, we might die trying. Our pride will win, but in the end, where does that leave us? Angry and egotistical, always needing to be in control. Running on empty, if you will. Our egos are tough to crack, but someone’s gotta do it.
Let that person be you. That’s right, crack your own ego. Trust that you will be ok, even if it means you won’t be liked. Even if it means their version doesn’t match yours. Even if it means you must surrender and give up the fight, whatever battle you’re trying to win.
This is all soul work. It’s the stuff of true character-building. And it’s not for the faint of heart.
Thanks, Alicia, for reminding me that I am not responsible for someone else’s perspective of me. Here’s to releasing the need to control, fix and defend. Here’s to finding freedom and peace in the simple phrase “It is what it is, let it be.”
** I have noticed that God speaks to me through music, and often I receive inspiration and answers to prayer in songs that He guides me to. After the conversation with my old friend brought up more problems and frustration for me, I prayed about my next move. I was feeling so confused and deeply hurt. My answer came in this beautiful rendition of Let It Go/Amazing Grace by Elenyi. Hope you love it as much as I do.
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