There are many ways to make the world a better place and you likely have one or two favorites. For your favorite cause you have likely researched the topic, attended groups or workshops, and done your best to live by the tenets of that cause.
Perhaps the more you learn, the more you see how extensive the problem is and how important change is if we are to avoid disaster. You may feel angry, frightened, grief stricken, and desperate wanting to make the world safe and healthy. Hopefully you receive empathy for your pain around the situation and seek the wisdom of others about what skillful action you could take to contribute.
If you don't find support to manage your emotions and engage skillfully in your cause, you will likely become reactive. The anger, fear, grief, and desperation you feel about the cause activates other past and present events in your life associated with these emotions and the feelings intensify. You feel driven to focus only on your cause. The more reactive you are the more you are sure that you are righteous and others are foolish or uncaring. Here are some other symptoms that you have become reactive rather proactive about the cause:
- You have difficulty enjoying your life
- You often feel irritable
- You talk about the cause in most of your conversations
- You consistently talk more than you listen
- You talk for more than a couple of minutes at a time without pausing for the other person to participate
- You don't notice if the other person seems interested or not
- You insist that others follow the same tenets you follow.
- You demand others do it your way or you will withdraw your respect and caring.
- You are unaware or unconcerned about your impact on others
- People avoid talking with you
This is a tragic situation. Underneath all that reactivity you really do care. You really do want to contribute. Unfortunately you have lost sight of the fact that real transformation comes through connected relationship, not through convincing, controlling, and making demands of others. If you have been practicing Compassionate Communication, you know that autonomy is one of the most important human needs. When you are behaving in a way that violates the other person's choice, they will spend their energy protecting autonomy rather than getting curious about your message.
Regardless of the cause you have chosen, it is your ability to embody compassion and wisdom moment by moment that truly inspires others. This means getting curious about the other person and how they relate to the topic. It means asking about all the reasons they have for not eating organic, or not having a zero emissions car, or not attending your restorative justice group, or not being vegan, etc., and meeting their situation with empathy. It means truly making sure someone wants to hear from you before sharing and noticing their response as you speak. It means catching yourself in judgment and criticism and remembering that that judgment comes from your own feelings and needs. Perhaps most importantly, it means getting the support you need to stay grounded in the face of your own fear and grief and remembering that transformation arises from a loving heart and clear mind.
The next time you find yourself sharing about your cause, pause as soon as you remember to and take a long slow breath. Then ask the other person how what you're saying is landing for them or how they relate to the topic.