This is a regular series of blogs focusing on creating balance through mindful activities. Please read my first blog: Bringing Depression to the Table to provide more context.
So far, in Bringing Depression to the Table, we’ve built a solid foundation of table legs: meditation, morning routine, gratitude, understanding our true north, reframing, purpose & identity, and understanding the different ways we look at comparisons.
Let’s say you’ve taken some of these and added a few of your own table legs. Maybe you’re reading books on mental health, doing yoga every day, you’ve cut down on the amount of news you consume, and have great relationships with your family and friends. Your table is looking strong, and you’re feeling as balanced as ever. First off, congratulations. You’ve put so many things in place that if one or two slip away for whatever reason, your whole life won’t come crashing down.
Of course, this isn’t enough. You have a deep yearning to give back. You’ve been through so much pain over the years; you don’t want it to go to waste. What better than to share this newfound knowledge with the world. The problem is no one wants to listen.
How many times have we seen friends head off on a “life changing” trip abroad, take up a new hobby or attend a personal development seminar, only to come back and tell us everything we’re missing in our lives.
“No, you just don’t understand. You’re doing it all wrong. How you are living has been totally moronic up to this point. Stick with me; I’ll change your life.”
“Oh really? YOU’RE going to change my life. Weren’t you the one arrested for waving your nob around like a helicopter when City won the cup?”
“Mate. I’ve changed. Trust me; this is going to change your life.”
“Okay, Pete, I’m hanging up now.”
When your life takes a turn, it’s very hard not to try and bring people along on the journey with you. Especially if you know people experiencing the same sort of pain you were. The problem is, when starting anything new, we’re still just beginners; we don’t know what we don’t know, and we haven’t had time to process what we’ve just learned. So, when we’re explaining it to other people, a few things are bound to go wrong.
First off, by saying that your life is great now and that you can help people change theirs, you’re saying that they’ve been living their lives wrong. No one wants to hear that, especially not from someone who was probably drinking Bacardi through a straw wedged two inches up their nostril only a few months ago.
Secondly, you haven’t had time to implement these things into your own life and see if they work in the long term; how can you look at someone with any authenticity and say it’s going to help them?
And thirdly, you don’t know what you don’t know, right? But if you carry on a little longer, you’re going to open up a whole bunch of doors and realise you are at the beginning of an endless journey. The longer you invest, the more you’ll realise just how much you don’t know; this is often referred to as conscious consciousness. It’s six months into university, blue belt in Jiu-Jitsu, week two of your driving lessons, or the end of January when the new year’s resolution seems to have worn off just moments after the hangover. That’s when it suddenly dawns on you just how much you don’t know and how long it will take to learn. Unsurprisingly, it’s also where most people give up.
So, how do we spread the word? How do we introduce the people we love to the things that have made our lives better?
BE THE LIGHTHOUSE.
A lighthouse doesn’t move. It doesn’t jump up and down, and it doesn’t come out to get you.
It just shines its light. If you’re on a passing ship in the night, it might be guiding you home, or warning you about hazards in your way. But you’re still the captain; you have the choice of what to do with that information. If you totally ignore it, the lighthouse doesn’t budge; it doesn’t delete you from Facebook and start dating your ex. It just continues to shine its light.
The lighthouse has nothing to defend and nothing to conquer. It just is.
A question I want you to ask yourself is this:
Do you want to effect change, or do you want to be seen to effect change?
How many times have you seen an argument where one side has been mortally offended because the other has said something perhaps mildly contentious? Then, as if contagious, a bunch of other people in the room are suddenly mortally offended as well, and the person who spoke their mind is torn to shreds.
What is this person’s usual reaction? More often than not, it’s to root themselves in their position and double down.
“Well, you know what, actually, I don’t just dislike vegans, I DESPISE THEM.”
Now, one or two people in the ensuing mob may have made a good point or two. But our anti-vegan is never going to change his mind now; even if he does agree that perhaps what he said was wrong. It’s too late. He’s been shouted at, threatened and probably humiliated. At this point, even though he’s an inherently benevolent individual, he probably wants to march out of the room and punch a dog on his way home.
Our little mob that wants to affect this change in the world has turned someone even further from our cause. Our anger, and our desire to be seen defending our beliefs, has pushed us away from our own values.
But what if we were the lighthouse, and instead of jumping on him the second we heard his opinion, we opened up a discussion. We gave him (and ourselves) the space to make mistakes. It would mean we wouldn’t have to tread on eggshells (that might be anti vegan as well, actually), and we might actually get somewhere.
This logic can apply to anything: religion, sports allegiances, race, sexuality, gender identity, politics. In fact, the more contentious the subject, the more important it is. I know it’s difficult. Believe me. I haven’t got it nailed yet. Try telling me Gladiator isn’t the best film ever made, and I’ll probably get my toga out and start screaming things at you in Latin.
But it’s work we must undertake because what’s the alternative?
We either push people further away because they said something we don’t agree with, or even worse, we shut people down from even engaging.
“I don’t touch politics, mate.”
“Oh, best to leave race alone; I don’t want to get in trouble.”
“Last time I spoke about gender, I got shouted at, mate, so I’m just gonna leave it.”
The question is: Do you want to effect change, or do you want to be SEEN to effect change?
If you really want to help the cause you’re championing, then sometimes you need to let go. If you can approach conversations without an ego to defend or an opponent to conquer, perhaps counter-intuitively, you will win many more hearts and minds. Only then can you truly make the difference you so deeply wish you could.
Be the lighthouse.
Shine your light, and the ships will follow.