Oktoberfest episode number 26. Taking things personally.
When somebody throws you a hot potato you get to choices. The first is to duck and second is to catch it.
When things happen you get two choices. Are that you take it personally which is the equivalent of catching the hot potato or you let it go. Once you have taken things personally you have no option but to embark on the process of growth.
But if you don’t take personally the comment, all the event or whatever took place you can still learn from it.
If you take something personally that somebody said there is only one way you can process that. Most people go into a state of denial and insult and act like a victim. That is not very powerful. In fact although it may trigger some anger or resentment the only person impacted by that anger and resentment is the individual who has taken things personally. So in doubles the insult if that is what has been taken personally. Also by going into denial and feeling insulted people become defensive or go on the attack to return the favour and enter into a game of political tennis that can never be one. In all of this there is a loss of something that is very important and that is self-respect.
Sometimes we feel that rejecting a insult or defending ourselves against somebody’s rude comment is self respecting. And that is understandable because if somebody says you’ve got two hands and they’re both ugly then you will feel diminished by there insult and as a result feel as if you need to defend your dignity. But it doesn’t turn out that way.
Once you reject something that has been sent your way in the form of a comment or criticism you become deflected. When we become deflected we are no longer walking or moving in the direction we were before we went into defence. So in someways we can protect our pride in rejecting an insult but that also will determine the trajectory of our behaviour. If rejecting insults and being proud becomes the driving force of our behaviour then we may not be doing what is best to achieve what we set out to achieve. It becomes quite reactionary. Let me share a story.
On one group in Nepal that I took up to the high Himalayas, got paid to lead people into danger, there was a guy who was a very successful businessman who had experienced a significant financial upheaval in his life recently and was only just recovering from the emotional and mental stress of survival. He was in Nepal to rejuvenate himself and find his strength again. His family were riddled with anxiety that he was approaching this track with some degree of fatalism. In other words they were frightened that he was going to put his life in jeopardy. This fear from the family was based on the fact that his pride had been massively injured during the course of the business struggle. He had only just survived with $20 million. Which to me seems like a success?
So the story goes that he and six other people were on a track with me in the Himalayas and part of the process of my trick is to give my groups daily briefings about culture and the safety aspects of their day ahead. On day zero there is nothing much to talk about except to outline the importance of behaviour around altitude sickness. This topic to me is really important to hand as much responsibility to the individual as possible because some of the symptoms occur during the night when nobody is watching. As part of this debriefing or pre-briefing I demonstrated the expected symptoms of altitude sickness and how important it was to intervene in early in order to prevent severe altitude sickness which is life-threatening.
About four days later we were approaching 4000 m of altitude which is quite significant given that most of us had come from sea level. We had spent two days in Kathmandu acclimatising and shopping because it is already at 1500 m. We had then ascended to 2500 m by aeroplane which is a 1000 m gain. It had taken four days to ascend from 2500 m to 4000 m and we were going to spend two nights at this level. And it was at this village that this guy we are talking about got really really angry at me.
His insult was that by introducing him to the idiosyncrasies and variables involved in altitude sickness I had planted in his brain a Fear and his mind had started to generate the symptoms of altitude sickness out of fear rather than out of true altitude problems. In other words he had become quite paranoid about the possibilities of him getting sick. He was really really angry at me and said that I was completely incompetent as a leader and that by introducing this negative possibility I had in fact stitched a thought into his brain which was impossible for him to overcome.
In this outburst I had the opportunity to catch the hot potato and react and therefore blame him for his paranoias or simply let the potato fly into the distance which ends up meaning he has to own the insult.
No matter what we do there are two sides to it. If you be really generous and give all your money to somebody, completely surrender all of your financial wealth and give it to somebody, there is a negative and a positive aspect to that gift. If you came back 20 years later that person would be able to tell you both the positive and the negative aspects of receiving all that twenty dollars . oh , your financial wealth is more than that okay ! but no matter what it is, in the moment there is the perception of something and over time there is a shift in that perception. and this is the key to handling an insult.
I was fully aware when this guy blamed me for injecting his mind with a paranoia and fear about altitude sickness that in three or five years time he would look back at the track and be grateful that he was fully briefed on the potential of altitude sickness. But right now in this moment his perception was very one-sided.
Given that he had just been through an emotional trauma which in volt his business back in the real world and that emotional trauma required him to operate in a state of fight fight, or as we call it got to, his habit was to polarise everything and here up in the mountains was no different. He was and at that moment was committed to his thought process of polarity of right and wron. Even though this trip in the Himalayas was about learning to think in a more evolved way when the situation allows it, he was not ready to embark on any form of change in the polarity of his thinking right now.
So I caught the hot potato. I repeated back to him what he had accused me of and agreed with him. I said, I can see how the briefing must have impacted your thinking over the last four days. And I demonstrated empathy for how that impact had changed his focal point. I said to him it seems that the fear of getting altitude sickness is not just a fear of the symptoms but a fear of the death that might come from it. And I can see how my lecture might of provoked that fear of death.
I didn’t try to give him what I knew. I knew that there were two sides to the lecture on altitude sickness and one was what he was expressing and the other was that it actually might even save his life. One caused him to worry about something that was a significant topic in his life right now given the loss of pride he had experienced bac in the real world, the other, might be that he was actually getting altitude sickness.
In the Himalayas there is altitude sickness and there is attitude sickness. It is really impossible to separate them.
There is a state of mind that will bring on the symptoms of altitude sickness without the individual having any single physiological reaction to altitude. Bipolar thinking has the identical symptoms to altitude sickness. Of course this is at a very low level of impact. If a person really starts to get altitude sickness which is the swelling of the brain or fluid on the lungs, this is a life-threatening state. So we are talking about early intervention and very normal symptoms at an early stage.
The key to this story is to see both sides of something yourself. But you don’t have to push back on the person who is sending the criticism or insult. As long as you can see the two sides of something you are free. That means you don’t catch the hot potato. And that is a very important element of not taking things personally.
But there is a second string to this bow.
As a leader on track I am also accountable for the consequences of his behaviour and thinking process when he arrives back home. I can only imagine how it must have been for his family and children to live in a world of such polarity. His habit of survival in the business must have migrated into all aspects of his life.
When a person gets so bipolar in their thinking process that they would attack somebody verbally with the level of aggression he demonstrated it became my responsibility as a citizen of the world to shine some degree of light back on him. Otherwise, if I just lie down and except his thinking and his comments I validate him to continue this level of violence on others and of course, what he does to others, to himself.
For me, I simply looked around and witnessed the fact that the universe is giving me support and challenge equally. The other clients were absolutely thriving in the environment and we were staying at a Lodge owned by a very close friend of mine and Sherpa family. So I was being supported and challenged and, I have done the mathematics to not take things personally. And now it was time to focus on resolving the challenge, not to bring it to order, but to help bring me to purpose in life. It is so easy to start solving problems through the prep of self-preservation, but the real solution to every challenge is to bring you back to your purpose and in that there is the solution.
No I am no martyr. I am not going to stick my head in the Tigers mouth just to prove a point but at the same token, if I am a teacher of open hearted living, then I must respect the fact that I have been given an opportunity to change the world by changing a relationship between me and this guy. If in that process I change the way he treats his children and his partner back home and the business people around him, I have lived my purpose, and I have changed the world.
And this is where having a life purpose is so critical. As an individual I can catch the hot potato or I can let it go and it is my own self interest at heart. The options of catching for letting go, of taking things personally or not, impacts my vision, my happiness, my ego, my state of mind and this is really important self leadership.
But if every single person on the planet function and to improve their own self, we would not have leaders.
And so as a leader we need a purpose greater than ourselves because this decision-making process around reacting or not reacting to insult will drive us firstly to survival techniques such as catch or not catch the hot potato of responsibility for something, or the ignorance of people sending insults away, but, self interest is just the first step, the platform of balance for a leader is the platform on which they can then ask themselves what is the greater good.
So my purpose is to open heart and a man who is thinking in bipolar language like this guy has a closed heart and so I knew if I could get past the hot potato of his acclimatisation challenges I could ask him other questions and find out what was really going on. So I took him for a little walk on our rest day and I asked him about how things were going in other aspects of his life and he revealed the challenges of the last two years in business had really destroyed his self-confidence. But I was not interested in putting out minor fires I wanted to know what had really brought him to the point where he could get into financial trouble. And the answer became, strangely as it may seem, his anger towards his father. And with that the floodgates open. I was able to give him such guidance through this really long long held anger and therefore find the route of his bipolar thinking.
So let’s summarise this rather long episode. Firstly, in dealing with people throughout the world whether they are your boss or somebody at the coffee shop you are going to get confronted by comments people make. If you find yourself taking those comments personally you have work to do. And it is really important to realise that if you take things personally you will automatically drop into self-preservation. If you drop into self-preservation defending or attacking, you are definitely not living your vision and our off track. The consequence of this is delay in achieving the things you want even though you might feel right about defending or attacking. Therefore, if you find yourself reacting to what somebody says it is really important to go into process. Either using the discard form or the emotional shower you can quickly and easily evolve to include the negative comment in your portfolio of character traits. In that way you don’t catch the hot potato.
The second aspect of dealing with comments people say and not taking them personally is that in the entire universe you will always be equally supported and challenged. So if somebody is challenging you it is wise to look around at where is the support. It can never be missing. But because we compartmentalise work we want support and challenge at work but sometimes we get support at home and challenge at work. When this happens the challenge at work escalates and the support at home escalates and we are still in perfect balance. One of the lessons you have already learnt is that a balanced person is balanced in each of the seven areas of life and not by each of the seven areas of life. In other words we have work work balance. Work work balance means you get supported and challenged in your job. That would be a universal truth and you can find it and when somebody challenges you immediately look for where somebody is supporting you and therefore have less chance of knee-jerk reaction
Finally the solution to self-preservation is never finished with just a discard form or an emotional shower. The reason you get challenged is to bring you back to the awareness of your purpose in life. That is the magic of the universe and nature. When you are off purpose, living your life through your ego and therefore self-preservation, reacting to insults or comments by people, being jealous or envious of others, angry or fearful, those are all opportunities you are being given to ask what is my purpose and therefore have the right solution for the future. If you can gravitate to purpose you will stay on track and you will manifest what you want in a much shorter period of time then if you meander of an emotional reactions.
That is the end of this episode. Live with spirit. Chris Walker.