Let go of your righteousness and choose kindness instead.
I was working with an executive recently who had to have a tough conversation. She and her ex-husband had made an agreement about a big co-parenting issue. They had different opinions for sure, but an agreement was made and then it was broken. And, not only was the agreement broken, but the kids were told to lie to their mom about it.
My client was upset, angry, frustrated. And rightly so. When people break agreements with us, when they let us down, when they say they will do “x” and then clearly do “y”, we feel deceived. So, she vented her self-righteous indignation about the other person breaking trust. We gave all of her perfectly valid feelings their due space.
Then we talked about making mistakes. We talked about our mistakes and the mistakes of others. We explored the role mistakes play in our lives. Where would you have developed your grit, the ability to get back up and dust off without mistakes? Would you have the same kind of humility and compassion for people in the world if you had never made a mistake yourself? We considered how mistakes mold and shape us like failure-free life just can’t.
Next, we talked about choices. Why? Because we need to get better at relating to ourselves and others without blowing up relationships—beginning with our family members and extending out to friends, neighbors, colleagues, and our communities at large. There is a way to choose harmony even in the heart of the toughest conflicts. As “A Course in Miracles” teaches, the power of that decision is our own.
While acknowledging anger and frustration, there is a step beyond those emotional states. To reach it we must be able to see another possibility. The willingness to move beyond upset without dismissing it is about emotional maturity and the long-term game, rather than the short-term importance of being right. We talked about how everything can be used as an opportunity, even this. We explored it. What if we could turn the whole dynamic around? What if rather than going to battle with her ex, we could turn this situation into an opportunity to create stronger agreements and a deeper co-parenting bond? It was an option. And if done well, with a lot of care, it may even have ripple effects of cooperation and community for years to come.
It is not easy to let go of your righteousness and choose kindness instead. But brave conversations are needed now more than ever. With civil unrest and race relations in the state they are in now, we need to learn how to step beyond defensive, self-preservation tactics and consider new ways to listen, learn, and explore inclusive solutions that recognize our interdependency rather than emphasize our separateness and self-righteousness. We are all too f***ing self-righteous.
Frankly, there has never been a better time to practice this. As Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. said: “There is another element that must be present in our struggle that then makes our resistance and nonviolence truly meaningful. That element is reconciliation. Our ultimate end must be the creation of the beloved community.”
So, rather than just doing the instinctual “I’m right and you’ve been caught lying to me” speech, my client chose to express herself, hold another accountable for broken agreements, set/re-set boundaries, and model what is possible when a mistake is made. She chose to use this as an invitation to step into a higher level of personal leadership. Her willingness to go beyond common reactions into a braver way of communicating led to a conversation with her ex about their interconnectedness, what corrections were necessary, and what new, stronger agreements could be created together. There is a way to say: “that’s not okay with me” and “I can’t stand for that being repeated” while keeping in mind the ultimate end we want to see in the world.