This past week has been pretty rough for me due to some family conflicts. I haven't gotten so upset or angry in a very long time. Coincidentally, two of my friends also went through a really emotional week due to relationship conflicts. Nowadays, it seems so many people are struggling in relationships, which shows how important it is for us to learn about how to have good relationships and how to resolve conflicts effectively.
In the face of conflict, most of us think things like, "It's THEIR fault for ruining my mood when I was originally happy. Why are THEY so unreasonable? Why can't THEY try to understand me first instead of blaming me on false assumptions?" The more we blame others and focus on others' faults, the worse our mood becomes. The worse our mood becomes, the more we hurt others and ourselves.
Self-cultivation is key to a happy life. We have to cultivate and train our virtues and emotional self-regulation. To give an analogy,
If a person's immune system is strong, external viruses cannot hurt them. Similarly, if a person's self-cultivation is strong, external people and things cannot upset them.
I can't change the fact that I got angry, so the best thing I can do now is to reflect and improve myself from it. I won't go into detail about what caused me to become upset because it is quite complicated, and I don’t think it is necessary for the purpose of this article. However, I will share my reflections in the hope that you can avoid my mistake.
After getting angry, I felt terrible, especially given the fact that I even wrote a detailed article on 10 reasons we get angry and their solutions. But knowing is just the first step. Correcting our bad habits requires a lot of practice and persistence.
I reflected on why I got angry and how I could prevent this in the future. At the core of it, I got upset because I felt wrongfully accused of being bad when I worked hard to do the right thing. Thus, I kept defending and explaining my perspective, while they kept arguing about their perspective, and we all got very upset.
The irony is, before the argument escalated, I had a thought pop into my head: "You need to be humble. Don't argue." But when I felt that they completely misunderstood me, I succumbed to the strong urge to explain myself, and my tone of voice was very annoyed, which added oil to the fire. So how can I prevent this mistake in the future?
Well, since I care so much about being right, I need to convince myself that defending myself is indeed wrong, and not explaining myself in the face of misunderstanding is indeed right. In fact, the more I assert I am right, the more wrong I become.
How could this be?
First, I am wrong for making them angry. I care about them, love them, and want them to be happy. When I calm down, this is obvious to me. But because I got overly focused on a misunderstanding, I forgot this, and I made them angry. My friend told me,
"Yes, you are right about all those things. But making them angry negates all those things and still makes you wrong overall."
I should also remember that I care a lot for this person, and I owe a lot of gratitude to them.
Therefore, I should be trying to calm their emotions rather than trying to prove myself right. I could have said things like "You are right. Thank you for telling me." or "What can I do or say right now to ease your worries?" Saying these would prevent conflict and create harmony, and harmony is more important than logic.
Second, I am wrong for focusing on logic before emotions. When people become emotional and defensive, logic gets thrown out the door. We find whatever reason, logical or illogical, to defend our biased point-of-view. Or we just say something out of anger that we don't really mean. So I am wrong for wanting to debate logic when we were both emotional. When I sensed either of us getting emotional, I should have asked to discuss later when we both feel calm or happy.
Third, I am wrong for demanding them to understand me first. What other people do is outside our control. Therefore, demanding others to understand us is a sure way to unhappiness. Just like we feel they don't understand us, they also feel we don't understand them. The only solution in our control is for us to first understand them. As Confucius said,
"Do not worry that others do not understand you. Instead worry that you do not understand others."
Given I struggle with this, I cannot demand others to be able to do it. But if I want to have happy relationships, then I must improve on this aspect. When they see me trying to understand them, they will feel like I care about them, and then effective communication can occur.
Fourth, I am wrong for letting negative emotions take over. We all just want to be happy in life, so letting negative emotions take over is never the right choice. True happiness comes from being a good person, and a good person is humble and kind. I cannot blame my negative emotions on outside circumstances or people. There are other people who would respond calmly when facing the exact same situation. I could have chosen to practice humility, patience, and kindness, but I forgot. That's on me, not them, and I need to improve there.
What others do is outside my control, so I must not base my happiness on that. The only guaranteed way to be happy is to cultivate myself, to improve my humility and kindness.
One of the best tests of our character is how we face unjustified criticism. Emperor Tang set a great example because he accepted incorrect criticism with humility. He said:
"If I make others feel bad for trying to criticize me, then people would be scared to advise me in the future."
Fifth, I am wrong for being arrogant. An arrogant person tells others why they are wrong, and they do it rather forcefully. A humble person views others as teachers and respectfully asks to learn their perspective rather than argue or defend one's own perspective. An arrogant attitude will naturally be reflected in our tone of voice, facial expression, and choice of words. This arrogant energy creates conflict. If I were humble, I would realize that life is not black or white; there is no absolute right.
Instead of getting upset at them, it would be much more effective to be humble and learn about their perspective. Once we understand them, we often see that both our perspectives are right in their own way. Even more importantly, when they feel respected by our humility, they will calm down, and the emotional conflict will be resolved.
Bad habits like anger do not get fixed overnight. It takes courage and persistence to get back after each failure, and I am fortunate to have a wise and supportive friend to cheer me on.
I hope the next time I feel upset that I am being misunderstood, I will remember: The more you assert you are right, the more wrong you become. Instead, be humble and kind, understand them first, and prioritize harmony. And I hope that you can avoid my mistake!
Weekly Wisdom #222