Aside from my favourite kindergarten teacher, who had the softest of angora cardigans and comfiest of laps to climb into, some of the best teachers in my life have actually been people I loathed.
Loathed? Well, I’ve learnt from experience that when I find someone irritating, annoying, loathesome, repulsive….you get the picture, something very interesting is happening. If I’m willing to be really honest with myself I notice that the very trait in them annoying the heck out of me is actually one I have or am terrified I have. Tough to face. Like the mother of all mirrors. Not “mirror, mirror on the wall, who is the fairest of them all?” but “mirror, mirror facing me, clear the mist so I can see.”
Here’s how it works. I recently observed someone on the train give a companion highly opinionated, authoritarian advice. Direction actually. Along the lines of “you must do this, then do that, and of course it’s essential you ensure….” My toes curled in horror. I put my headphones on to try and escape the onslaught of finger wagging. I started to feel sorry for the poor person on the receiving end; then, I felt judgmental – enormously judgmental – of the arrogant jerk pontificating as if their life depended on it. And finally it dawned on me that my judgment comes from being worried about being this jerk myself. As a coach and therapist, it’s easy to fall into the trap of seeming to know more than my clients. I certainly love to share what I know; but with an educational, co-designing energetic passion, carefully avoiding a directive do-as-I-say manner.
And here’s the rub, it works in the reverse as well. I’m furious with my friend for always being late for our rendezvous because I’m never late. I have all kinds of judgments about the choices making her late, her disrespect of me and my time, etc., but what’s underneath all of that is my deep-seated fear that some day I’ll be late for someone and they’ll think all those dreadful things about me. So it’s actually fear driving my behaviour. Uh-oh.
So next time you’re faced with someone who’s irritating the do-da out of you, it may be interesting to pause and take a breath, pondering what it is about them that’s driving you nuts….and ultimately what it is about YOU that warrants some attention.