Day 1142- Never Take Anything Personally

One of the things that have changed about me since Shayna’s transition is I take each day, each event, as a lesson for me. If a situation is presented to me, there’s something in there for me to learn. I try not to miss the lessons. Human nature is fascinating to me.  Humans have always fascinated me. When I was younger, I subscribed to Psychology Today, a magazine about psychology for non-professionals.

Being a leader in Helping Parents Heal is one of the great blessings of my life. The online group is over 3,500 people now. We have added 3,000 people in about 15 months. It has grown exponentially. We’ve added 500 people in less than four months. Three thousand five hundred people who have experienced the worst possible thing that can happen to a parent are gathered in one place. Everyone there has been in pain or is in pain. The only reasons to be there would be because you’re in pain or you’re a Boddhisatva. With all of those hurting people with raw nerve endings, I would expect there to be a lot of conflict and drama. Amazingly, that’s not the case. The four leaders who started out leading the group are all still in place 15 months in. We’ve had no major conflicts, hardly any minor conflicts. Among the members, I think we’ve removed less than five people in that time and mostly for fake profiles.  Very few posts or comments have been removed.

When you have 3,500 people, no matter who they are, some conflict is inevitable. Recently, we had that. Someone made a post about their personal experience and how they had not experienced anger after the passing of their child. Their point was that anger is a choice and we can choose not to be angry. That claim triggered serious anger from parents who had experienced anger and did not see it as a choice at all. They felt they were being judged. Ironically, then the person who made the initial post felt judged and angry. Several comments later and the person who made the post removed herself from the group saying she had been bullied and no one had come to defend her.  Ironically, of the leaders on the group, I was the only one to comment in the thread, trying to play it down the middle. As a group administrator, I have to be Switzerland. I can’t take sides. What that got me was a tongue lashing from the person who made the initial post. She felt we didn’t back her up, even though I did support both her and the other people. When I responded by telling her I would not take her criticism of me personally, she called me an “ass” and asked me not to speak to her anymore. Isn’t it ironic how a conversation that started with her talking about not being angry ended with her leaving the group and insulting me on the way out?

This is what I’ve learned. Often when you remain calm in the face of misplaced anger, people take your calm as being dismissive of them. If you don’t take their anger personally and reflect it back to them, they feel like they haven’t been heard. I heard her. I acknowledged her feelings, but I wouldn’t get personal with it. It’s a no-win situation. You can respond in anger and escalate the situation. Or, you can respond in love and they get even angrier.  I choose to let people be angry alone.

Then, a couple of days ago, my friend Susanne Wilson posted her thoughts on whether suicides and murders are “soul planned’.  She believes they are not. Soul planning is a hot topic in our group. Everyone wants to know if all the bad things that happen were planned. Why this is so important, I don’t know. One of our group members, a teacher who has a blog, believes that everything is soul planned. This would include suicides and murders.  Some believe that most things are soul planned, but that we have free will, the ability to veer off the course we set. For some reason, many of these people believe suicide would never be planned.  Murder would never be planned. They do, however, believe addictions are planned, sickness is planned, mass accidents are planned. They make exceptions for these two types of exits from life. It’s not my intent to address that in this post, my point is a couple of people got very upset with Susanne for saying this. If Susanne doesn’t believe their child’s suicide was planned, that means their child went off of their plan and the parents take this personally.  One mother even questioned why Susanne is part of Helping Parents Heal since this was obviously such a flawed thing to teach. This teaching is so offensive to her, she seems to think Susanne has no place in our group. I have to say Susanne has dedicated countless hours to Helping Parents Heal.  She has taken a lot of flack from hurting parents about silly stuff like using the word “dead” in her book and in her presentations. (Remember, we’re a bunch of hurting people we can be hypersensitive). I’m not a moderator on Susanne’s Facebook page. So, I could offer my opinion and I came to her defense, even though I don’t necessarily agree with her teaching on this topic.

The thing both of these situations have in common is the people who read the initial comments, the comment from the mother who didn’t get angry after her son passed and the comment from Susanne about her personal belief about suicides and soul plans, is that the person reading the comment took it personally. They felt as if the person making the comment was judging them and their individual situation. Someone else’s response to the death of their child somehow reflected on them.  A teacher’s belief about soul planning, was seen as a judgment of their child. And, they allowed this to make them miserable. I know Susanne.  I know there was no judgment at all in her comment or in her beliefs, quite the contrary. I don’t 100% agree with her conclusion, but it’s only her conclusion.

I was reminded of the Four Agreements. I’ve never read the book. I probably won’t. Why muddle up such profound simplicity with more words?  One of the agreements, my favorite, is “Don’t Take Anything Personally”.  If we could all do that one small thing, we’d eliminate 95% of the conflict in the world. Two of them were violated by these people. And it’s so easy to do. First, they assumed the intent of the person making the comments. They assumed they were judging others, felt superior, or both. Second, they took it personally. If their son died by suicide, he screwed up his plan. If they got angry, they weren’t as good as the person who didn’t get angry.

This morning, as I was walking, I was listening to a podcast. One question asked was “How often do our loved ones want us to visit their graves?”  I could answer this without listening to the podcast. They don’t care. They are not hanging out at their graves. They are with us wherever we are. Interestingly, the podcaster started by saying he hadn’t been to his father’s grave in quite a while because he lives in Maine and his father’s body was buried in Massachusetts.  But, he went on to say that more people are having their loved one’s remains cremated and keeping the ashes at home or scattering them. And, he thinks this is a mistake. People are going to miss having a place to visit if they don’t have a cemetery and a grave to go to. These people who have had their loved ones’ bodies cremated are wrong and will regret it. I was flabbergasted. I started talking back to the guy right there on my walk. I thought about writing an email to him. “It’s silly to have a place to go. What if you move?  You said yourself our loved ones aren’t there. If we just need a place to be with them, why not an altar like I have in my bedroom. We had Shayna’s body cremated. Do you think we made a mistake?”  I had all my arguments ready. I felt the need to justify my decision, for a split second. Then, I thought about it. This is how it happens. I disagree with his conclusion. I made a different decision. I’m happy with my decision. Why should I care what he thinks? I had started to take his decision personally. Then, I let it go. He won’t get an email from me.


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  1. Thank you Brian, for your insightful words…always interesting, because I know you put much thought into whatever you do, say, or share. With all of the information we find or are given, through any of our grief or spiritual resources, we must find what resonates with us. This is a journey of discovery. The beauty of having conversations or hearing contrasting views is we get a variety of new or old ways to look at life, death/ transitioning, and beyond. Why don’t we all believe the same things? We came to earth to learn, grow, change our thinking, become more aware, or not, through the many experiences we will live. And just when we think we’ve got the perfect, deep, meaningful answer to our questions and concerns…something new will be brought to our attention! So I keep an open mind…to see what resonates with me down the road…and trust the journey to show me more.

    1. Sara, it’s fascinating to me how people are so hung up on soul planning and so emotionally attached to their current understanding. Personally, I am OK with the mystery, for now. If I can get to the point where I know the universe is for me and it all works out in the end, that will be enough.

      I’m not sure it’s for us to know, while we’re still here, whether it’s all planned down to the last detail or if we have wiggle room.

  2. Very well articulated, as always. I always take what resonates with me personally. and scroll by the rest. My lesson has been not to engage when things get heated. Respectful discussion is paramount. as we all experience our own reality. Our feelings are as individual as our children. And kudos to the moderators for the work they do.