Remember that time you heard or read something that really struck you as important and you said to yourself, “I need to tell (so and so) about this”? I have had many times like that. Many of my books are so underlined and color highlighted that it is like looking at a rainbow to thumb through them. I have recorded lectures and workshops I attended because I was sure that some good friend or relative “really needed to hear this.”
I still feel that way when something particularly meaningful comes along. However, long ago I realized that when I had those thoughts the first person that really needed to hear them was me! Of course, that does not mean the thoughts would not be helpful to others I might have in mind, but the primary person had to be me. I am the one at the workshop. I am the one reading the book. Besides, how can I really know what the other person needs?
Mistakes can easily be made in communication with others if we operate under the assumption that they are needy and that their lives would be so much better if they would just listen to us! Even when we think we know absolutely that a friend or family member is heading down a path that will lead to disappointment, frustration or unhappiness, it is not our responsibility to “save” them. If it is not our job to share with others the information we think they must hear, then how do we help those whose paths are, for the time, paralleling ours?
Well, this lesson is so old and so familiar that it has probably lost its savor and therefore is easily passed over in our eagerness to help. That lesson is simply this:
“What you do speaks so loud I cannot hear what you say.” (Ralph Waldo Emerson)
Or “You can preach a better sermon with your life than with your lips.” (Joel Goldsmith)
I know just how silly this may sound. However, as you examine what it means to set an example, you see immediately how much work is involved in that process! Think about the people who have impressed you throughout your life--your parents, teachers, mentors. More often than not it is not what they said, rather how they lived and who they were that sticks in your mind. There was an essence about the person that simply inspired you to want to be like him or her or apply yourself as they did.
I have had a number of people like that in my life. They are people who had a lot to say and I listened to be sure. But it is the totality of their lives that influenced me most. I don’t know that I ever left a workshop feeling like I wanted to emulate the facilitator, or read a book and decided I want to be like the author. There is so much more to be aware of if we are to teach and learn.
My mentors were not perfect specimens of humanity necessarily. Often they seemed like a flower surrounded by thorns! One particularly important person in my life was capable of expressing a terrible temper and a scathing verbal attack under certain circumstances. At the same time that person had a deeper sense of total love than I have known in most other persons. Now, in my later years, I am even more aware of that love than when I was younger and we had more interaction. He is no longer here physically and I miss him. The love he embodied and the powerful energy sometimes expressed in anger in order to get my attention will always be with me. Tears come to my eyes even now as I respect the tremendous gift he is to me by the life he lived.
Sure, maybe something we heard or experienced could be helpful to someone we care about. If we really care, we need to be certain that our life shows that caring and is not simply words. Seek to love freely and without conditions as much as possible. Remember to separate behavior from the person. It is the person you care about. Behaviors can and will change as better ways of living are recognized. A light in the darkness cannot beat a person into following it. Neither can it be put out by inattention. The light simply is what it is. Let your life be a light on the path for others, but remember, you cannot force them to walk in that light. Just being there provides an opportunity. It is up to you to love what is, to love the person and trust the Truth within that person. As you do this you have provided the best opportunity for change and success.