I remember at one point a long while ago, I went to my sponsor with some problem I was having. I don’t remember the details of that problem anymore, but let’s pretend for a minute that it had to do with my friend Scott. My sponsor’s response was to tell me, “Brendon, Scott has a Higher Power, and you’re not it.”
I don’t remember how I responded to that, but I remember that I didn’t get it. I mean, of course I wasn’t Scott’s Higher Power, but couldn’t my sponsor see how right I was? How Scott would be so much happier if he did what I suggested? How everything would be so much better if Scott would just act the way I thought he should? I couldn’t understand why my sponsor wasn’t praising me for my insight about how the world should work.
This became a recurring theme. Every week or so for the next five years (no exaggeration), my sponsor would tell me that some person or institution in my life had a Higher Power that wasn’t me. My girlfriend. My friends. My mom. My professors. My brother. My classmates. Other people in meetings. My school. The State of California. On and on and on. Over and over and over. It became ridiculously repetitive, but that repetition was necessary, because for that entire five years, I just didn’t get it.
Then, finally, I got it. There wasn’t a profound “Aha!” moment that I remember, but at some point I realized that I had a different perspective on the people around me. And, that perspective is this:
The choices that you’re making are none of my business.
That’s it. Full stop. It doesn’t matter who you are or what my relationship to you is. It doesn’t matter how much I know that my ideas are better for you. It doesn’t matter how much I can see you’re hurting yourself. Your choices are none of my business. I don’t get a vote in them, nor should I.
(Now, I definitely do get to set boundaries about what behavior I will and won’t allow in my life, but that’s a different story from the one I’m telling here.)
My reasoning behind believing that I knew what you should be doing was different from time to time. Sometimes, my thinking was fundamentally selfish. I wanted you to do something for me, for my benefit, on my schedule. Other times, I wanted to help. I really did want what was best for you, but I thought that I knew your life and goals and dreams better than you did, and that I could see the way to get there better than you could.
Regardless of whether the reasons were selfish or not, underlying all of them was a heaping helping of arrogance. Often, I assumed that your goals and dreams and values were exactly the same as mine (or that if they weren’t, they should be). But, that’s not true; different people are different. Other times, I assumed that I knew what your goals and dreams and values were, because I knew what they “should be.”
In the cases where I was being selfish, I really just needed to get over myself. I’m not that important, you’ve got goals and dreams and motivations of your own, and although sometimes making me happy is a priority for you, lots of times it isn’t, and that’s okay.
Even the cases where I was genuinely trying to help were still inevitably misguided, and here’s why:
I know that many of the lessons that I’ve learned throughout my process have come from making mistakes. If I try to prevent you from making your own mistakes, I’m actually depriving you of the opportunity to learn your own lessons. That’s not love, that’s smothering.
Second, I’d like to share with you a shocking realization that I had at some point along the line. You might need to be sitting down for this.
Are you sitting down? Good. Here it is:
I might be wrong.
I know, right?!? Who knew? How is that even possible? 😊
But, seriously: I might be wrong. And, when I think I know what you need to do, no matter how certain I am, no matter how many times I’ve seen this movie before, no matter how much evidence I can point to on my side, I might be wrong. Do I really want to try to urge you to do something where I might be misunderstanding the consequences, or the effects, or the benefits that you’re getting from your current course of action? (In other words, do I want to take responsibility for urging you to make things worse?) No, no I do not.
Finally, as mentioned before, different people are different. Other people have a different backstory and a different set of goals, dreams and values than I do. This inevitably leads them to make different choices than I would make in the same situation. And, that’s okay.
As I have internalized the idea that other people have a Higher Power, and I’m not it, it has become much easier to deal with the other people in my life. I can remember spending days just bent because someone else wasn’t doing the “right thing,” and I thought it was somehow my job or my responsibility to fix it. It’s not.
It might not be your responsibility to fix the people in your life either. If other peoples’ actions are driving you crazy, maybe think about the idea that they might have a Higher Power that isn’t you.