Today I snapped at my husband about a trivial issue. It made me realise something about us humans that I hadn’t articulated before in quite the same way. You know how on our smart phones, although there is only usually one thing showing on the screen at any particular time, there is all this other stuff happening in the background – other apps updating, our location being shared with some apps, our security app making sure that nothing sinister is happening to our phone etc. There’s all this stuff going on in the background that we are not particularly aware of. I guess the same could be said for our body; the circulatory system, the nervous system, the digestive system, our eyes etcetera – this body of ours functions in miraculous ways and most of the time we’re not really conscious of what’s going on unless, of course, something goes wrong like a stomach ache, headache or worse. You get the picture, right?
Today I received an email which made me realise how sensitive I am right at this time. I guess the COVID-19 is affecting nearly all of us and I don’t know about you, but I’m a bit more on edge than I normally am. Despite doing daily meditations and deep breathing, I’ve noticed I’m more reactive than usual. Let’s just say there seems to be a quite a lot happening in the background, if we use the analogy of the smart phone. So, I received this email from someone I admire and respect. This email was blunt and quite harsh about my work performance. Needless to say, I was guttered. What I didn’t think about was that the author of the email also has stuff going on in the background, just like me.
Now I know that the American humanitarian and diplomat, Eleanor Roosevelt, said that, nobody can make you feel inferior without your consent and she’s absolutely right but what it did make me think is that perhaps at the moment with all of us being hypersensitive and pretty freaked out by what is happening in our world, there are some things that can be left for another time or better said on the phone in a kind voice. Now is probably not the time to tell people they’re a disaster because frankly, some of us vulnerable ones may actually go and do something we regret.
I believe that each of us is doing the best we can at any time considering the mental and physical health we each find ourselves with and our particular life situation, not to mention, from a Buddhist perspective, our individual and collective karma. By thinking in this way, it helps me to be a bit more compassionate towards my own situation and the situation of others. I can’t see what’s going on in someone else’s background but I know some have more stuff than others. As I say in my poem, Kindness:
Be kind to this person
‘cause they could be you
And you’re never quite sure
What some have been through.
Look through the anger
And the mean words.
Ask, Are you ok?
It’s not so absurd.
Well, I didn’t practise what I preach. Frankly, I felt like ringing a few friends and having a good old bitch about it. I didn’t though. I never hear from this friend by phone but at a time like this I sure would have appreciated hearing their voice. I remember doing a course on email etiquette a few years ago and they said that there are times when an email is not the most appropriate form of communication; a phone call or a face-to-face chat is more suitable.
Have you ever read an email from someone when you are in a particular mood and felt a certain emotion and then returned to the email again when you are feeling differently and read the email as if the words on the screen were not the same? It’s the weirdest feeling. The thing is that the email has no body language, no voice intonation or facial expressions. This is why we need to be careful about the way we express ourselves and perhaps have a re-read and ask ourselves how this email will be interpreted if our intended audience is not feeling the best or a little bit vulnerable due to the current global situation.
This week I have spoken on the phone to several of my senior friends over 70 years of age who are in the high-risk category of catching the COVID 19 virus. These telephone conversations have been long and luxurious and made me appreciate how precious it is to connect with my friends over the phone. We’ve all said during these conversations how much we care for one another and have caught up in a way that has been unique. Most of these people I would only normally ring on their birthday or at Christmas time. There is something though about the current global pandemic that made me realise that a text message or an email just wasn’t going to cut it.
I’ve also been attending Buddhist meetups and communicating with teaching colleagues via Zoom and Skype for Business. Once again, there has been a tenderness in my heart, an opening, that wasn’t there before. These on-line platforms have made me realise even more than ever how precious the people in my life are.
I’m praying that the person who sent me the harsh email will give me a call so that we can connect in a more intimate way. If it happens, it would be lovely but if it doesn’t it sure has taught me that I too need to be careful with what I say to people during a time when we are all feeling vulnerable and anxious.
Stay safe. Take care.