I recently read a quote saying a true friend loves you for who you are, no matter what. It made me think about acceptance and what that entails in relationships. Does a true friend simply let you be and do whatever you want, regardless of whether it is beneficial to you and others? Or does a true friend push you, challenge you to grow, inspire you to be your best self, and hold you to your highest potential? As a friend, partner, or family member, can you do both? And who decides what is best?
I have recently had to take a long hard look at my own ego in the context of several personal relationships. I tend to see potential in others, to give them the benefit of the doubt that they are capable of being their best self. And as a result I tend to enter into relationships with expectations. I expect the other person to be on the same path as me, to be striving for the same things. And as Buddha taught us, with expectation (another word for desire) comes suffering. I try to, as a friend put it, “gently shove” people in the direction that I feel is best, instead of allowing them to walk their own path. I come to the relationship with the best intentions, and we all know where those lead. I try to help but my help is not always wanted or needed.
On the other hand, I do feel it is our responsibility as friends and more broadly as fellow human beings to hold one another to certain standards. To encourage kindness, compassion, respect, and acceptance towards others. When I see these things being violated, I do step up and express my feelings. But I still have to realize that that is where my contribution ends, unless the other person asks for my help. As Ram Das said, if I have a problem with someone, that’s my problem. If someone has a problem with me, that’s their problem. It is when we expect others to fix our problems or we try to fix theirs that we get in trouble.
Once I have established my beliefs and the other person has established theirs, it is then my choice to continue the relationship. I have the right to set boundaries if necessary to preserve my well being. If the other person doesn’t respect my boundaries or if I don’t think I can be my best self and honor who I truly am while in relationship with them, I can end or reduce contact with that person. If I maintain the relationship, I must accept that the other person is the way they are. And they in turn must respect me. In certain cases there may be exceptions, as there are to every rule, but most of the time when I examine my motives it is my ego and not necessarily my spirit that wants to change someone else. In my teacher training last weekend I was given this wonderful gift during our swadhyaya, or self study, session: If you hear yourself thinking or saying, “How dare you…” check your ego. Whether it is a thought or statement directed at yourself or someone else, the ego is probably behind it. This is not to say that you shouldn’t stand up for yourself or let others treat you badly. However, when we are motivated my strong emotion coming from ego, things usually don’t go well. If we can step back from the situation, examine our part in it, see where the ego has been triggered, ask ourselves what part fear is playing, and then move forward with love, we will have much more success.