No one can make you feel inferior without your permission – Eleanor Roosevelt
This is a saying that I like to quote. I first saw it on the wall of a hotel in the Blue Mountains and it had a lovely photograph with it and was in a large frame. I stood and looked at it a while because I wasn’t quite sure of what it meant but I soon got it and have seen this message in many forms because it makes so much sense yet the victims of this world do not get it. Actually I think we are born ‘not getting it’. There is an action and reaction we learn. You do this, and that happens. You do it again and it happens again. It becomes reinforced. Sometimes you do something and something different happens. Whoa! Wasn’t expecting that! Maybe I need to rethink my beliefs on that one. Our minds tend to the certain, in order to process and make sense of all the information coming to us, so it is easier to cling to our beliefs that there will always be the same outcome, or very likely to be so. And this is a belief that has stuck around in human beings. If someone insults me, I am wounded and feel inferior! Wrong! I first came across paradigms 17 years ago in the Stephen Covey book ‘- Seven habits of hugely successful people’ with his story of rowdy kids on a train. The other passengers were annoyed that the father did not contain his clearly out of control kids and they judged him thus. However when one spoke up, the father explained that their mother had just died and they were all going home from the hospital, the father in his thoughts and grief and the kids acting out theirs as they did not know how to respond. Instant paradigm shift.
This is another version of course of ‘It’s not what happens to you, it’s what you think happens to you” – an old favourite and one I repeat to myself regularly.
I am certainly not immune to being wounded by the actions of others. However if I am ‘aware of awareness’ as Eckhart Tolle puts it, I can see the event or insult for what it is and lessen my immediate reaction.
Recently there was a lovely fable of a similar belief on a blog that I subscribe to where I am almost the only external follower of an ex naval man in India Neil Gadihoke. The fable describes this idea that we have choice in allowing negative feelings into our lives and gives a great explanation of how to do it. When life throws things at us which we may find disturbing, be a lake! Yes, I know, Odd out of context. What he means is if imagine those events are salt and you are a glass of water – the salt will change you considerably. However if you are a lake, that salt will affect you only infinitesimally. If you are a ‘greater, more aware, enlightened person you will see life’s events for what they are – just a blip in the grand scheme of things. Now I tell my kids to ‘Be the Lake’ instead of ‘Go to the Moon’ which used to drive them crazy. Basically imagine you are sitting on the moon and looking down at the event which caused your pulse to race and your body to go into fight or flight mode. See yourself as this tiny person among a huge expanse with billions of other tiny people, all rushing around like crazy and having experiences of their own. Your event is small and one of so many. You could also speed up time from up there (If you can sit on the moon you can do anything here) and see yourself and your life with its own millions of events. Again, the one that upset you hardly registers. It is forgotten in the blink of an eye so why let it ruin your day today?
Another way to think of this feeling inferior is to examine the word ‘no one’. Who that one is makes such a huge difference to how we take the words that made us feel inferior. The same words coming from a small child, parent or respected mentor will be received quite differently!! We give more weight to those we feel inferior to in the first place. Now I am going to look at the word inferior. I only seem to do this exercise when I am writing these blogs but it is fun, especially as I have this weird deep memory for words. Interior – In fer or infer. Fer I believe French for hell or I think of ferrous meaning the metal lead in chemistry. We may feel like lead if we are insulted however I don’t think that’s the point here! Infer – in hell? Maybe if you really are that insulted. Infer – to infer something is to read between the lines of an event and make your own conclusion. That is brilliant! How apt in this instance. Eleanor Roosevelt I only learned a little about recently. Franklin D Roosevelt’s wife, was super smart and aware and in a great position to use it. I believe she only came into her own later in life, but I am not sure. Maybe I am wishing it to be so because I am 46!
Anyway I digress – so inferior and infer are so similar! I had not noticed that before. I would think the meaning of inferior is being less than we were before that ‘one’ did something. It may or may not have even been directed at us. Some people can take offence at anything, I have discovered and you have to really watch what you say and do around them. That is the main point of this quote. I would describe those people at the far end of the continuum of being easily offended as not only being tiny glasses of water but as being filled instead with a chemical (my chemistry does not stretch that far any more, sorry) which turns BLUE when you add salt! Maybe I am mixing experiments but I believe there are two chemicals when mixed together turn blue because one of the chemicals that make up one solution react with one of the chemicals in the dry compound to form a new solvent compound which is blue. Magic! Don’t you love those commercial chemistry sets they give kids. Do they still have those? I loved doing little chemistry experiments at home as they were guaranteed to have interesting results.
Again I digress!! The main point of this saying is that if you are the kind of person who gives your consent – con means with sent, sen – related to senior, senile, old? I have no idea here – because give is a voluntary act, you have the power NOT to give that consent. We may think that’s impossible the cause and effect is in place however we have built that cause and effect. Someone tells me I am ugly, I am wounded right. They SHOULD NOT say that! I am indignant. Wrong. How about you say – now why would they say such a thing? I am not ugly, I am a lake and I am beautiful. I may be complex and full of creatures and patches of warmth at the top where the sun has shone on me and beset with weeds in places where I have allowed them to grow but it is not my belief that I am ugly. I am reminded of another quote that ‘All criticism is self-criticism” – in which case this person thinks that they are ugly! How sad. Is it the worst insult they can come up with? Is it dreadful for them to be considered ugly? Have they been told that and allowed themselves to be wounded by it? Do I care that I may be ugly? Beauty is in the eye of the beholder anyway and I am considered hideous to the tribes in PNG yet beautiful to my loved ones. We do not need such a complicated filter for everything we hear. As I said, the brain has probably instead narrowed it down instead to ‘they are insulting me’ therefore I must be less of a person because I have either caused them to feel this way in order to insult me. Don’t forget those same words; said in a different tone of voice (and a tone that we give meaning to because of our cultural values probably) will be a sign of affection. It may even be sarcastic because you are looking particularly beautiful in your eyes that day. Here’s the thing ‘in your eyes’ and that is Eleanor’s point. Change your eyes. Another great quote is something about not needing to change our lives and our world in order to be happy but to change our eyes. I think it was some Frenchman – Henry David Thoreau or someone, though I don’t know why that name came to mind. No doubt I can Google this saying later and hopefully find it. It’s a goody.
In order to hurry this essay up, I will try to keep it short . Eleanor is saying that our feelings are our own. We have some say over them. We can allow events to make us respond in different ways to what we think is given. Nothing is given. What peace we would feel if we could be the observer of events, filter very carefully against what people may ‘try to make us feel’? They may not be trying to make us feel anything in the first place. The person who seems to ignore you but actually either did not hear or see you in the first place is innocent. Your insecurities and beliefs about yourself made you take offence and it was nothing!
Many times I have replayed conversations in my mind that upset me. I may have worried that I said the wrong thing, offended someone, that they were passively aggressively insulting me, now that I think about it, that what a boy said meant he loved me/hated me/was about to break up with e! Girls and women love to analyse at length the meaning in everything, hoping to turn around their understanding to a prediction of what will happen next with the boy. And of course he is oblivious and meant nothing at all. Why would we do that unless we realised that there were different ways of looking at the same events? Everything is open to interpretation I think our lives will be a lot calmer and more enjoyable if we interpret everything as fantastic, great news or interesting. Like seeing the silver lining, or looking for the open door when the window has closed. I never realised how many sayings there are on this subject. They hang around because they simply reiterate what seems obvious but can be so easily forgotten in times of stress and disappointment.
To sum up, only because I am now short of time I believe Eleanor is saying in a succinct and super clever form (using the word inferior) that those no ones can’t make us do anything or feel anything. They do not have that power. Take back your power over your feelings, giving consent is a voluntarily action if you would only but realise it. If you do find your body reacting to something and finding you are upset, that is the perfect time, if you can take yourself out of your mindstream to analyse why you are responding this way. By breaking it down you may realised how much you have inferred by the event, what weight you have given to the person ann event and why it pushed your buttons. ‘People can only push your buttons if you have buttons to push’. That’s why people who are very like in many ways love and hate each other. Misers will find other misers unbearable because they see their own ‘failings’ or what they judge to be failings in themselves. We are continually judging personality traits. Actually to simplify even more, if we stop judging anything we can’t be made to feel inferior. I will have to ponder on that some more….