It’s not personal

“Carol, Don’t you ever get upset about anything? You never seem to get mad even when people are mad at you!” This comment came one day from a teacher during a particularly difficult time in my 2nd year as a principal. At the time I laughed, because of course I get upset like everyone else when situations are stressful, fraught with negative emotions, or seem personal. But there are a few core principles that, upon reflection, I hold that led to this teacher’s observation. I thought I’d share some of them with you.

Mindfulness
The concept of mindfulness was something I practiced before really knowing of it explicitly, through my interest in yoga as a fitness activity. Later, learning about mindfulness in the context of education (for example with the MindUp program for students) led me to a deeper understanding of, and appreciation for, mindfulness as a technique and way of being that helps me manage my own reactions (what I can control) to stressful or difficult situations (that I can’t control). I love following and sharing the tweets from @mindfuleveryday to keep myself on track.

The Four Agreements
I was first introduced to this book by Don Miguel Ruiz through a short video from Aboriginal artist Roy Henry Vickers. The book summarizes ancient teachings of the Toltec people that lead to a happy life. One of the agreements is “don’t take things personally”. In essence, this means that each of us sees a situation through our own lenses and it is real to us. If someone else is upset with a situation and thinks that you are the cause, that is their reality but it does not need to be yours. If you believe in you own reality, and believe that you are doing your best and being honest and acting with integrity, that is enough. They are upset – that is their reality. You are fine and confident in yourself – that is your reality. This is honestly one of the most powerful things I have ever read and I come back to it often when I find myself in a situation of conflict.

Getting mad doesn’t get us moving forward
This one is just a part of my personality. I’ve never gone in for arguments, never had the need to prove I am right or try to change someone else’s mind. I don’t see the point of getting angry and making a big fuss. It doesn’t help solve the problem or move us forward; it may actually just make the situation worse by leading to words or actions that we soon regret.

So with all of that being said, of course I still sometimes get upset. I am human, after all! But I use these principles and techniques to work through it in private or with a trusted friend, or my husband or my daughter, all of whom know me well and allow me to talk myself around to a state of acceptance and calm. Like all skills, the more they are practiced the more easily they are used and the more effective they can be. In a human and relationship-based profession, conflict or disagreement is inevitable. I just don’t take it personally.

How do you deal with conflict? What strategies do you practice to maintain relationships and your own serenity in difficult times?

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