For many years now, I have been fascinated by self-improvement. How can I move from where I am to where I want to be? How can I lose some of my negative habits? So I often find myself reading various articles on the topic of what makes people happy. The answer is different for everyone, I know. Asking what makes one person happy is as individual and unique as their DNA. However, a universal theme I have come across lately is the power of being positive. Conversely, letting go of things that are negative is also important. The power of perspective seems to be key in whether someone is happy or not. Seems simple enough, right?
A few weeks ago, I read a great article suggesting that one of the ways to be happier in life is to learn the art of not being offended. I was intrigued. The article went on to explain that people are the sum total of their experiences, so that when others say or do something that is offensive to others, more than likely it is about them and not about the person they directed the offense to. The idea was interesting to me and a few days ago I had an incredible opportunity to put it into practice.
I spent last week in North Carolina visiting and working with a good friend of mine. A caregiver who has worked with me since last summer made the trip with me. One of the nights we were there, Rick (my friend) took us dancing. Although I have danced in my wheelchair for a long time, I am used to ballroom dancing, where there are specific steps to learn and specific poses included. This type of dancing was entirely different. Ecstatic dancing is much more free form, letting your body move to the music as you are lead. Rick loves this type of dancing and it touched my heart deeply that, before I got there, he found a group that danced in an accessible location so that I could participate.
To be honest, I didn’t want to go at first. It felt a little strange to me and I will admit that I don’t always do well outside of my comfort zone. I also didn’t know anyone there except him, and since he usually danced with another group, most of the people were new to him as well. All of those factors only made me more uncomfortable, but with Rick’s encouragement, I decided to give this new form of dance a try.
And it was amazing.
Once I let go of the insecurity that I was feeling, dancing free of rules and specific steps in a particular order was one of the best things I have done in a really long time. Over the next two hours or so, I danced with every one of the approximately fifteen other people in the room. At the end, the leader thanked me for coming, and one of the women who had danced randomly said: “It was great to see you smile so much the whole time you were here.”
My inclination is to be offended when people say stuff like that to me. Am I not supposed to smile? Does she think that I don’t smile often? Would say the same thing to a stranger she just met who didn’t happen to have a disability? The whole line of thinking is something I am ashamed to say I get caught up in routinely and it is nothing but a downward spiral.
Then I remembered. Part of what made the evening such an enjoyable experience for me was that I let go. If I took me specifically out of the comment that she made, it took on a different meaning altogether.
Maybe she didn’t have a whole lot of experience being around people with disabilities. Maybe she thought that if she were in similar circumstances, it would be hard for her to smile. Maybe the only experience she had being around someone with a disability was when they were struggling or in pain.
I will never know the whole story. But I do know that I realized something profound as the whole thing was tumbling around in my head. Her comment could only be considered offensive if I chose to give it that particular meaning. It probably did make her feel good to see me smile, no matter what the reason. And I don’t have the right to take that away by being offended, even if she would never know the difference.
Turns out the power of perspective is a very positive thing.