Thanks (again), Mother Theresa.
“Let no one ever come to you without leaving better and happier.”
I saw this quote on a day when my heart had burst as a social worker, a day when people’s needs seemed so vast and deep I couldn’t fathom how to be meaningfully helpful. As a social worker, that’s what I’m supposed to do – be helpful. But how to be helpful gets confusing sometimes and I start to think I’m supposed to make rainbows shoot out of my fingertips or some such. To do the impossible. To fix everything.
On such a day, when I forgot that I cannot make magic, Mother Theresa’s quote seemed so overwhelming, as if her charge was a task too daunting and idealistic to even consider. As if the world were too messy and chaotic and painful to even remember how to have a simple positive human interaction.
But then I don’t know what happened, but something shifted. And I realized that all I had been doing all was being really helpful. Even if I hadn’t fixed impossible, gigantic problems. I can’t pinpoint what instigated the shift, or what propelled the initial negative thoughts and then what motivated the positive takeover. Suddenly my perspective had changed and I felt much lighter. I had parted with each person on this hard day knowing that I’d grieved, empathized, supported, accepted, and cared for each one of them in a way that was appreciated.
And then I felt better and happier.
In my career, it’s generally regarded that I get better with age. As I’m currently somewhere between novice and seasoned, unbearably hard days don’t come too often any more. Reasonably hard days are once in a while. And when they happen, I can usually cope efficiently. It has taken a lot of attention to my own needs and practice in valuing and meeting them. And boundaries. Lots of respect for boundaries.
And it would be easy to just give credit to that experience.
But I am instead choosing to believe that anyone can do this. Anyone can go from thinking negative to positive about the same situation. At the risk of sounding Pollyanna, I think it’s possibly the most important thing we can do every day. The thing that can make all other things possible.
I am not really a glass half full person. I am not faith filled. I am not terribly cheerful. But I’m also not a pessimist. Shades of grey, that’s what I really like. I like everything in between.
So as a rather realistic, practical, occasionally intense introvert, I’d like to claim the soapbox for one brief second and say this:
You being kind with your thoughts is enough. You being gentle is enough. You being patient is enough. You being empathetic – to yourself – is enough. You do not have to do anything to make the world a better place. Stop regretting whatever it is that you missed out on before adulthood responsibilities took grip, stop wishing you didn’t work for a big corporation or that you took the bus instead of driving. Stop letting other people’s anxieties dictate your own. So what if you have an old phone, old clothes, and old car. So what if you don’t know what to talk about with your stylist. It doesn’t matter. What matters – what makes you a really great person, someone that allows other people to leave your presence feeling better and happier – is how kindly and gently you treat yourself, which naturally trickles down to how kindly and gently you treat others.
Seriously. Self empathy produces out-of-self empathy.
Thanks (again), Mother Theresa, for the reminder when I needed it most.