During a recent family meeting, I was listening to the grudges of 4 of my 5 children. They were upset by some of Maya’s more callous comments. It seems that none of my family are very thick skinned in the insult department – I explained to Maya that it was a good policy to think about what one was going to say before actually saying it. She cleverly countered with, “You always tell me to be honest?!”
“Maya, I do want you to be honest, but now that you are older, I am going to teach you about when honesty might not be such a virtue! Being kind is sometimes better than being honest”
She squinted her eyes and looked at me, very confused. “Be honest, but don’t be honest?”
“Maya, although I am never offended by what you say to me – other people, who maybe might not love you as much as I do – or who might not know that you love them, the way that I do – may be hurt by the things that you say!”
“How I am supposed to know when to tell the truth or when to lie?!”
“I wouldn’t necessarily say – that NOT telling someone something that could be mean or hurtful – is lying! Figuring out the effects of your words, and weighing which is the better choice – to blurt it or to zip it – that process is called discernment.”
She made an exasperated sound and rolled her eyes. Mom’s big words!
This was her first foray into the complicated world of contradiction, but I figured it was time to introduce her to the subtle nuance of mature behavior.
I turned to the rest of the family.
“Girls, this is not saying that I condone Maya for saying hurtful things, but I would like to tell you how her honesty has actually strengthened me, by helping me develop a thicker skin. Learning not to take things personally can give you a lot of freedom in the world. It can be quite limiting to have a thin skin. The world can sometimes be cruel and critical, and where better to practice learning how not to take things personally – than from those closest to you! At least you know that Maya really loves you, underneath it all – which may not be always the case with others. In a sense, Maya is inoculating you!
I am offering you an opportunity to change your perspective – to look for the gift and the teaching from this situation.”
Now all the girls rolled their eyes. I continued, undeterred, with my premise.
“Do you remember when Maya was 4 and she ran upstairs one morning to ask me if I was going to die, and I said, NO! Why?, and she said, ‘cause you look so old?”
They all nodded, because I took great pleasure retelling this story. I thought of that moment as a sort of rite of passage for me. It was the moment that I realized that nothing Maya (or any of my children, for that matter) could ever say, would ever bother me or upset me. In fact, it was the opposite. I was delighted by their view of me, however unflattering! It didn’t matter what they said to me, it was impossible for me to take offense.
And, I wondered why? Why do I respond so differently with my children?
Perhaps it is because I love them unconditionally, and so everything they say is filtered through that love, bathed in that love. I can feel that undercurrent of love at all times, permeating every interaction, in a way that I have not been able to achieve, to the same degree, with the rest of the world.
With them, I could feel the love between the lines.
I had a history of taking offense at mean comments and at criticism from others, and had been, like the rest of my family – fairly thin-skinned. The decades of being in the public eye and at the mercy of the fickle press had not cured me from being hurt by other peoples’ opinions of me – even though I might have understood intellectually that it was only their opinion, and had more to do themselves than with me – it still felt bad.
Only my beautiful children, especially Maya, had been successful in freeing me from the slings and arrows of perceived putdowns.
If I could now translate what I had mastered with my children, to all of my relationships – through a filter of deep love for all humanity, I would be free! This is my goal.
“What other people think of me is none of my business!”Anonymous