Words of Wisdom: You can’t control other people.

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So many things bother us—people, mostly. But pretty much everything has the power to upset our basic sense of well-being. Our tendency, when things bother us, is to blame the other person or situation for getting it wrong and thus causing our suffering. Once we have identified what we consider the cause of our disturbance, we usually set out to try and fix it. We attempt to change the other person’s behavior or the situation into something we consider right, or at least something that will not bother us.

There is no doubt that people and situations can be the cause of our discontent. If someone swings a baseball bat into my knee, the pain I feel is directly caused by that action. If a friend speaks unkindly to me, I feel hurt, a direct result of his choice of words. We impact one another; there are people and situations—infinite ones it seems—that can cause our suffering. That said, there is nothing wrong with trying to change a situation that we don’t like or that makes us unhappy. Such efforts are wise and adaptive and a way of taking agency in our lives. We need to try to change what’s not working, if we can. But this is not a post about how to more skillfully change those around us so that they can better fit into how we want them to be. This is about what happens when we are not successful at changing those around us, and cannot change the situation that is causing us pain.

I guess you could call it Plan B.

When we cannot change the cause of our suffering, many of us continue to blame the other person or situation. This may provide us with some relief, at least for a while. But what happens when trying to change the other has failed and continuing to blame is not actually making us feel better either?

To turn your attention into yourself is to ask the question: What does this situation or person’s behavior trigger in me? What pain is generated in me when I am confronted with this behavior or reality?

As we all know, we can’t control anyone else’s behavior, and we can’t make another person want to or be able to change. But we can always make the choice to shift our attention inward, to focus the lens of curiosity onto ourselves. And remember, by investigating our own experience, we are not condoning the behavior that triggers our suffering, nor are we assuming responsibility for having caused it.