Zig Ziglar said, “Every obnoxious act is a cry for help.” Wow! What an amazing way to reframe being attacked. It’s not easy, mind you, in the heat of the moment. But imagine how different life would be if we lived with that sort of compassion.
About twenty five years ago, I was physically attacked in a case of mistaken identity. At the time I was working as a youth worker on the streets of inner Sydney. This enraged guy held me up against a wall with one fist around my neck and a knife pointed at my jugular. He demanded his money back. I told him I didn’t know what he was talking about, but he wasn’t buying it.
Something amazing happened in that moment. Among the many emotions I had, the strongest was sadness. I thought to myself, “This guy must be in trouble to be acting like this.” I spontaneously relaxed my whole body. It went so limp that his hand fell off my neck like water. After a little more argy bargy, he finally gave up and said that the guy he planned to kill looked just like me. It was a happy ending, at least for me.
It struck me that this is a metaphor for not taking things personally. Anger is almost ALWAYS a case of mistaken identity. Everything that annoys or enrages us in other people is something we haven’t faced in ourselves. Getting involved in other peoples’ anger is like the Irishman who found two people brawling in the street and asked, “Is this a private fight or can anyone get involved?” Another person’s anger is NOT your fight.
It’s like the sign at the zoo, “Don’t feed the lions.” Don’t feed anger. It’s a misplaced primal scream. Feed the real hunger, which is a plea for understanding. It’s their cry for help. The question is how we answer the cry. It starts with compassion. I’m not talking about pity, or pop psychologizing someone in the heat of their rage. That will make it worse. I’m talking about genuinely feeling compassion for the other person, and hearing their pain.
You can’t take away someone else’s pain, but it’s amazing how much compassion helps. Next time you are attacked you have a choice. You can attack back and end up in a smack down of mistaken identity, or you can feel compassion.
A Course In Miracles says, “Every communication is either an extension of love or a call for love.”
Treat every interaction this way and there will be so much less suffering.
Every attack is a cry for help. Make your every word an extension of love.
Don Miguel Ruiz sums it up perfectly in The Four Agreements,
Don’t take anything personally. Nothing others do is because of you. What others say and do is a projection of their own reality, their own dream. When you are immune to the opinions and actions of others, you won’t be the victim of needless suffering.