I saw this quote from Maya Angelou recently and it stayed with me.
The first time someone shows you who they are, believe them.
Its a hard lesson to learn. We want to be trusting and forgiving, but end up suffering when we see the signs but refuse to follow them. Most of us have at least one relationship we can look back on and in hindsight we can pinpoint the exact moments when people revealed their true character. Whether out of generosity or naivety, we ignore the signs.
Many years ago I had a regular lunch with a group of older men. One of them was in a position of trust in the community. I knew he wasn’t behaving well; drinking heavily, touching waitresses inappropriately and making bigoted comments. I excused him on account of his age and said it was the alcohol talking. I should have believed him. He was showing me who he was. I later learnt more and saw firsthand the devastation caused by his behavior.
I sometimes wonder how different life would have been if I’d believed him the first time he showed me who he was.
I’ve been schooled in this lesson several times in my life. I’m setting the intention to start believing people when they tell me who they are.
I still want to allow plenty of room for second chances. I’ve needed enough of them myself. But where’s the line between second chances and being naive?
Maybe its in the distinction between making mistakes because we’re confused about who we are, and locking into a habitual way of being that is abusive. We can forgive the former. The latter is a neon sign that says, “Believe me. This is me. Run!”
For people who take pride in being open and trusting, there’s another important distinction. You can have compassion for someone without trusting them. Trust is something that is earned, often lost, and regained, over and over again. Don’t confuse trust with forgiveness. They operate differently. You usually forgive people well before you trust them. You might forgive an apologetic jewel thief, but not leave him alone in a jewelry store. You might forgive people who have hurt you, but not leave them alone with your heart. Work at forgiveness, and let trust grow in time.
It takes both courage and compassion to stand up to bullies.
1. People act like bullies because they are themselves hurting. (compassion)
2. Don’t tolerate being bullied by them. (strength)
This sort of courage changes the whole dynamic. Saying “enough!” to bullies is completely appropriate. Saying “enough!” with compassion changes the whole dynamic.
Scratch the surface of a bully of any age and you find a scared kid, searching for love. But its their karma. You can’t protect them from it. They need to find an appropriate way to find that love without abusing others. The kindest thing we can do for bullies is to stop inhaling their karma and leave them to face themselves.
Believe in yourself and the value of your life too much to ignore the signs. If you are being bullied by a parent, spouse, friend or coworker, they’ve shown you who they are. Believe them. Protect yourself. And move on. I’ve seen my children do it. We all can do it.
Imagine how different life would be if we listened to our gut the first time it told us to stand up for ourselves, step away from a relationship or demand to be treated with respect.
As Stephen Covey said,
I teach people how to treat me by what I will allow.