Only Doing What They Think Is Right

One Take from the Week #10: Only Doing What They Think Is Right

A note came from Alec’s teacher this week. She wanted to let us know that he was having a hard time with a few of the students. Some of them were bothering him and his attitude was going from pleasant to unpleasant extremely fast. He was not telling the teacher when there was a problem, and he was not dealing with the situation in a proper way. Unable to use his reasoning skills, he was resorting to the use of force to resolve the conflict. At his age, using force is easier than using wisdom to solve the problem. But easy is not the solution and often results in unintended consequences.

My counsel to him was to identify the problem. I asked him, “Is this you or is it them? If it is them, then you need to respond accordingly which is to let the teacher know. If it is you, then you must determine if you need to change. Ideally, these students will be who you are hanging out with for the next nine years of your life. You will be working together in class, playing together in sports, and engaging with each other socially. What can you do to be in harmony with the group?” After our conversation, I joked with Bethany on where he could have gotten these behaviors from. Surely, he must have gotten it from her.

The next day, I was a little mentally bothered at work. One person was getting under my skin. There was a breakdown of communication with another. One of my team members asked me what was wrong. I responded with “nothing.” She knew right away that I wasn’t being truthful. Apparently, I have not yet mastered the ability to mask my facial expressions. The stress I was holding on the inside was manifesting itself outwardly. I told her, “My problems are with my perception. The others are doing what is in their nature. They are doing what they think is right. I need to adjust my emotions accordingly.” It was almost in line with something the philosopher Epictetus would say. As I said it, I had a moment of clarity. How are my problems any different than that of Alec’s?

It turns out he is more like me than I thought. These behaviors didn’t get genetically passed down from his mother. No. Those were the apples he picked up from me. I was quick to give him counsel him on a response that I continue to struggle with. Of course, I will not use force to resolve petty annoyances. But I can do better. I can use more wisdom and less emotion. I can remember these words from Epictetus earlier rather than later:

Whenever anyone criticizes or wrongs you, remember that they are only doing or saying what they think is right. They cannot be guided by your views, but their own…Say to yourself each time, “He did what he believed was right.”

Feature photo by Brett Jordan on Unsplash

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