You know how there are some people who just get on your nerves? Maybe their take on things always seems different than yours, or their communication style is hard to listen to, or maybe they’re just straight up not nice. Sometimes they are regular characters in the sitcom/drama of your life, other times they appear as strangers, talking on their phones too loudly in public or whining about problems you consider to be inconsequential. The point is, you do your best to avoid them, but if they get on your nerves this much, chances are for that some situational reason, you really can’t steer clear of them all the time. Maybe it’s a classmate, co-worker, or even a family member, but there is some external force that makes sure they spend more time in your path than you’d like them to. You may even have a nickname for them – something that captures whatever it is that you find most annoying about them. I have a nickname for them, too. I call them “mirrors.”
I’ve got some good news and some bad news for you. For the bad news, I will turn to Irish writer Marian Keyes for some assistance: “The things we dislike most in others are the characteristics we like least in ourselves.” I know, I know…no way! I don’t have any of the qualities of that ridiculous tool! They are completely different from me! Well, in search of the good news, let’s see what mindfulness has to say about that.
Most of the time, people who act out, whether by simply being inconsiderate, overly aggressive, or even violent, do so out of fear. They may be afraid of being left out, feeling alone, not belonging, or not being valued. Have you ever been afraid? Or felt alone, or like you didn’t belong? I’m not saying that, for example, just because someone else talks too much means that you do, too. But, could it be that maybe they’re nervous in certain situations and get chatty as a result? Have you ever been nervous? Ah, so maybe there’s some common ground there after all…
Now, this by no means excuses rude or aggressive behavior, which is rarely acceptable. But let’s be honest, some of the people who annoy you aren’t either of those things. They just get under your skin, for miniscule reasons that may be barely discernible to others. The point here, though, is that as much as you may not want to admit it, you get where these folks are coming from. You’ve been there. See that? That flicker of sensation you just felt? That’s what we call compassion, and it’s one of the most meaningful gifts a mindfulness practice can offer you. It’s also immensely helpful in MBA life, where teammates, classmates, co-workers, even professors, can really test your patience. Compassion makes you a better teammate, and as we will be talking more about in weeks to come, it can also make you a truly exceptional leader.
Academic settings can test some of the most compassionate among us, however. Thing is though, they’re meant to. If you’re in an MBA program with the price tag of a limited edition Lamborghini and you’re not being pushed out of your comfort zone on a regular basis, you’re wasting your time, not to mention your cash. MBA programs these days are diverse in every way possible, including diversity of thought. There is a 100% chance that someone in that exceptional mix of human beings is going to make you want to pull your eyelashes out. From the classroom, to happy hour, to that 14-hour flight for your global study module, encountering opposing viewpoints is part of the deal. You signed up for this, and your job is to not only listen mindfully, but consider their perspectives as you shape and perhaps reshape your own. George Will recently wrote a piece on what he proclaims to be oversensitivity to “microaggressions” currently present on many university campuses, lamenting the impact it has on the free exchange of ideas and debate that prompt intellectual growth. The president of Oklahoma Wesleyan University was even more direct than that in his recent commentary on the subject. Their bottom line is that the role of the student is not necessarily to be in agreement with all ideas, but to provide space for them, and to refute them with both consideration and considerateness in disagreement. I’ll tell you what, in some classrooms I’ve been in and some teams I’ve been on, THAT would take some serious mindfulness. Am I right?
No matter where you study, work, play or roam, you are going to encounter people you just don’t click with. Your ability to not only tolerate but, at times, engage with them compassionately, will make you a more successful, and generally better, overall person. Mindfulness teaches us to sit with our own difficult emotions, and notice them without judging ourselves for experiencing them. The next step is to begin to give others around you that same opportunity. The next time you feel that familiar sense of irritation rising up in you, ask yourself if it does any good. Does it change the situation, or make anything positive happen? Not so much? Then ditch it. You’ll breathe easier and think more clearly as a result, and who knows? You might even start to like them. Too much to ask? OK, I get it. It’s mindfulness, not magic. ;-)
“The whole point of education is to turn mirrors into windows.” — Sydney J. Harris
Photo credit: Rowan Heuvel (Stocksnap)