January 16, 2008

It's Nothing Personal

We could say nothing is personal. It's just their opinion (you're fine just as you are even if they don't like people who are direct, you're gorgeous and yet he doesn't prefer blondes); or it's the luck (or lack thereof) of the draw (I was recently offered three roles in an upcoming short play festival, and the truth is that very few people auditioned; my article is fantastic, and the editor already bought an article like mine last week; the man I am most attracted to is happily married); or there are extenuating circumstances (the employee who doesn't show up on time to work after numerous requests that he do so is experiencing problems at home, your intractable child has undiagnosed ADD).

If we knew that nothing is personal, that we are not uniquely singled out because of some congenital or spiritual flaw, we'd all be totally happy all of the time, never resentful, never self-beating. God and everyone would be off the hook, because we'd be off our own hook.

Until then, everything's personal. It is, because we say so. We have said so ever since we acquired that "I" thought as a tiny child.

Once there's an "I," it is all about you; it can't be otherwise. If she thinks you're hot, it's personal. If later she changes her mind, it's personal...but only according to you.

It's personal because it's about your own personal beliefs...not your mother's, not your spouse's, not your employee's, not Society's, not the Universe's.

"Life," Byron Katie says, "is internal." So we do The Work on what feels personal. And as long as you believe you're a you, that would be every stressful thought.

The Drive-By Fat Shooting

Several years ago, I was leaving a community swimming pool in the suburbs with my cousin and her daughter. It was a short walk back to my cousin's home, a couple of blocks, and we were still in our swimming garb; I had on a bathing suit and shorts.

A car whizzed by, and out of the window whizzed a zinger: "Hey fatso, you shouldn't be allowed out in the street like that!"

I was not the only overweight person on the street that day, but I was the biggest of our trio, and least covered up. I knew that message was for me; and I was crushed. I would never leave a swimming pool or beach without abundantly covering up again.

Months later, I was walking around my Greenwich Village, New York neighborhood, this time abundantly covered up because it was chilly and I hadn't been swimming. Another car whizzed by, rolled down the window, shouted, "Hey fatso, you're a disgusting pig!"

As I was on home turf, I went into defensive Noo Yawkuh mode, fists balled for confrontation, about to retort with something like, "Oh yeah? Well you're a MORON, and I can diet!"

I stopped short; something bigger than the zinger hit me. I realized that maybe 500 cars had passed me that day, and only one passenger in one car expressed disgust. For all I know, 499 people thought I was a knockout, or too thin (say, an Italian great-grandmother proffering pasta), or couldn't care less what size I was, or never even saw me.

The zinger hurt because according to me, it was true; I thought I was fat and therefore disgusting. How dare this fellow think about me what I think about myself!

Recently, I was the recipient of a string of "pearls." They were a lot more personal-sounding than anything anyone could say about my body. These gems were about my character, as seen by this friend. I was shocked, at first. And then, I listened, and heard. And I saw where she could be right, according to her. And I saw where she definitely was right, according to me. Therein lies my work.

The shock was not about what she said; it was that she said it. How dare they think about me what I think about me?

Don't take it personally? Hopeless. That's what we do, until we don't.

Nothing is personal. And, ultimately, everything is. If life is internal, you, too, are my internal.

©2008 by Carol L. Skolnick; all rights reserved.

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