“Once in a while I return to the fold of people I call my own.”
If ever you should find yourself adrift in a moment you can’t put words to, I guarantee there is a Finn lyric that will do the job.
The beautifully simple piece of lyrical mastery above, which has always stayed with me (as good songwriting should), is from a 2006 Finn Brothers song called Won’t Give In. To me, this is about the way our most treasured humans anchor us in time and space, shaping our sense of identity and shoring up our sense of purpose. Last week I returned to my homeland and spent a delicious week with family and friends, and I observed, not for the first time, the effect that being in their presence had on the rhythm of my heart. I felt lighter, I felt held. I remembered how much the humans around me make me want to be a better human.
And then I remembered that some of the people who make me a better human are not among my inner sanctum. Actually, some of the people who’ve taught me the most are people I wish I’d never met.
Instagram, that dubious temple of modern spirituality, is rife with quotes about the importance of spending time with the ‘right’ people. Your vibe attracts your tribe! Surround yourself with people who lift you up! Unfollow people in real life! These snappy catchphrases are all helpful... but also unhelpful, I think, because they implore you to judge people’s inherent worth (which rather undermines that whole spirituality ethos, no?) What’s more, they don’t account for the fact that it’s not always possible to ditch the people who don’t behave in ways you want or expect (particularly if you live with said people), and that many of those folks have probably been brought into your life for a reason.
Look, people are dicks sometimes. And that’s not a bad thing. Because dickery (prob not a real word, but let’s go with it) can teach us plenty. The bloke who pulled out from a side street in front of you teaches you why being considerate on the roads is important, and why you need to pay more attention while driving. The workmate who took credit for your efforts teaches you why it’s important to acknowledge people’s achievements, and that you need to make your boss more aware of your contribution. The date who never called you back teaches you why it’s important to treat people fairly, and what you’re *not* looking for in a partner. Yes, it would be ideal if these people weren’t in your orbit – but that’s not how the Universe works. Mostly it gives you the people you need, not the people you want (although, I am sure, you have plenty of those in your life too).
Law of attraction pioneer Louise Hay believes that the reason certain people annoy us is because they remind us of aspects of ourselves we find uncomfortable. I have found this to be true in many cases. About five years ago while reading You Can Heal Your Life, I had a friend who constantly interrupted people, made bitchy comments behind people’s backs and engaged in one-upmanship. You may wonder why I was friends with this person. (I wonder that too, actually.) She was part of a group of girls I’d been close with since university days and I felt a sense of loyalty to her. Even so, I often found her behaviour infuriating, until (after reading Louise’s insight) I realised how many times I did the same shitty things. Ouch. I, too, interrupted others. I definitely gossiped about my friends. And a tendency towards competitiveness, driven by a fear of lack, is one of my least attractive qualities. Even though this girl is no longer my friend, I consider her one of my teachers because she spotlighted areas I needed to address in order to become a better person – and ultimately showed me how I didn’t want to live. I’m not saying I don’t occasionally do these things still, but I’m getting pretty good at calling myself out when I do.
Think about the person who is really grinding your gears at the moment, and ask yourself honestly whether you are replicating their behaviour or attitude in some way, even at a low level. This won’t always prove to be the case – and it certainly doesn’t excuse their bad behaviour – but if you realise that they are mirroring you in some way, that may help diffuse your anger slightly and help you look at the situation (and yourself) differently.
You don’t have to put up with irritating, inconsiderate or just plain rude behaviour but if it’s not possible for you to cut someone out of your life, reflecting on what you can learn from the situation might make it more tolerable.
Above all else, what can be most helpful is remembering that we are all dicks sometimes. I know I am. Happily, when human contact becomes too exhausting, you can always return to the fold of people you call your own. And you should, as often as you can.