[Welcome to our annual Guest Writer Series! Up next is AT, Guest Writer #8 (of 12). AT is always transparent… always makes me think… and often makes me sing along to the latest tune… ]
Letting go means different things to different people. To Buddhists it means the practice of non-attachment. To Christians it could mean turning the other cheek or offering forgiveness and mercy. To a minimalist it is the practice of refining and removing of all that does not serve us well. We can let go of stuff and we can let go of baggage. We can let go of anger, resentment, a grudge, a dead relationship, a dead end job, guilt, anxiety, control, or whatever is weighing us down. Over the course of the last decade I have begun to expand the list of things, attitudes, behaviors, and feelings that do not serve me well.
What I have found is that the more closely I identify with an object, a person, a place, a group, or an idea, the harder it is for me to detach and let go. What is required is a ruthless examination of the attachments I have and a relentless questioning of does this serve me well, does it serve me now, does it serve me best, or does it no longer serve me at all. Like a person who physically hoards things, we can also build philosophical walls which close us in and others out. We need to be just as ruthless in questioning those walls as well. Sometimes walls offer us security and protection and sometimes those walls do nothing more than divide and separate us from others.
Google will return a huge number of essays explaining the hows and whys of letting go. For simplicity’s sake, I am going to focus on why letting go might help to practice humility and kindness.
“Always be humble and kind,” wisely sings country singer, Tim McGraw. What does letting go have to do with humility? It’s hard to be humble when your ego is in the driver’s seat. Charlotte, the lovable spider in Charlotte’s Web explains to Wilber the pig that humble means not proud. In order to be that you have to tame your ego. You have to temper your emotions. You have to consider the needs and feelings of others. You can’t be self absorbed, angry and insensitive to others and be very successful at being humble. Wanting the best for others helps. Forcing your way of thinking on others, trying to manipulate others’ behavior, insisting that you are right and everyone else is wrong, being a know-it-all, never listening to other points of view, feeling the need to vanquish others in an argument or a comment thread on social media doesn’t fall under the heading of humility(and makes you unpopular at parties.) I had to let go of the need to be right, the need to prove others wrong, the need to win the argument, the need to point out others’ faulty logic, the need to respond to every bait, the need to control others and make them see my way of doing things is the correct way, the need to prevent my children’s mistakes by insisting that my wisdom is superior to theirs. It’s certainly an exhausting “to do” list. By changing it to my “not to do” list, my life became easier to manage, not harder. And those closest to me, both physically and virtually, benefited from it as well. Humility has nothing to do with being a doormat. It has to do with letting others be themselves right or wrong. The flip side of not having to be right is not having to worry about what others think of me. Egotists need to win at everything. Nothing is more threatening to the ego than losing and being wrong is not an option. When ego is sent packing, I am free to be me and you are free to be you.
Once you become humble, kindness just flows out of that. You begin to help when asked rather than offer the correct way to do it. You start noticing what is right rather than being consumed by what is wrong. People begin to be vulnerable with you because they are no longer fearful of being shot down. Relationships improve because you are listening and seeking win-win solutions. When you are focused on supporting positive outcomes for others rather than seeking to dominate and destroy, compromises stop being seen as weaknesses and start becoming part of a joint solution to community problems. Cooperation begins to replace competition. Peacemaking is easier once accusatory anger is replaced with kindness and compassion.
Every day I hear people bemoaning the divisiveness in our country and blaming other people. May I humbly suggest that we do some soul searching and question whether we are contributing to that divide by identifying so strongly with either group think or me think that we feel the need to be right and make those who think differently the enemy? Humility and kindness could be one way to begin to heal what ails us. I would apologize for not being perfectly humble and kind yet, but I let go of trying to be perfect, too. All I know for sure is that I feel a lot lighter since I decided to let go more.