Nischala Devi writes the following:
We may stubbornly hold the belief that others cause our problems and inconveniences. In those situations we may appoint ourselves as their teachers to show them the correct way to act. From that attitude our egos enlarge, leaving us with less room for insight. If you routinely feel it is the other person’s fault, take another look, this time from a different perspective. (171)
Reading this really hit home for me because I had a difficult situation last week in my job. Because of all the thinking I’ve been doing on ahimsa and satya, this situation really stuck out to me as an example of how I can change my thinking, how consciously practicing satya and ahimsa (truthfulness and non-violence) can help me to be a calmer person (and a better colleague!).
I work as an editor and project manager, compiling large complex medical books. I received the page proofs of a chapter that had been very difficult to assemble: the author constantly changing the artwork, which had an adverse affect on the artist’s time to draw the rest of the book; the book’s editor hiring a photographer to reshoot all the surgical images without telling me, sending me many new photos to process after I thought the chapter was done. Now all that was over and the chapter was in proofs, but because of this history, I already had a negative feeling when I approached the proof. It wasn’t the proof’s fault, but I still felt negative.
My colleague on this book project, a production manager I’ll call Ed, had sent a note the day before explaining that the author had cut one of the photos from the chapter, causing the rest of the figures to be renumbered. I thought, Oh, this chapter, always troublesome! So when I opened up the proof, I was ready to find something wrong, and of course I did. The renumbered figures didn’t match up. I pulled out the original chapter text and photos and drawings, and went through one by one, double-checking everything and working myself up. Doesn’t Ed know how to renumber figures? What kind of production manager is he? I worked for an hour, discovered the problem, wrote a bunch of notes on how to correct it, and then sent it off to Ed and our page designer.
Only then did I notice that Ed had sent an email 20 minutes earlier. He explained that he’d forgotten to mention that the author had moved a few other figures around. Of course that accounted for the problem I’d discovered. Then I got angry at Ed – if he hadn’t been so neglectful, I wouldn’t have wasted an hour of my time! I was so angry! Then I took a closer look at the email he sent the previous day, where he told us about the first figure being renumbered. He had attached a document showing the new figure numbers for all the images; like Ed had said, he’d neglected to mark on the cover sheet about these other figures being moved, but he’d numbered all the images themselves in their new order, showing all the changes from the author including the other figures that were moved. If I had looked at this document, instead of going back to my originals, I would have seen the change, but it never even occurred to me to look at Ed’s document. He knows how to do his job – why didn’t I trust him? I’d been too caught up in my own story about how this chapter was troublesome and I was the only organized person in the world. I had been too focused on being right, being righteous, being in control. I wasn’t looking at the truth, just making up a story about what I thought the truth would be.
Then, if I hadn’t gotten so worked up about solving the problem, I would have seen Ed’s email before I sent off my own email. I acted hastily, and then looked like a dummy in front of both Ed and the page designer, because here I was, acting like a savior, going into detail about a problem that Ed had already noticed and pointed out. I think this had a lot to do with why I got so very angry: my own behavior made me look silly. Then too, I didn’t have any real reason to be angry with Ed. He forgot to mention something. Who doesn’t do that sometimes? As soon as he noticed the problem, he let us know. It wasn’t his fault I’d gotten worked up and spent an hour analyzing things. There was nothing wrong with Ed’s behavior, only with mine. Which just made me angrier.
I left work for the day and went to the train station. I was standing there, feeling tense, feeling angry, when up comes my friend Sue. She’s taking a painting class, and she told me about the project she assigned herself, to go paint her son’s boat once a month for practice. At the end of this year she’ll have 12 paintings, all of the same boat, but all different because of the seasons, the light, different angles of viewing the boat, and Sue’s own improving technique. So we talked about painting, and about boats, and Sue is such a sweet gentle person that I couldn’t stay angry while I was talking to her. So I let the anger go, and listened to my friend.