The notion of being in trouble has come up in some of my recent conversations. Being a classic rule-follower (well, except for the part where I moved to New York and became an artist), I HATE being in trouble and will go along with a lot of things I don’t necessarily care about or agree with to avoid it.
For me, it all started in second grade, when I moved out of my childhood home and into the public school system. In Ms. Bales class there was a boy named Jerry. One day, Jerry accused me of sticking my tongue out at him at lunch, and told me that his silence over this travesty would cost me a dollar. Now, I knew that I had not stuck my tongue out at Jerry on purpose, and my 7-year old self was pretty darn sure this had not occurred accidentally either. But instead of telling Jerry to shove it, I felt horribly guilty and like I had done something wrong. Truth is, Jerry was not my favorite person in the class. I was certainly in no position to be mean-girling anybody in second grade (I was growing out a haircut that I call a “mullet” and my mom insists was an “80s shag”), but I hadn’t been as friendly to him as I had been to some of the other kids. That I never stuck my tongue out at Jerry didn’t matter at all. I was consumed by guilt over how I could have been a better friend to this child who was trying to extort me. But I also…really didn’t want to give Jerry a dollar! I could see the rabbit hole of blackmail descending down, down, down. Jerry would never stop until my piggy bank was empty.
On the edge of your seat yet? In the end, I did the only thing any goody-goody could do: I told my mom, Jerry got in trouble, and I kept my dollar to buy some stickers or something. Done and done. The system worked- I trusted in authority and justice prevailed.
If only things stayed so simple.
The conversations and experiences I’ve had with being in trouble lately have been so much more complicated. Ultimately, as a grown-up, trouble doesn’t seem to be much about morality, right and wrong, good or bad. Trouble is about you not acting in accord with somebody else’s preference. Trouble is about breaking rules you didn’t know existed. Trouble is people who hold power uncomfortably and need to assert themselves. Trouble is somebody’s opinion being labeled as common sense, to make you feel guilty or stupid for not automatically knowing what to do or how to act. Trouble is people lashing out because of other events going on in their lives. Trouble is a struggle for control.
So often, trouble is NOT about you.
Now that knowledge may not stop any of us from getting into trouble, but it might help how we deal with it. Because I could certainly do with less of the looping threats, the fuzzy mind, the shaky limbs and that literally gut-wrenching sensation way inside. I am finding that a good way to cope is to evaluate the trouble against my own moral standards. Did I actually do something wrong- according to my definition and nobody else’s? Did I hurt somebody, damage a relationship, did I steal? If I hadn’t violated somebody else’s rules, how would I be feeling about my actions?
I’m a rule follower. If I go by only my own moral compass, it’s not very often that I feel I have done something truly wrong. And it feels like I am in trouble plenty. Ultimately, we are only accountable to ourselves. We have to live with our choices, but we don’t have to layer anybody else’s feelings on top of that. If I did something and I don’t think it was wrong, but somebody is upset or heart, I might still choose the apology. Because I care about the relationships I have and want to maintain them. Living according to your own rules might still bring about consequences on the outside, but you don’t have to let anybody else’s judgments touch your heart.
Our second karma yoga class is being held today in midtown NYC. Proceeds benefit the Ali Forney Center for LGBT teens. Join us! More info. available at https://www.facebook.com/events/455123721244821/?fref=ts.
*photo courtesy of Pinterest