Better Boundaries for Better Living and Loving.
Over the years as a monk, I’ve watched how people behave around kindness. After all, we’re taught to be loving, open, giving, and forgiving in many of the spiritual traditions of the world. But how do others respond to that? How do we manage our energy around people who take advantage of our kindness? I’ve been asked this question a lot over the years.
There’s a primitive mentality out there that’s quick to pounce on any sign of weakness. Like a wolf sensing an injury in a foe, it moves quickly to gain advantage and claim territory. Many humans have come up thinking the same way. Whether the origin of this mentality is war, famine, cultural, or simply opportunistic, it’s a way of being for many people on our planet.
If all players followed the same script, we’d have no problems since we could predict the behavior of the “other” and assume they’d press for a tactical advantage…they’d pee on the trees all around us and move in. Therefore, we would work to hold our ground and give nothing.
That’s reality for many many people.
But what about a person who’s intentionally being kind? Someone who is trying to do things differently and lovingly? How can that person behave and act in a “dog eat dog” world that seems to want to chew them up and spit them out?
How can that person be happy and free while also not getting run over and brutally taken advantage of?
The answer is BOUNDARIES.
Better boundaries are the name of the game. Being loving and kind is the right operating system for a better world but not everyone plays by those rules- people will take advantage…they will press for more.
It’s not fair and it’s not cool but guess what? They are not going to change right now…not today, or likely tomorrow.
They may change eventually, but leaving yourself out there to get pummeled routinely is exhausting and not fair to you.
What’s important here is understanding where to draw the line and cut someone off. It doesn’t mean cutting your love but simply drawing a line around your personal energy, possessions, or whatever else is at risk of being pilfered.
When someone takes my kindness as weakness, I immediately call them out on their behavior and let them know it’s not cool. I meet it with stern recognition and criticism. That doesn’t have to be mean or hateful. You can lovingly tell someone that what they’re doing is uncool and that you don’t appreciate being treated like that.
Sometimes (but not always) it stops them dead in their tracks. People are used to getting away with being that way…after all, watch the news.
When someone is being kind, it’s actually coming from a position of strength. It’s a tacit acknowledgement that both parties can choose to be militant or uncool but this side is choosing to do something else…something powerful and transformational.
It’s a step in the right direction- an acknowledgement that there is another way.
It’s a powerful gesture that can disarm the animal brain and elevate your interaction into a realm of human ethics, morality, love, grace, and possibility. Of course, some don’t see it that way and press to take advantage of it. That’s going to happen.
Don’t take offense.
It’s just the world they see around them…they are reflecting it because they are sad and lost. Show them a better way by being kind. Show them with love but HOLD THE LINE and disallow them from taking advantage of you.
The line I tend to use is this: “Please don’t take my kindness for weakness.”
You can then follow with whatever statement is contextual to drive the point home like:
“I’m trying to be cool here and I feel you’re taking advantage of me. I don’t appreciate that and won’t let it happen”
“I feel like if we all just met in the middle and gave a little, perhaps the world would be a better place. If that’s how you choose to operate as well, then I feel this could be more productive and fun.”
“I always give people a chance and see how they respond to kindness. Please don’t prove me wrong about my impression of you.”
That last one is a bit more spicy. You catch the drift. Meet them at the border and negotiate a boundary based on how safe you feel around them and their actions. Don’t let unkind people in. Don’t risk your own heart and wellbeing if you feel unsafe.
Lovingly let them be and walk away. Don’t lose heart. Don’t stop being kind. Just step away from people who don’t get it and appreciate you. In the long run, you’ll have more love to spread to people who honor what you’re doing and deserve your affection.
The one that got away? Never underestimate the impact of a good boundary lovingly communicated with someone. It may very well be the jolt they needed to wake up and stop acting that way. The only catch…say it lovingly as you walk away. But walk away. You live to love another day and your family, friends, and another seven billion people who deserve your love are waiting.
Pedram Shojai, The Urban Monk