Thursday, September 3, 2009

Living One Life at a Time - A Reflection Upon Allowing Others to Make their Own Mistakes

“Letting go doesn't mean we don't care. Letting go doesn't mean we shut down. Letting go means we stop trying to force outcomes and make people behave. It means we give up resistance to the way things are, for the moment. It means we stop trying to do the impossible--controlling that which we cannot--and instead, focus on what is possible--which usually means taking care of ourselves. And we do this in gentleness, kindness,
and love, as much as possible.” ~ Melody Beattie

I read a wonderful article on the News & Observer yesterday, in which a mother described how hard it had been for her to allow her children to work on their projects without becoming involved, even if it meant that the projects turned out far from perfect.

Their journey began a few years before, when they joined a series of free kids workshops offered by Home Depot. After the first workshop, the mother was not too sure things had gone as well as she had hoped – little fingers were smashed, the bird house the kids had built was falling apart, and clothes were ruined by wood glue – yet, as time passed, the kids learned important skills.

The hardest thing during the workshops, the mother explained, was to sit back and watch the kids make mistakes without intervening; the greatest lesson, she realized, had been her own – it didn’t matter if the projects weren’t perfect; what mattered was that the children were learning how to read instructions and use tools more efficiently. Mom’s input was not needed.

Allowing others to make their own mistakes is probably one of the greatest challenges we can ever face. Especially in the case of people we love, we wish we could live their lives for them when we feel they are not doing a good job of it on their own, so that we could “fix” their mistakes and help them live a happier existence.

Each of us has a different path to follow, which is not always for others to understand. Even if all we find at the end of the path we chose is misery, we have the right to make those mistakes and learn from them.

Letting go of the control we wish to have on the lives of others is, in many ways, synonymous of letting go of judgment. We can’t expect to understand the many reasons behind the choices others make, just as we can’t truly know what is best for them; all we can do is accept their choices as their own right, and move on with our own lives. We can only live one life at a time – ours or other people’s.

We can’t control the way someone else feels or acts, but we do have ownership on whether we allow their choices to affect our immediate world. By focusing less on what others do, and more on what we choose for ourselves, we can grow in ways we didn’t think possible, and the weight we carry for them is suddenly lifted.

We can’t change others, but we can change ourselves. And by letting others follow their own destiny we might be pleasantly surprised in the end.

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