Skip to main content

Explanations in Charity

In the spirit of resolution-y January, I'm rereading one of my favorite new books - Gretchen Rubin's The Happiness Project.  I've probably mentioned it about 47 million times on the blog, and I hope to continue to do so for many years to come.  Reading this book is such a huge reminder of so many little things I can do to not only boost my happiness, but that of those around me.

It's also in the spirit of January that I'm writing about this particular part of the book.  It's so small but so significant.  January can often be all about "me me me," and primarily driven by the ego of self improvement.  While that's not necessarily a bad thing, we kind of forget about the whole charity and goodwill toward men thing we talk about in December.  (Although if you ask me, materialism started trumping the charity thing many Decembers ago and continues to grow stronger - but that's another post)

One of Rubin's resolutions for the month of June, during which she focuses on her friendships, is to Cut People Slack (it's actually a mini resolution housed under the larger resolution to Be Generous).    In elaborating, she refers to the "fundamental attribution error," which is, as she deftly explains:

...a psychological phenomenon in which we tend to view other people's actions as reflections of their characters and to overlook the power of the situation to influence their actions, whereas with ourselves, we recognize the pressures of circumstance.  When other people's cell phones ring during a movie, it's because they're inconsiderate boors; if my cell phone rings during a movie, it's because I need to be able to take a call from the babysitter.

Another way of looking at this is simple empathy and compassion.  We've all been guilty of this many times, especially in New York when you are surrounded by bazillions of people in all kinds of situations every day.  People walking slowly in front of you in the subway station when you're in a rush, tourists who don't realize that it's really okay to jaywalk when you're in a hurry (I'm sensing a theme for myself here), or a cashier seeming rude.  I'm not saying it's okay to be rude, but like Rubin says - who hasn't had a bad day?  It makes us less angry and therefore more peaceful and happy to give the other person the benefit of the doubt.  We don't know what's going on with them, and I'm sure when we have awful days we appreciate other people's compassion - and easily recognize how much worse hostility makes us feel.

Rubin most beautifully conveys this idea through Flannery O'Connor.  She quotes a letter O'Connor wrote to a friend:

From 15 to 18 is an age at which one is very sensitive to the sins of others, as I know from recollections of myself.  At that age you don't look for what is hidden.  It is a sign of maturity not to be scandalized and to try to find explanations in charity.

I'd say it's pretty damn charitable of O'Connor to limit the age of sensitivity to sins of others to only the years of 15-18.  Clearly, didn't exist in her day.

This concept is one of the ways in which working harder to make yourself happier is one of the most unselfish things you can do, because you're directly contributing compassion and kindness (and perhaps happiness) to those around you.  Give it a try - the next time a stranger irritates you for whatever reason, see if you can find an explanation in charity.  Maybe even make up a whole story or excuse for them in your head.  If all else fails, just cut them some slack and take a breath.


Popular posts from this blog

The Magic of Brain Gym

I cannot believe I haven't blogged about Brain Gym yet!  That is absolutely bananas, and also sort of great because after a few years of incorporating the little bits and pieces I learned from Shari (founder & director of Karma Kids Yoga and the only boss I've ever had with whom I've also done crazy things like the pose on the right, which she named "fart neck"), I finally took the "Brain Gym 101" course this past weekend to learn more in depth about the what's and wherefore's.

Brain Gym is a lot of things, but what it is primarily is a way to facilitate better learning through movement.  Although it started in the field of education and helping children learn better, everyone can benefit from it.  You may be reading and writing just fine, but do you have a situation where you struggle to communicate your needs clearly to a partner, a friend, a co-worker?  Do you struggle with random bouts of unexplained anxiety that you struggle to release…

Home is Where the Heart is

One of the most cloyingly saccharine cliches of all time?  Yes.  True?  Also yes.  Sort of.

It's been an incredibly eventful three weeks.  At the end of June, my sister underwent major abdominal surgery to repair a major diastasis caused by two back-to-back large pregnancies.  On that same day Marc and I headed up on the Megabus to Massachusetts for a fun long July 4th weekend of family (including our two delicious little LeVasseur nephews!), wine, fun, and going through endless boxes of nostalgia from his childhood as his parents prepare to put their gorgeous house on the market.  The baby pictures!  The metric tons of books! The middle school poetry!  Oh, the earnest and terrible middle school poetry...

Then last weekend, I flew to SC for a whirlwind celebration of the twins' third birthday with family (third!!!), helping out my sister, who is recovering beautifully in every sense of the word.  Just shy of three days of nonstop work, play, and extreme highs and lows of overs…

Health Scare

I had a whole draft of a blog in my head all made up, but it has been a day.  And now that I've come down from all the life-stuff of the day, I'm left to ponder with a growing, nauseating dread what 217 elected representatives voted for today.

Forgive the pun-y and ridiculous title.  I'm just so afraid that this is our country now.

In case you're wondering who voted how, check out this helpful page in the NYTimes.

Listen - we all know Obamacare wasn't perfect.  But I know several people who would literally not be alive today without it.  I wouldn't have health insurance without it - and you better believe I use my health insurance.

Instead of having a group of adults who can intelligently discuss policy and talk about improving our health care system, we have a group of children who stick their fingers in their ears and simply shout about destroying any bit of legacy President Obama may have had.  They've denigrated this so deeply that there are literally p…