If it is peace you want, seek to change yourself, not other people. It is easier to protect your feet with slippers than to carpet the whole of the earth. Anthony de Mello
If you browse through the ‘self improvement’ section of any bookstore, you will come across all kinds of books about developing good relationships. These books will be full of seemingly good ideas about how to ‘build’ such good relationships – they will advise you to empathize, communicate well, seek ‘win-win’ solutions, find common ground, and so on.
It is certainly true that good relationships are the bedrock of happiness and success. It’s not an exaggeration to say that, where good relationships exist, everything works; and where relationships have broken down, nothing goes well. But all this good advice is a little too effort-full for my liking. It seems to me that experiencing good relationships – or good anything, for that matter – is more about a process of subtraction than anything else. We are in love the idea that we need to make an effort, to do something, in order to get anywhere, but the truth is that life works best when we relax, let go and allow things to unfold.
They key to happiness and success in any area of life is acceptance, and this is as true of relationships as of anything else. Acceptance means letting go of our own ideas about what reality should be like, since it our attachment to these ideas which keeps us locked in unhappiness, constantly bumping against a reality we dislike, endlessly trying to mold reality into our own image. Trying to change reality is like trying to tie up water in a brown paper package. Water just isn’t like that – it can’t be tied up; and reality can’t be changed to fit our own ideas either.
We spend so much time trying to change the world around us, including other people, and the result is simply that we get frustrated, stressed and exhausted and the people we are trying to change become resentful and distant. Many good friendships and marriages break down because one person has been trying to change the other for too long.
As with most things in life, successful and happy relationships are a matter of doing less, not more. Relationships are not ‘hard work;’ they are easy, natural and effortless – but only so long as you stop trying to ‘fix’ things and just let things be as they are.
Like trying to tie up water in a package, trying to change an external situation is futile and drains energy. Better to work on the only thing I can change – myself. Better to come into alignment with the way things are, instead of fighting against it.
When you accept another person as he is, without any attempt to change him, you will start to find that things change naturally and for the better. But you have to really let go, really give the other person the right to be himself, just as you would expect to enjoy the right to be yourself, accepted as you are.
Let go of your expectations; let go of your desire to change others; practice acceptance. Do less. Change less. Try less. And things will start to work.