The other morning I met up with an old friend from college. The subject of family was up for both of us (um, holidays) and she divulged that she felt the need to find peace with who her father is, as he is now. She went on to say that she would need to give up hope that he would change.
While it’s true that we need to find a way to be at peace with people (events, things, life, etc) as they are it does not mean we need to give up hope.
1. Hope is for the highest good. Hope is not a desire for a specific outcome. There’s no reason to ever give up hoping for the highest good. Hope for another person means holding sacred the infinite positive possibilities that lie before each of us until we leave this life. People change in their own time in response to the unfolding wisdom of their own life path. Whether the wisdom of that path is visible or discernible to us or others is a separate question.
However, wanting someone/something to change in a particular way, according to what would be comfortable or convenient for our lives, is not hope; it’s self-interest. So yes, give up wanting people to be different and calling it hope. Hope that people find peace in themselves and experience wholeness in this lifetime. Begin this process by making your own experience of wholeness and peace your primary business.
To put a finer point on this…if your “hope” is indeed actually a veiled “I know what’s right for you” you are probably getting in the way of their change.
2. Wanting someone to be different than they are creates a barrier to their change. Do you remember when you were a teenager and your mom or dad wanted you to do something differently? Dress differently? Speak differently? Have a different attitude? How often did that inspire you to change? How often did that piss you off or make you feel misunderstood/unloved/unaccepted/sad? Furthermore, just because you don’t say it out loud doesn’t mean it isn’t heard. You create resistance in others simply by judging them, even if you do it silently. Your judgments are in everyone’s way, and they are your responsibility to question and let go of.
It’s not only that we get in other people’s way though, hope has also become a code for avoiding personal responsibility. I hear some version of this almost every day. Hoping/wanting/wishing for things to be different has become one of the primary ways we relate to anything uncomfortable… some of this we can actually affect ourselves. While idylly hoping things would be different we can feel good about our intentions while distancing ourselves from language that would imply commitment to participation. This brings me to another nuance of how the word “hope” is being used:
3. We often want others to change because it makes it easier for us to stay the same. All relationships involve two cocreators, whether they are consciously owning their parts in the cocreation or not. If something isn’t working each of us is free to adjust how we think, speak and act in relation to that person (thing, event, etc). Sometimes we ignore these choices because we’re afraid of changing. It would take energy and we think we’re tired (usually a real energetic response to constantly repeating to ourselves that we are tired, or busy, or “can’t”). Sometimes we teach ourselves, or are taught by our parents, to not see certain choices. Like those that will “hurt” other people. The fact remains that most of us have far more power to affect our relationships than we’re willing to acknowledge or exercise.
Do you avoid confrontation? Do you speak your truth? Do you tell people how you feel without blaming them for it? I got a million more of these questions. Next time you’re hoping someone else will change take a minute to think about how you contribute to this relationship yourself. Not just what you do when you’re with them, but how you think and feel about them, how you relate to them when they’re not around. When no one else is there to witness, up in the attic of your own mind. What kind of relationship are you contributing to up there? Is it healthy? Sweep your side of the street buddy. This will make you feel virtuous and a little less hypocritical next time you want someone else to grow a vagina and do the work to change.
4. Thinking you know what’s best for another person/soul/spirit is arrogant. You don’t know. You just don’t. Give it up. I can hear some of you saying “Well I know drinking themselves to death isn’t in their best interest…” Nope. You don’t even know that. And, even if you did… it doesn’t help! What does your knowing that and repeating it angrily/sadly/passive aggressively/aggressively/naggingly do? Love is more transformative than the subjective “knowledge” you push at people every chance you get. Look, you don’t need to know what’s best for anyone in order to love them. You don’t. AND LOVING THEM DOES NOT OBLIGATE YOU TO ANY PARTICULAR ACTION OR TO ENABLING THEIR BEHAVIOR. It doesn’t even obligate you to ever talk to them again. Just what is it you think this knowing you have will lead to? Has that ever worked for you?
Try this instead: Just hold their flawed human process in your heart with love and surrender… and the same compassion you hopefully hold your own process with. Stop trying to should the world into obedience. Any action you choose to take, any word you choose to say, will be more effective coming from a place of love, surrender and respect for the winding path of another person’s process. This is what’s meant by detachment- not that we stop caring, but that we care while recognizing the limits of our knowledge and control.
As a coach, and as a human, I navigate this constantly. My street gets dirty too, and we’re never done. Here’s what I’ve learned:
5. Peace does involve surrendering to what is. But it does not mean giving up your ability to participate in what is created going forward. And it certainly doesn’t mean deciding to believe that the future isn’t a realm of literally infinite possibility (a realm that most certainly always includes miraculous and hopeful possibilities). It could be described as a paradox that in order to be in a healthy relationship with anyone or anything we are asked to both surrender to what is and hold space for the possibility of change. But I believe each of us has more than enough space inside to hold this paradox.
6. If you’re too close to hold this paradox maybe it’s time to take some space and let go a little. This freaks our inner (and outer) codependent out but if you can’t see the forest for the trees you need some perspective. Love requires courage. It requires self-care. It requires patience. It requires knowing our own limits. It requires lots of things. You knowing and trying to control the outcome is actually not one of the required things.
Here’s one more insight: If your “hopes” are constantly being disappointed they are not hopes, they’re wants. Or wishful expectations. Find some new words. Longing. Desire. Want. It’s okay to want things, just call it what it is.
Truly holding hope for a person means acknowledging that we do not know the path of their life… but that we want good things for them. Genuine hope means to want good for someone while allowing it to come in forms we could never know or predict. Genuine hope respects the sanctity and intelligence of spirit moving in all life.
The spirit of hope means holding all possibility in our hearts for that which is out of our control… but the spirit of hope is honored more fully when we also take faithful, willing action towards the positive possibilities that we can actively contribute to.
We do need to surrender to what has been… but becoming fatalistic about what will be (the future) doesn’t absolve us of our responsibility as creators to participate in the making of our relationships and the collective future. While treating people and the future as though the course is already set may feel like it protects us from the vulnerability of trying- it slowly kills the life force within.
Yes. We each have a responsibility to participate. In the ways we can. By tending our hearts. By experiencing grief. By making courageous choices. By trying. By attempting to live close to our hope… by taking faithful, willing action towards the positive possibilities. And… by surrendering