To Change Other People or Just Love Them As They Are?

If you want something to be different than it is, you might as well teach a cat to bark. You can try and try, and in the end, the cat will look up at you and say, ‘Meow.’ Wanting something to be different than it is, is hopeless.
— Byron Katie

One of our greatest sources of frustration is our need to make people act according to our own ideals.

There are weddings in which everything goes the way we want them to. From the moment we receive an inquiry from the couple, to handing over the final product.

But no matter how hard we try, we run into problems, such as:

  • Couples that bargain over the price
  • Couples that don’t reply to emails
  • Service providers that use our pictures without asking for permission first
  • Competing photographers with cheaper prices
  • Guests who act rudely to us
  • People who are in our way, blocking our view of the altar with their cellphones.

People who don’t match our expectations often cause us:

  • Anger, disappointment, and frustration
  • To feel burnout, and unmotivated to keep doing what we do
  • To feel judgmental, critical, and condescending toward others
  • To create conflict, and act in a way that is harmful to others

But is it the people themselves who are harming us, or our own thoughts that spin in our head about them?

We grasp our own ideals so tightly, our perception of how everyone should be acting in this world. We praise and justify anyone who does manage to keep up with our standards. But the moment someone deviates just a bit, we feel a sense of rejection and unacceptance of actual reality, as it actually is. An illusion is formed within us – that only once these people change, we could be happy and at peace. Unfortunately, this is already a lost cause. The more we try to force a person to change, the more resistance we face.

It seems that our entire lives, we’ve grown up with the approach that only anger and unacceptance propel us to improve and make positive changes in the world. But have we ever tried anything different?

Imagine a world in which set your expectations and ideals free. How would you feel without the need to make people change? How would you feel in a world in which you only deal with your own issues?
Accepting what’s different doesn’t mean being apathetic. Accepting what’s different is accepting reality. It releases us from arguing with ourselves. Releases us from inner battles, and clears some space for acting mindfully and reaching a solution, without stress and out of love.

A task for the upcoming week:
Throughout the entire day, pay more attention and be more aware every time you judge another person, or wish that him or her would change. There is no need to do more than this right now. Just make a note to yourself – “I’m judging.”
This could happen in your work environment - with clients, colleagues, other service providers, or guests at the event. In your closer circle, with your parents, children, spouse, or good friends. It could also occur with any stranger, like the postal clerk, other drivers on the road, people standing in line at the supermarket, politicians, celebrities, and more.

When you feel like you’re ready for the next step of self-improvement, try the following steps each time you feel the will to change someone else:

- Examine your thoughts: We tend to fixate on stories we run over and over in our head – “He shouldn’t be doing this…” - or “He should act in this way…”. Sometimes, it’s enough to just pay attention to these thoughts in order to exit the confused whirlpool they create. Examine them, listen to them, and let go. The more you practice and increase your own awareness, the more you’ll learn not to place yourself in this thought whirlpool in the first place.

- Explore your feelings and emotions: Do you feel disappointment, frustration, anger, fury or confusion? Is your body cramped, your muscles tense, your jaw tight and your pulse fast? It’s not pleasant, neither for the soul, nor for the body. Take a few breaths and try to release the stress that has accumulated.

- Curiosity and understanding: Each person has their own point of view, perceptions, behavioral patterns, and culture. There is no right or wrong. There is only difference and distinction between that person and yourself. Try to put aside your own ideals, and be curious. Try to understand the other side, and find the best in it. This doesn’t mean you must agree with each other, but you may find you have much in common.

- Self-empowerment: Challenges are our best teachers. They are a wonderful opportunity to show us ‘dark’ places that we have yet to handle. Each time we criticize or blame another person, we could ask ourselves if we are doing our very best. Do we appreciate all the other professionals, and are willing to pay them whichever amount they ask for, return emails and messages to everyone who contacts us, execute every task on time without distractions, maintain our own home’s cleanliness, behave politely to every stranger we encounter, always drive safely, take care of our own bodies or souls? And so on. (The list is endless.)

- Reaching a solution mindfully: Stop, and wait until the storm within you passes before you react. Without anger, you’ll be able to find the most effective solution for anything that bothers you. Sometimes, you’ll need to get creative and find original ways to create change without conflict. Other times, the solution would be serving as an example for others. And sometimes, the simplest and most correct solution for that precise moment will be letting go, and getting on with your day without acting at all.
Just remember to do everything out of love and without obsessing over things. No matter the result, you did your very best.

I don’t pretend to be some sort of righteous man. I still find myself occasionally judging another person for doing something I don’t like. But when I don’t fixate on the will for that person to change, and when I give up the need to be right, I feel free and happy. I believe that things have a way of fixing themselves, and happen just as they should happen. I love what is already there, and learn to act out of balance, love, and kindness, for myself and for others.

God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
Courage to change the things I can,
And wisdom to know the difference.
— Reinhold Niebuhr