A colleague once offered a very interesting observation on life. There are at least three sides to every story: There is your view, there is my view, and there is the truth, usually found somewhere in between.
I like the idea. Too many complications come from misunderstandings. People have been killed because of seeing things from different perspectives. So how can we simplify our lives in our interactions with other people?
Take a Deep Breath
Deep breathing has long been proven to be a fine method for calming the nerves. Many people who practice meditation use their breathing as a point of focus. This makes sense. After all, our breathing is one of the few things that we take with us wherever we go. Also, since it is essential for life, there is a psychological link to better physical health; and better physical health often leads to better mental health.
Here, however, we want to concentrate on our relationships with other people. How can we use our breathing to improve these relationships?
Both Sides of the Story
One of the greatest causes of conflict is an entrenched viewpoint. We see our side of the story and we cannot, or even will not, see any other side. Our point of view “must” be correct. How can it not be?
To a certain extent, that’s true, of course. What we see is what we see. The issue is whether we see the whole picture. The problem is whether we want to.
For now, though, let’s assume that we have good motives and we want to be peacemakers. Let’s assume that we want to understand the other person’s point of view. What can we do?
This is where deep breathing becomes useful.
Time to Think
Taking a few deep breaths gives us time to think. Even when the conversation is getting intense, with lots of quick-fire comments, we can ease the pressure by taking a few deep breaths. We can compare it with any other activity. Let’s say that you are driving along the road at a fairly good speed when you notice a situation developing up ahead. You are not involved, but, as a good driver, you automatically slow down so that you can deal with things as they develop, and you get through safely. That’s why we have fewer and less damaging accidents when walking; the situation is developing at a more rational speed, allowing us time to preempt dangers.
Now apply the lesson. You’re in the middle of a heated debate. Comments are becoming increasingly contentious, and there is a danger that you are about to start tackling each other, rather than the issues involved. So you take a deep breath. It’s just long enough to give your mind chance to throw in a quick thought: “Be careful. This conversation is in danger of becoming angry.” That triggers you to do something. So you lower your head, which is a submissive gesture that demonstrates a desire to be at peace, take a few more deep breaths, and what happens? Usually, your antagonist experiences difficulty continuing the barrage and the conversation slows down and calms down.
Even if your taking time to breathe does not calm your antagonist, it will calm you. It allows you time to order your thoughts and determine the best plan of action, even if that means walking away.
It’s also very difficult to keep being aggressive with someone who is not responding aggressively. So when we calm down, it can have a similar effect on our antagonist. Thus, we develop a reputation as a peacemaker and problem-solver, even though we may not have said anything!
Improve Your Vision
The other benefit of deep breathing is that it improves your vision. No. I’m not suggesting that your physical eyesight will improve by deep breathing, though it may; speak to your optician or doctor to find that out.
What I am saying is that breathing deeply allows us time to consider the other person’s point of view. Is it possible that they have a valid opinion? Is it possible that they can see the flaws in our reasoning, but we cannot? Is it possible that their idea will work better than ours? Or is it possible that we can combine the two ideas into an even better solution?
All these things, and many more, are involved in seeing the big picture. We need to understand the full effects of what we are proposing or experiencing. We need to look beyond our own entrenched viewpoint and see things as the other person sees them. Until we can say, “I can see why you think that way,” we do not have the full picture. Taking a few deep breaths can allow us the time to see better.
Sometimes, of course, when we go silent in thought, the person we are speaking with will prompt us to respond. A good reply is, “Please give me a minute. I think I can see what you are trying to tell me but I need to consider it for a few moments.” Then, having considered their viewpoint, maybe we will see things differently.
This ability to be calm and rational, and to see things as others see them, does not come automatically, the first time we try it. It takes practise. Practising daily helps in several ways. The most obvious way it helps is that it gets us into good habits; we learn to deal with situations because we have exercised our abilities and imagined how to use them in daily life.
Another way that it helps is that we become generally calmer. We start to deal with our own issues. We learn that we do not need to fly into a rage about every little thing. We can deal with life. Once we come to realize that we are in control of our lives, we have less reason to worry about other people’s superciliousness. We don’t need to worry about whether they, or we, are right or wrong. We can deal with their intransigent manners and views.
“But,” you may ask, “Doesn’t that lead to being abused?” Frankly, no, it doesn’t. Such inner peace often leads to being seen as the sort of person who can be relied upon to come up with sensible solutions. People will often bow to your views, even when they have their own entrenched ideas. Yet, even if that does not happen, you have the peace of mind in knowing that you have kept calm. You have preserved your own dignity and integrity. You have been true to yourself and your principles.
Strangely, when we allow other people to have their way, even when can see the flaws in their plans, we are more highly respected. Then, when their plans fall short of the ideal, when the plans fail to achieve the desired result, it is not uncommon for them to eventually seek our views. At that point, it is even more important to take a deep breath. We must avoid the I told you so mentality and work with them to find a solution.
So learn to breath deeply. We need air to fuel our thought processes. Without air, we panic, and things go wrong. By learning to breath deeply, we are able to calm ourselves, and often calm others, too. And, finally, it will improve our vision as we see the whole picture and respond appropriately.