Don't take it personally

A Christian Science perspective: Exercising our God-given ability to see something of everyone’s good and true nature inspires reformation and peace.

“Don’t take it personally.” Those words of wisdom were repeated again and again during my Peace Corps training program. The instructor reiterated that there would probably be times when we would feel confronted, offended, or even wronged, but reacting by taking it as a personal affront would not help or solve anything.

Later, when I got to my Peace Corps post, I shared a duplex house with a local family. We became friends, and in the evenings I often sat with them around the open fire they used for cooking. However, while I was away in the summertime, some of their family members broke into my home. It was difficult to not take this personally or react angrily, but I realized that I had a choice to make about my approach to this situation. I’ve found it’s most helpful to pause, take a step back, and calmly turn to God, the divine Mind and wisdom I’ve learned to trust from my study of the Bible and Christian Science.

Only what this one true Mind knows about its creation is true, and our Father-Mother God knows each of His, Her, children as spiritual, trustworthy, truthful, and intelligent. Our real nature does not include wanting to harm others, but rather the desire and ability to be good and act in a harmonious manner. This is true for everyone, even if someone is not behaving that way at a given moment.

An article titled “Taking Offense” in Monitor founder Mary Baker Eddy’s “Miscellaneous Writings 1883-1896” tells how “a courtier told Constantine that a mob had broken the head of his statue with stones. The emperor lifted his hands to his head, saying: ‘It is very surprising, but I don’t feel hurt in the least’ ” (p. 224). A few sentences earlier it says, “The mental arrow shot from another’s bow is practically harmless, unless our own thought barbs it.”

Ideas like this encouraged me to really consider how I was thinking about this situation. While I clearly needed to correct the wrongdoing, I didn’t want to let it become a “barb” that would simply drag me and my experience in this post down. So I asked God to show me what was true about this large extended family.

There was much good there, such as close cooperation among family members and the hardworking women’s dedication to raising their children as well as providing for extended family members living in the home. They had also been friendly and helpful to me, which I greatly appreciated while living in a country and culture that were new to me. This pointed to spiritual qualities that make up everyone’s true, spiritual identity, such as selflessness and love.

A few months after the break-in, I found out that it had been two young cousins who had wrongly entered my home. I was able to speak calmly with them about it, and the boys admitted that they had done it. We had a productive, open conversation about the importance of honesty, integrity, trust, and the need to do what we know is right. And there were no more break-ins the rest of the time I was there. I’m certain that if I had reacted with anger and blame, the outcome could have been different.

Not taking things personally but rather staying with the truth that the divine Mind alone governs its creation can help us to bristle less and forgive more. When false accusations or even hurtful actions come our way, we are free to let this Mind lift us above the temptation to take offense and instead to exercise our God-given ability to see man’s good and true nature. This approach inspires reformation and peace instead of discord for ourselves and others.

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About a year ago, I happened upon this statement about the Monitor in the Harvard Business Review – under the charming heading of “do things that don’t interest you”:

“Many things that end up” being meaningful, writes social scientist Joseph Grenny, “have come from conference workshops, articles, or online videos that began as a chore and ended with an insight. My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. Sometimes, we call things ‘boring’ simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in.”

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