I came across this quote a few weeks ago and was reminded of it today when I received an email from someone I didn’t know. The person writing the email was trying to use threats and angry language to get information from me about someone else.
Confusing, I know, but truly, the details aren’t important.
Upon first read of the email I had that reaction-you know the one-where your heart starts beating super fast and it feels a little like you can’t breathe? It was almost like the person was in front of me, gunning for a fight, fists ready to come to blows. I felt a little ambushed, just me and my computer, two or three dozen angry words, and no way to escape those words.
I felt shock and nervousness turn to irritation and anger after I ran through an entire dialogue in my head: Why is this person contacting me? What do I have to do with this? Why are they threatening me? Who ARE they?
And then the choice expletives followed.
And THEN this quote came to mind. And I felt like it smacked me upside the head:
“Sometimes we are just the collateral damage in someone else’s war against themselves.”
Merrimam-Webster defines collateral damage as injury inflicted on something other than the intended target. The problem is that sometimes someone else’s war against themselves can feel like a foxhole where we are hiding, injured from their attack. A foxhole we can’t climb out of because we are worried about the artillery fire that might be waiting for us. And so we don’t climb out, we grab a weapon and join the fight. It becomes our fight.
Which gets me back to the idea of collateral damage. I don’t know about you, but in the past I’ve certainly FELT like I was collateral damage in someone else’s war. And, even more disconcerting, I’m sure I have caused some collateral damage a time or two in my personal life out of ignorance and lack of skill. (Ok, maybe more than two. I’m human.)
The word that comes to mind when I read this quote now is compassion. Not the sticky, Kumbaya kind, but the tiger’s teeth variety of compassion. The one where you begin to recognize what is yours to own and what is not, the one where you can witness someone else’s battle and gently step aside. An Aikido kind of move. You don’t leave the dojo but you don’t stand there and get beat up, either.
There are some lessons here worth examining: Knowing ourselves. Taking ownership. Not personalizing things. Examining the difference between reacting and acting.
My internal dialogue about the armed emailer has become slightly different now. I’m not sure of the war that person is waging against themselves but it must feel awful if the email is any indication.
I get it. I’ve felt that before.
But this time I’m stepping aside, armed with my tiger-tooth compassion.
The war without will never end if we don’t first confront the war within. This will always be true. Watch your own battles. Step aside from what is not yours. Cultivate compassion.