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Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Being Mindful of What We Offer in Our Interactions with Others

Being Mindful of What We Offer in Our Interactions
"Thousands of candles can be lit from a single candle, and the life of the candle will not be shortened. Happiness never decreases by being shared."

Someone emailed this aphorism to me this morning. It's attributed to Buddha, even though I'm not a Buddhist, I've been thinking about its meaning throughout the day in terms of my everyday interactions with friends, family, and clients.

Living and working in NYC, in any given day, I interact with many people of diverse ethnic backgrounds, ages, races, cultures, traditions, and economic backgrounds. It seems to me that what most of us have in common is that we want to lead happy, peaceful, and meaningful lives, no matter who we are, where we come from or what our hopes and dreams are for the future. So, it's worthwhile, from time to time, to consider what we offer others in our daily interactions.

Are we mindful of the effect that we have on others?

Do we offer encouragement or discouragement?

Do we offer compassion or indifference?

In one of my prior articles, I discussed the idea of emotional saboteurs primarily from the perspective of the person who might find themselves faced with someone who, however unwittingly, might sabotage their endeavors. But it occurs to me that, if we are not mindful about it, anyone of us could be on the other end of this dynamic--being the one who might be emotionally sabotaging others. It could happen so easily without our even realizing it.

Even in our most simple daily interactions, there's often room for compassion and kindness to others, even when we might not be able to see it at first.

Mindfulness in Your Everyday Interactions with Others
I'm reminded of a brief interaction that I had several months ago with a cashier at the organic store where I usually get my dinner before I see clients in my psychotherapy private practice.
Usually, I'm in a hurry to buy the food and go back to my office for a short dinner break before my first evening client arrives. There is a particular cashier in this store who is usually cheerful and pleasant. But she looked worried, sad and distracted that day.

I was really struck by this because it seemed so unusual for her, and I usually looked forward to seeing her and exchanging pleasantries with her. But on this day, I could tell that there was something very wrong. Not wanting to intrude, I asked her how her day was going, opening up the possibility for her to talk about whatever might be going on, if she wanted to.

She seemed relieved to be able to tell someone what she was worried about, and she began to tell me about how worried she was about a medical bill that she received in error that her insurance company refused to cover. Without getting into the details of this woman's problem, after she told me about it, I realized that she was getting the runaround from the insurance company as well as the hospital. And it seemed that she was being taken advantage of because she's not from this country originally. Her bill was in the thousands of dollars and she had no idea how she would ever pay for it on her cashier's salary.

Since I'm a clinical social worker, as well as a psychotherapist, and I've helped many people with this type of problem over the years in the past, I was able to give her information about who to call and what she could do to advocate for herself. For me, it was a small gesture that took almost no time or effort on my part. But for her, it was very valuable information because she said that no one, including the social workers at the hospital, who should have been able to help her, was being helpful. Knowing that she had rights as a patient and knowing that there was something that she could do, changed her whole demeanor. She looked like her usual cheerful self again and she was very grateful.

When I went into the store the next time, she went out of her way to greet me and tell me that she was able to resolve her problem using the information that I gave her, and the hospital and the insurance company straightened out the mistake so everyone involved agreed that she was not responsible for the hospital bill. Ever since that time, she has been even more pleasant and friendly whenever I've seen her. And she was able to tell me that, once she resolved that problem, it had a positive ripple effect on her family, who had also been worried about the bill.

This is a simple example. It's not meant to brag about my good deed or to say how wonderful I think I am, but to show that any one of us , each in our own way, can have a positive effect on someone else's life without having to make very much of an effort, if we are mindful of the opportuniites when they come along. And that positive effect that we have on one person can ripple through to others.

On another day, if I had been distracted or too much in a hurry or if I had decided not to ask this woman how she was, there might have been a very different outcome for her and her family. And for me too--because afterwards I realized that it often takes so little in our interactions with others to have a positive effect.

Mindfulness in Your Everyday Interactions with Others
We Can Affect Positive Change through Mindful Interactions with Others
And, most of the time, just like the candle in the aphorism at the beginning of this article, whether we are sharing our happiness, inspiration, or information, our efforts do not take anything away from us. If anything, these interactions with others allow us to see that, in a world where we often feel that we are powerless to affect change, we can often affect positive change in the lives of others, one person at a time.
I am a licensed NYC psychotherapist, hypnotherapist, EMDR and Somatic Experiencing therapist.

To find out more about me, visit my website: Josephine Ferraro, LCSW - NYC Psychotherapist

To set up a consultation, call me at (212) 726-1006.

photo credit: AlicePopkorn via photopin cc

photo credit: Anduze traveller via photopin cc

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