The word “relationship” is used often these days, and our relationships have a profound affect on our health and mental well being, and even how we look. I don’t have to tell you what a toxic relationship does to your physiology and mind. Been there, done that.
Unfortunately, there are times when we have little or no power over a situation and this makes life so frustrating. I have discovered that the part of a relationship that we have complete control over is how we feel inside. In other words, as bad as a situation is, our reaction to it, and how we deal with it, is under our complete control.
I’ll never forget the story I heard about a prisoner, who entered incarceration at age 24 and came out at 64. This happened many years ago in the Middle East. He was under house arrest for many of those years and at times was allowed to travel in the city but under the watch of the government. When released he remarked on his confinement:
I myself was in prison forty years – one year alone would have been impossible to bear – nobody survived that imprisonment more than a year. But, thank God, during all those forty years I was supremely happy! Every day, on waking, it was like hearing good tidings, and every night infinite joy was mine. Spirituality was my comfort, and turning to God was my greatest joy. If this had not been so, do you think it possible that I could have lived through those forty years in prison? Thus, spirituality is the greatest of God’s gifts.
What is the take away here? Every time we interact with another person we have complete control over how we feel and how we behave toward them. Whether it is a loved one we are dealing with, a friend, a co worker, a neighbor, a teacher, a fellow church member, someone we chat with in the store, our way of interacting with them is under our control. I am not speaking about physical abuse here. If you are being injured or threatened you must act quickly and call for help. Do not wait.
Most relationships do not involve physical danger so let’s proceed with the discussion. This topic is so important because mental turmoil makes our health deteriorate quickly. I have found that I can actually change how people behave toward me by changing my reaction to any situation that I am confronted with. Let me give you some examples.
I use a technique when I go to the store that is simple and anyone can do this. Most of us dread that grocery shopping trip. Things that may bother us include: will we get a good parking space, will the store be crowded, will they have the items on sale or will I need a rain check, how long will the check out lines be and the list goes on.
Here’s what I do. When I get into my car I slow down. I slow my car and my mind down. I relax and start thinking of the exercise I will be getting by walking around the store, I wonder if I will see an old friend – someone I can chat with, maybe I will come across a great special and most importantly I ask that I can be of help to anyone in need. This may all sound strange to you but when you try this and see the results you will be impressed.
The first thing I do when I approach the parking lot is to look for an opportunity to show courtesy to another driver – a chance to let someone back out, to let someone have the parking space that I wanted. A chance to prefer someone to myself. I ask for this to happen. Now the opposite of this occurs when you are in a hurry and try to fight for a space or race to get one – you know what I mean. When you change your mind set a whole new universe opens up before your eyes.
This happens to me every time I venture out. I will slow down and start thinking of how I can serve others and guess what occurs. I will end up getting the best parking space in the lot or I will run into someone I hadn’t seen for years and have been wondering about. The possibilities are endless.
When I get into the store I take the same approach. I slow down and enjoy everyone and everything. I look at the endless supply of products available to me and consider myself to be so lucky. I show courtesy and kindness to everyone, especially children. I complement parents on how beautiful their kids are, and say some kind words to their children.
You are probably going crazy right now listening to me say these things. I know what you are thinking: it is unrealistic, not practical, there is no time for this type of behavior, no one cares what you think or have to say, get in and get out of the store as fast as possible, why linger, you are an idealistic fool. Trust me on this, try it and see what happens.
This attitude adjustment and approach toward life will have a momentous affect on how people treat you, how you feel mentally and physically. Doors will open, opportunities will come your way. Everything around you will improve. Now when it comes to close relationships, these are the hardest to deal with.
This is going to be really hard for you to swallow. Start preferring the other person to yourself. If they want to see a movie that will bore you to death let them know you will see it with them and be thankful about it. If someone wants to eat at a place you do not like, go anyway and tell them how much you appreciate their friendship and company. If they argue, return love. Agree for the sake of unity and see what happens. It will take some time, but their behavior will change. They will start becoming more considerate toward you, more understanding. Like before, doors will open, opportunities will come your way.
In case you think this approach toward life is foolish let me share some information with you that may be new and eye opening. In our society we are used to behaving a certain way. It often relates to safety and this is understandable. People can’t be trusted, so speaking to strangers is very risky.
During World War II a series of events took place which demonstrated to the world a type of behavior which may very well be the model upon which future civilizations will be built. I am referring to the Albania Code of Honor, often called Besa. The underlying concept of Besa, put in very simple terms, is to prefer others to yourself.
So, anyone who comes to your home, even strangers, their needs are put ahead of your own. They are fed, sheltered, and even have their feet bathed by their host. If in danger, the guest, is hidden from the enemy, even at the risk of everyone’s life. Albania has a long history of religious tolerance and humanitarian behavior. The most noted example of this occurred during World War II.
All the Jews who lived in Albania or sought asylum there during the War were saved from the Holocaust. At the end of the war 2000 Jews were living there and were saved by the Albanians at the risk of there own lives. One witness to the lack of anti- Semitism in Albania was Herman Bernstein, himself a Jew, who served as U.S. Ambassador to Albania from 1930 to 1933. Bernstein wrote in his letters that: “There is no trace of any discrimination against Jews in Albania because Albania happens to be one of the rare lands in Europe today where religious prejudice and hate do not exist, even though Albanians themselves are divided into three faiths….”
The fact that Albanians had been isolated from centuries of institutionalized anti- Semitism in Western Europe was a factor in this remarkable record. However, the principal reason for Albanians saving Jews was their history of religious tolerance based on the Kanun and its underlying moral code of Besa.
The Kanun is a written collection of Albanian laws that covers and regulates all aspects of conduct within one’s family, village, and clan, with members of other clans, and with complete strangers. The Kanun has been the foundation of Albanian society over centuries and, as Professor Leonard Fox has written in his superb introduction to his 1989 English translation of the Kanun, it is an “expression and reflection of the Albanian character.” BESA, which inextricably links personal honor and respect for and equality with others, is the foundation of the Kanun. Besa has multiple meanings, ranging from faith, inviolable trust, truce, and word of honor to a sacred promise and obligation to keep one’s word to provide hospitality and protection. It involves uncompromising protection of a guest, even to the point of forfeiting one’s own life.
What is so remarkable about the Albanians, is the fact that they are Muslims. Muslims and Jews are not supposed to get along. The thought of a Muslim risking their life for a Jew is hard for most people to comprehend. The Besa is not an isolated cultural example. Believe or not there are other Muslim cultures that follow a similar law.
Pakhtunwali is a non-written ethical code and traditional lifestyle which the indigenous Pashtun people follow. It is a system of law and governance that began during prehistoric times and is preserved and still in use today, but mostly in the rural tribal areas. Some in the Indian subcontinent refer to it as “Pathanwali”. Its meaning may also be interpreted as “the way of the Pashtuns” or “the code of life”. Pashtunwali dates back to ancient pre-Islamic times and is widely practiced among Pashtuns, especially among the non-urbanized Pashtuns in the countryside. In addition to being practiced by members of the Pashtun diaspora, it has been adopted by some non-Pashtun Afghans and Pakistanis that live in the Pashtun regions or close to the Pashtuns, who have gradually become Pashtunized over time.
Pashtuns embrace an ancient traditional, spiritual, and communal identity tied to a set of moral codes and rules of behavior, as well as to a record of history spanning some seventeen hundred years. Pashtunwali promotes self-respect, independence, justice, hospitality, love, forgiveness, revenge and tolerance toward all (especially to strangers or guests). Of the numerous principals associated with this code of behavior, two are worthy of note:
- Melmastia (hospitality) – Showing hospitality and profound respect to all visitors, regardless of race, religion, national affiliation or economic status and doing so without any hope of remuneration or favor. Pashtuns will go to great lengths to show their hospitality.
- Nanawatai (asylum) – Derived from the verb meaning to go in, this refers to the protection given to a person against his enemies. People are protected at all costs;
- even those running from the law must be given refuge until the situation can be clarified. Nanawatai can also be used when the vanquished party in a dispute is prepared to go in to the house of the victors and ask for their forgiveness: this is a peculiar form of “chivalrous” surrender, in which an enemy seeks “sanctuary” at the house of their foe. A notable example is that of Navy Petty Officer First Class Marcus Luttrell, the sole survivor of a U.S. Navy SEAL team ambushed by Taliban fighters. Wounded, he evaded the enemy and was aided by members of the Sabray tribe who took him to their village. The tribal chief protected him, fending off attacking tribes until word was sent to nearby U.S. forces.
This type of behavior needs further study and we have to take a very close look at it and ask to what degree we are willing to make personal sacrifices to help those in need. These laws exist for a reason. Following them will yield results that cannot be imagined. Slowing down and preferring others is not a sacrifice, it’s in our best interest, and benefits us on all levels: mental, physical and spiritual.
Are not the Golden Rules examples of this code:
Hurt not others in ways that you yourself would find hurtful – Buddhism
What is hateful to you, do not to your fellow man. That is the entire law; all the rest is commentary – Judaism
Do unto others as you would have them do onto you – Christianity
No one of you is a believer until he desires for his brother that which he desires for himself – Islam
Blessed is he who preferreth his brother before himself – Baha’i Faith