In my family, when we were kids, we were taught to respect everyone’s personal space. This meant keeping a fair distance unless invited closer, not asking extremely personal questions, and keeping our noses out of other people’s business. Moreover, under no circumstances were we to ever ask anyone for money, or about money.
Then, we grew up, and found people invading our personal spaces, asking us to divulge private information about ourselves and our families (both original and new), and running live commentary on everything we do with our education, careers, mortgages, family decisions, etc.
I am therefore a firm believer in boundaries, while maintaining community.
I often work with young adults who are trying to choose an academic path. They ask me what they should do. They ask their parents what they should do. They ask teachers and friends what they should do. Sometimes, they resort to online discussion forums and ask strangers what they should do.
My advice always is: take your parents’, teachers’, and counsellor’s advice into account, ignore everyone else, and then make the decision that you feel right about.
This becomes more and more crucial over time. Not all advice is good advice. A select few people should be your guides; choose them wisely, and be sure that they are advising you towards your personal truth. A good coach helps you succeed by capitalizing on your strengths and ambitions. Choose the mentor wisely, then pick and choose the advice that aligns with your personal values, and finally do what you feel right about.
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As a teenager, I had a surprising fascination with the art of communication. At 14 years old, I was already reading books about body language, the hand shake, and active listening. I was especially interested in how meaning varies across cultures. The same gesture or mannerism that would be considered good behaviour in one culture may signify something rude or obnoxious in another. What a big, big world.
Over time, I’ve come to realize that my own body language, handshake, gestures, mannerisms, and listening skills have varied depending on what I was personally going through. I no longer believe that I can follow a formula in a book because you can’t fake any of this… people can always tell. This is why you might meet someone who is sharp and has perfect body language, yet your gut tells you not to trust them. Even if their intentions are good, the forced behaviour comes across as orchestrated and fake.
Instead, there has to be a balance between understanding how behaviours are perceived by a dominant culture, and adapting them in such a way that reflects your inner self authentically. This makes all the difference between “hey, you’re super easy to talk to!” and “hmmm… she’s nice but, I don’t know, there’s something not quite right about her…”
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In some Arabic cultures, when someone gets something they have been hoping for, people say: “her intention was pure!” or “he must have pure will!” This signals to a deeply held cultural belief that the pure of heart will always be cared for by God. They do not receive miracles or luck by accident, but rather, due to their own goodness.
Intention isn’t everything… but it certainly plays a big role in shaping the lives we build for ourselves, as it feeds our actions. In pursuit of good friends and fun company, one will find himself out of luck if he himself is neither friendly nor fun. In pursuit of wealth, one will find herself penniless when she exercises greed towards others. In pursuit of love, one stands alone and disheartened if his primary intention is to take from love, and not give back to it.
If we are aware of our negative intentions and recognize the consequences, we can put them in check and gradually practice intentions that are better aligned with the path of happiness. But, if we decide to excuse our negative intentions, we cannot hope that nobody will notice, because they will. We cannot escape our intentions; we might as well plaster neon signs on our foreheads that tell it like it is.
There will always be people out there who are better off, and worse off, than you are. Be genuinely happy for their successes. Be genuinely sad for their pain. Be genuinely afraid for them when they get sick. Be genuinely excited for them when they get that promotion. If you are not genuine, they will be able to tell, and you will have missed the point of this life entirely.
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