I grew up in what was rated the "worst state to be raised in in America" according to Albuquerque Journal. From the age of 8 to 15 I lived in Santa Fe, New Mexico. For me, those were the days of bullying and constant fear of someone wanting to start a fight The rules of the land were that if you even looked at someone in the eye it was grounds for starting a fight. So, I began a practice of always keeping my sight to the ground. A lot of what I went through in those days shaped how I come to trust people.
The other day my wife and I are out running around a track in a park with our dog. Our dog is off-leash. Someone from animal control shows up and proceeds to go up to another couple who also has a dog off leash. From what I can see the animal control authority seems to be giving them a ticket. I put my dog back on a leash and my wife and I continue our run around the track.
In my mind, I'm already coming up with multiple arguments to get out of a ticket and even in one scenario I'm envisioning him wanting to start a fight. Simply because all of these scenarios have happened to me with authority figures in Santa Fe.
Eventually the man from animal control comes up to us. I can feel my heart rate increasing and I decide to just let him speak and not say anything until he's spoken. The first words out of his mouth are "Thank you so much for putting your dog on a leash. This is an on-leash area and I'm grateful for you for putting your dog on a leash." I was taken aback. He was so kind. I was expecting a chastisement, a belittling, or even a fight. But not only was he kind, he was respectful. He thanked us. And even gave us a suggestion on where we could take our dog off-leash. He then left us and went up to another family whose dog was off-leash.
So often we're taught to not judge a book by its' cover. To let people surprise you. And I know all these things. But what is interesting to me is that how I was conditioned in those years in Santa Fe was exactly the opposite. That to survive you had to judge many books by their cover or you would put yourself in harm's way. What I noticed the whole time during this animal control situation was my internal state. My distrust of authority. My wanting to defend myself even before anything had happened.
My take away from this situation is that I may never fully recover from what I went through in Santa Fe. I'm 42 and I still have these internal ways of being. But despite what I'm feeling on the inside I still have a choice on how I decide to react to outside situations. I can choose to let the outside unveil itself in a way that's completely independent of my internal state. And that in itself allows for empowerment and learning.