The Missing Piece- Compassion

In January I was invited to be a guest on The Keto Woman Podcast with Daisy Brackenhall and on February 22nd, the episode was released. During our interview, Daisy and I discuss my “Keto origin story”. If you’d like to give a listen, you can click on the image above, or find The Keto Woman podcast on Apple Podcasts, Stitcher or wherever you get your podcasts.

On the whole, I’m proud of this interview. We managed to paint the broad strokes of my life story in about an hour and while I was initially nervous about revealing some of the more intimate and vulnerable aspects of my personal history and current life, in the end, I’m sure glad I did. It feels as though it’s opened the door to a few more of those personal growth spurts I’m so fond of.

Of course I could have rambled on for an hour about any one of the numerous topic points we discussed- and part of me wishes I could have painted with the finer brushes of detail, personal history and nuance. But a podcast isn’t meant to be a full memoir or autobiography. That’s just not it’s job. There is one point of the interview that I’m readdressing within myself however and thought I’d share it with you, dear friend and reader.

Toward the end of the interview, I talk a fair bit about how a few people in my life have expressed displeasure and sometimes even a kind of hostility toward me regarding my weight loss journey. I had meant to express some of the social burdens obese people carry when negotiating the terms of their relationships, versus the social burdens formerly obese people carry and how one might go about renegotiating those relationships in the face of change. Unfortunately, I never managed to close the loop on the stream of consciousness and it just came off like bitter complaint. But this post isn’t meant serve as damage control for one of my lesser moments. Instead, it’s meant to give an account of how this one moment (and one person) managed to shift my whole perspective within the course of a couple of days. There are gifts contained in our errors.

Where I Was

I have been aware since the beginning of my transformative journey that my comfort level with big change was kind of an anomaly. In fact, as the path I’m walking continued to develop, comfort with change turned into out and out excitement! On average though, people don’t like big change. And I knew it. Given that, expressing any surprise that some folks would be uncomfortable with my changes would be disingenuous.

While part of me knew these things all along, another part of me felt indignant, and more often than not, that part was winning the arguments in my head. To be sure, that indignant part of me has some valid points. This is in fact my life and nobody gets to dictate to me how I should live it, particularly in the interest of their own comfort. Further, I don’t and can’t carry the onus of how another person responds to changing circumstances that are outside of their control. I’ve got a ton of my own work to do. I’m not even going to try doing yours too.

And I thought that was my part of the work about it- stay focused on my own work and don’t worry about someone else’s. Don’t feel responsible to “bring someone along”. Learn to let go of relationships that don’t seem to be able to weather big change. Grieve them surely, but in the end, let them go.

Then This Happened

The day that my interview aired, it’s release was announced on my favorite online forum, The Ketogenic Forums. This is a forum of people all around the world who follow one version or another of a Ketogenic dietary model, where they can seek and offer support from/to others across the miles. While spats and disagreements abound, there is a foundational culture built on respect, dignity, motivation and good science. I’ve enjoyed many relationships on the forums, and despite the fact that we’re not likely to ever meet face to face, those relationships can only be called genuine friendships. Posted as a comment in reply to the interview’s announcement, one of those friends said this:

“I’m listening to (Daisy’s) interview with (Brandy), talking about people’s negative reactions. It is sadly true… but also reminded me of a nice story. This is how I wish everyone would react…

A friend moved out of town before I lost weight, then came back for a visit when I was getting close to my goal. She was happy and asked all the usual questions about how I did it and such. After a couple hours she looked at me curiously and said, “I don’t know why, but I prefered how you were before.” I replied that she was used to how I used to look and since she was away when I lost weight I didn’t quite look like her friend anymore. She nodded, relieved to understand what she was feeling. And it was done.

It was a perfect example of identifying an uncomfortable feeling and dealing with it, with no blame or negativity on either side. I love her even more now.”

Now, I don’t know if this responder intended for her story to serve as a highly skilled moment of teaching or not- but either way, that’s exactly what it was. I read this story a handful of times over the course of a couple of hours and each time I did, I recalled another person in my own life who has responded somewhat negatively to the new me and in each case, the indignation I had felt melted away and was replaced with feelings more akin to empathy- and compassion.

See, what this lady did was consider her friend’s emotional position in their relationship on equal footing with her own. Instead of presuming a right to her friend’s complete joy regarding her accomplishment, she considered ways in which her friend may be experiencing her own sense of loss. She didn’t look like the same friend. There were probably some behavioral changes at play as well that served to further her friend’s disorientation. And instead of becoming indignant and protecting her own pride, she chose to recognize her friend’s discomfort and to embrace it with compassion and honesty. When indignation would have served to sever or damage their relationship, the alternative choice she made served to deepen the bond of friendship. It was a masterful, positive choice.

Assuming Positive Intent

A while ago, I began a thought experiment that I’d hoped would turn into a full blown outlook on life- “assuming positive intent”, whereby you engage with the world assuming that the actions of others are taken only from a place of positive intent. You may have heard about this in the work place. I used it mostly to diffuse anger within myself when I got cut off in traffic or something like that. It really did work too. If I was in public and someone was rude, I’d make up all kinds of stories in my head about the reasons for their actions. Maybe their kid’s school called because their child was injured and they needed to get there ten minutes ago. That kind of thing. Sure, those stories about strangers weren’t true. But neither were the stories that assumed they were just a jerk who had it out for me specifically. The story about the medical emergency created feelings of compassion in me. The story about the jerk inspired feelings of anger. Whether they’re on their way to save a child or a big selfish jerk, they will remain completely unaffected by my emotions around it. I’m the only one who carries that burden. So, what’s the better story?

But I never even considered applying the assumption of positive intent in my personal relationships. And I don’t know why. When I do so for people I know and care for, not only do I have a much better chance of assuming a story about their intent that’s actually true, since I know them, I’m likely to be given an opportunity ask! Also, unlike the stranger, my assumptions about their intentions don’t only affect me, but have consequences for them too. I’m thinking that’s unfair and I mean to change it.

The Takeaway

There’s a place for indignation. But maybe that place exists only in the macro. Maybe we can save it for going to war with the food and pharmaceutical industries. Or maybe we can save it for governments that are hell bent on crushing the wills of their own people. Maybe we can save it for the voting booth and the protest marches.

For me, I don’t think it can have a place within my interpersonal relationships. If a friend tells me outright that they begrudge me my autonomy over my health and body, then fine, we can make a decision together to bring our relationship to an end and grieve it’s loss separately. Really though, what are the chances that anyone I know actually feels that way? I bet slim to none. If I approach the situation with compassion and address peoples’ senses of loss over one aspect or another of the old me, what are the chances that we can strengthen our bond of friendship? I bet pretty darn close to 100%. I’m going with the compassion.

So, in the end, I’m so glad I never closed that thought loop during my interview. Although I describe that part of it as “cringey”, if I’d have been more polished or diplomatic, that forum user would have never felt compelled to share her story and I’d have never had my “ahah” moment around this thing. And not quite two days later, I’d still be sitting with little bits of frustration and uncertainty. Instead they’ve completely dissolved and been replaced with optimism and gratitude. So cheers to screwing it up once in a while.