Being at Peace with Others
Being at peace with others has mostly to do with understanding personal boundaries. We are responsible for our own actions and attitudes, but there are many ways we can begin to feel responsible for the behavior of others. Think of it like cars on the road. Everyone is responsible for handling their vehicle safely and responsibly, but we know we're always in danger of another driver violating our space and crashing into us. For this reason, a wise driver will be alert as to whether other drivers are being responsible. If we're concerned about the way someone is driving, we don't get in their car and take over, but we give more attention to the welfare of our own boundaries.
In human relationships it is not always easy to discern what the proper boundaries are. In normal adult relationships, we should respect one another as mature adults and expect mature behavior. But adults don't always behave maturely. We're prone to neglect our own responsibilities and interfere in the responsibilities that are rightly others'. It is helpful to picture this in terms of CHILD / ADULT / PARENT categories.
Dysfunctional, or what is called 'co-dependent' behavior comes from confusing these categories in our relationships. In healthy adult relationships we respect one another as mature adults and allow each other the respect and space appropriate to letting each other live our own lives and make our own decisions. If we disagree with another's behavior we confront and work it out, expecting the other to recognize and respect boundaries and quickly make right any boundary violations.
In dysfunctional relationships, rather than adult-adult interaction, the behavior in one way or another becomes parent-child. One adult takes on parental characteristics toward another adult and that adult submits to the 'parent' with childlike characteristics. For example, if a husband gets drunk and can't go to work the next day because of his hangover, the wife will often call in to make an excuse and cover for him. She is taking parental action to 'protect' his job and he is childishly shirking his responsibility by not being in condition to go to work.
Of course, as long as a child is a child, it is appropriate for the parent to act like a parent and take responsibility for the child ---- a responsibility that decreases as the child matures. The table turns in old age where because of declining faculties, the adult child must inevitably step in and take responsibility for their aged parent in a 'parental' way, sometimes overriding the biological parent's wishes for their own safety and well-being.
Also, in some respects the workplace reflects appropriate division of child-parent-adult characteristics. A manager is responsible for the employees under his supervision. Within carefully defined job descriptions, it is completely appropriate for him to evaluate, criticize and correct job-related behavior, while it would be over-stepping otherwise adult-adult boundaries for the manager to do the same thing about issues related to the employee's personal life.
People around us may be living in unhappiness, chaos and irresponsibility. We may be sad about that, and we may be able to help. But we cross a line when we step in and try to 'fix' what another adult is, or should be, capable of 'fixing' on their own. When we see the misery of others' lives, our sympathy often leads to 'taking on' those burdens. Even if we don't actually step in and try to guide the steering wheel of anothers' life, we become weighed down in our own mind and emotions by the distress we see. The recovery community calls this 'renting space in your head to someone else', and 'letting their problem become your problem'. Again, this is a matter of distinguishing boundaries appropriately. In reality, nobody wants someone else in the driver's seat of their life. Those who attempt to take over to 'help' someone else usually wind up getting a large dose of resentment and hostility in return rather than the thanks they expected, however much 'help' they provided.
There are legitimate ways to help others and illegitimate ways. Those lines are distinguished by this issue of appropriate boundaries. The better we are at recognizing the proper boundaries of both our own lives and the lives of others, the more we will find our relationships with others to be healthy, peaceful and satisfying. Nobody does this perfectly, but the more you observe the issue of boundaries and act on their realities the more skillful you will become at handling them.
The issue of boundaries applies not only to our interactions with other humans, but with God. Check out the DIVINE BOUNDARIES page to explore this dimension. (coming soon)