Everyday love

Has this ever happened to you? You’re reading a post and as you read it, you can actually feel a sort of tectonic shift inside you, a soul response to the words on your screen?

(Hint: Here’s the part where you say, “Sure, j! That’s happened to me right here on Zebra Sounds!” And then I say, “Really? Wow! I think I love you!” And then we run off together, you, me and our exclamation points all living happily ever after!)

Meanwhile, back in the real world, I read Danielle LaPorte’s “give ‘em a break: everyday love and assumptions,” and it hit me like a bolt of white hot truth between the eyes. In her post, Danielle says the mantra she takes to the streets every day is this: I don’t know what you’re going through. She uses it when someone races ahead of her in traffic, or butts in front of her in line, or doesn’t return her hello.

I don’t know what you’re going through.

Think about that. Feel the power of it. It’s calming, isn’t it? It allows you to let go of your anger (or hurt or confusion) with a certain amount of compassion. It acknowledges the complexity of our lives, the big, wild, precious mess of them, instantly, in the span of seven short words.

I don’t know what’ you’re going through.

Because you don’t, of course. When someone doesn’t get back to you, when they’re rude or dismissive, when they unfollow, unfriend or reject you, it’s unnerving. You get angry or you assume your own guilt, but the truth is, more often than not, if you can’t figure out what you did, it’s because you didn’t do anything. It’s not about you. It’s about their breakup, their expensive car repair, their diagnosis, their job or the loss of their job.

It’s about all the stuff that makes up a life, good and bad. You can’t know it, and you can’t fix it. But you can let it go, just like that, with grace and compassion (and unelevated blood pressure).

I don’t know what you’re going through.

It’s amazing. I’ve been using it like crazy, in all kinds of situations, giving people the benefit of the doubt, assuming they have good reasons for inexplicable behavior. Letting go. Moving on. Choosing love.


  1. Ralph on June 28, 2011 at 11:22 pm

    There are some people are just plain mean, or rude, or ignorant, and they shouldn’t be left off of the hook. Present company excepted, of course.

  2. j on June 28, 2011 at 11:33 pm

    Well, since I’m never mean, rude or ignorant, you’ll never have to let me off the hook, sweetie! That said, when you do know the offenders, when you have reason to think you can make the call, that’s different. You’re right. Shitty behavior shouldn’t just be accepted. I’m talking more about the people you don’t know, or don’t know well enough.

  3. Joanne Ludlow Firth on June 28, 2011 at 11:59 pm

    I agree with Ralph. It’s great to be compassionate. I believe that people deserve the benefit of the doubt for occasional bad behavior, but if it is consistent or egregious, and you can’t move forward in a relationship, it may be time to reevaluate. This post got my wheels turning, so I may have to revisit after I think about it some more. Great post.

    • j on June 29, 2011 at 8:06 am

      Actually, I don’t disagree with you and Ralph. I’m a strong believer in there being lines in the sand, behavior that is just plain unacceptable, especially from people with whom we are in a relationship. This post was more about the people we don’t know, or the people we don’t know well enough to make judgment calls.

      For instance, when someone unfollows on Twitter, especially when it’s someone we talk to sometimes, someone we like, it’s kind of awful. At least for me it is. I wonder what I might have said or done that was so offensive it warranted the ultimate Twitter reaction. Now, instead of doing the spiral thing I’ve done in the past, assuming it’s something I did and feeling horrible about something I can’t change, I can say, “I don’t know what you’re going through.” Much easier. Much truer.

  4. C. Fassett on June 28, 2011 at 11:59 pm

    I love doing this. Once, I went into a convenience store, and the clerk was so rude I found my hackles beginning to rise, but I suddenly saw something in his eyes, and I asked instead, “Havin’ a bad day, huh?” He looked like he was about to weep, and he gave me a brief rundown of horrible things that had happened in his life in the past 24 hours…the hackles melted right off me, and compassion rose in it’s place. In the space of 5 minutes I saw him relax a bit, like he was just needing to let off some pressure by talking about it…and to know someone cared. I left the store feeling better myself for not having given into my initial reaction. We really just don’t know.

    • j on June 29, 2011 at 8:09 am

      I. LOVE. THIS. COMMENT. Wow! That is even better than a silent mantra. What a powerful interaction that was, and not complicated or confrontational. And I love your question because it allowed him to see his own behavior but not because you were a mirror (which I often fall into the trap of being), but because you were compassionate and risked connection. Talk about choosing love! Your comment totally made my day (and it’s only 8 o’clock here).

  5. Joanne Ludlow Firth on June 29, 2011 at 12:09 am

    I love the above comment, it perfectly shows how compassion works, and what a huge difference it makes.

  6. Rita on June 29, 2011 at 12:26 am

    Wow. That is so powerful given our brief discussion tonight. I’m so happy to have read this before bed. It certainly shifts my perception of what I thought I already knew. You (and Danielle) are right. I don’t know what they are going through. So with that..I let it go. and just so you know…every single time I read one of your posts, it touches me to the core of my being and where I can actually feel “a sort of tectonic shift inside me, a soul response to the words on my screen…”

    Thank you for being you.

    • j on June 29, 2011 at 8:12 am

      I had just posted this when we spoke, Rita. It’s true. And sometimes it works for the bigger questions like yours. It isn’t always the answer. Sometimes, we have to demand accountability. But in those situations where it isn’t our battle to wage, or we’re on the freeway so waging battles is distinctly inadvisable, “I don’t know what you’re going through” can be very helpful. It also helps us keep our faith in humanity. 😉

    • j on June 29, 2011 at 8:14 am

      Oops, I forgot to say, Awww! Your “I get tectonic shifts from ZS” comment melted me a little bit. Thank you! xoxo

  7. kaleighsomers on June 29, 2011 at 4:45 am

    I love that everything boils back to choosing love. I read the post too and thought how I might struggle with that concept of saying “I don’t know what you’re going through.” Maybe I need to start assuming people do what they do – conscious or subconsciously – because they have a strong reason behind it. It might not directly correspond to some awful moment in their life, but that’s still a small factor in why they cut you off on the highway. Maybe that’ll be our sign for when love is taking over: when less and less people start cutting us off or flipping us off or writing us off. Maybe, maybe, maybe.

    • j on June 29, 2011 at 8:16 am

      Yes, and also remember that “strong reason” and “good” or “justified” reason isn’t the same thing. No matter what someone is going through, it doesn’t justify general douchebaggery, but if we knew about their hurt or sadness or frustration or happiness, we’d probably feel compassion instead of rage in response. So… we’ll assume it when we can.

  8. Ruth Appleton on June 29, 2011 at 5:46 am

    I agree with J’s article…thanks for that mantra! I will note it and use it!

    I know that everybody is going thru something in their lives (strangers or friends) and I can respect that they CANT always be there for you .

    But here is MY mantra: “YOU dont know what I am GOING thru”..as a person who HAS more time than God himself when it comes to returning a call or doing a buddy chat; a person who tries to make it a point to post funnies on friends and acquaintance’s FB pages just to let them know someone cares and wants them to laugh…

    Granted, even someone like me, who has INFINITE time on their hands, its not always possible to be that generous as I have such lows at times its hard to be positive. But still I try…..so think about people like me..the POLAR opposites…

    • j on June 29, 2011 at 8:19 am

      Actually, I do know people like you, and you’re right. I don’t know what they’re going through, but assuming they are always happy and that their efforts are, well, effortless, is silly. I will make it a point to be more grateful. No doubt, they are sometimes being sweet despite their own troubles and that is a gift. Thanks for the reminder.

  9. Louise Gillespie-Smith on June 29, 2011 at 6:28 am

    This is an amazing post. It’s so true. I am just going through a break up and it’s so easy to try to work out why someone has done what they have but you really can never know fully what is going on in someone else’s mind. It’s very liberating. Thanks as always Judy!

    • j on June 29, 2011 at 8:21 am

      Yes, liberating is what I felt too. I have such a tendency to spiral out of control in my self-condemnation (or, sometimes, righteous indignation). Neither are particularly helpful or good for me. It felt quite liberating to think I could just let go of all that. Assume the best. I suppose it would be harder with a breakup but the part where it may be nothing you did still holds, and assuming that might be the first step toward letting go healthily.

  10. Becky on June 29, 2011 at 6:50 am

    I’m going to take the (possibly) different view point of this. Yes, we never know what someone else is going through, here’s my quick autism example: I was working with this boy last month. He was very upset. He pinched my arm so hard I dropped to my knees and cried (quietly). I never walked away or raised my voice or scolded him. I needed to know why this behavior occurred, turns out his father didn’t walk him all the way to the classroom that morning. My point… all behavior is communication — ALL of it. From the nudge our dogs give us in the morning to the friend waving his arms to get our attention.
    We seem quick to give the stranger on the street the “I don’t know what you’re going through” break but why would we offer anything less of the people who ARE a part of our lives? It seems the people who love us the most are the ones who we tend to “write off”, “let go”, all those things.
    I guess I think we should give the people who love us the same breaks as we do complete strangers… and yes, I fully understand that there are some things that are unforgivable and there are some people we should stop giving “breaks” too — trust me, this I know. But still, even if you think you know or knew what was happening in someone’s life when they acted mean or rude or needy or like a complete basket case… you probably didn’t know at all.
    Also… I’ve said this already but I’ll say it again, your Mother’s Day post was incredible.

    • j on June 29, 2011 at 8:28 am

      I don’t know if your view is different, just the direction you’re taking it. It’s a good point that we don’t always give the people we love the same benefit of the doubt that we give to strangers. I think it’s a little bit different then. It’s more what Joanne was saying about people in relationships.

      With people who are a part of our day-to-day lives, repeated or egregious behavior at some point has to be dealt with no matter what the reasons behind it. Whether or not you know what’s going on with them, you may have to change the dynamic, draw your line in the sand, for the sake of the relationship or your sense of self.

      While I think this advice works sometimes for people we know and love, it’s mostly about the ones we don’t know or don’t know well enough to judge. Hopefully, the ones in our lives, we can actually talk to.

  11. lunaJune on June 29, 2011 at 6:58 am

    The best part about believing and living this way is that the person it affects is YOU ! ♥♥♥ allows you to let go.. the frustration, the anger, the rage, the need to complain about it, the need to hold something that only hurts you, the person who cut you off, the rude person in line, all the things that strangers do… LET THEM GO….
    we never know what the other is living….
    we can not affect anyone but ourselves…
    others can be inspired by us

    you cut me off… I say…I hope you get to where you need to safely

    life is a mirror …
    just for half a second image how that angry, rude, mean person’s life is…. I wish them luck on finding their way, and walk away before their negativity flows into mine….and when I can not get away.. like with an irate client I remind them that what they are angry about is not my fault… some just want to be heard..
    I do not accept anger in my world… and seriously from the moment I let it go it doesn’t really flow in my life.
    Every kind of person walks through the door to my clinic daily and really it’s all about the energy you project….and how you react to it.
    Off to ripple….. love, wonder, excitement, joy, laughter,

    be the change…

    • j on June 29, 2011 at 8:31 am

      I love “I wish them luck finding their way.” I did that once so far, or I sort of did it. I thought “I don’t know what you’re going through,” and then they actually slowed down. At that point they had both cut me off AND been obnoxious (or more probably oblivious) once they were in front of me. So I thought (through gritted teeth), “but I hope you get it all worked out.”

      Then I went around (no dirty looks, either, just BNL turned up loud).

  12. Lance on June 29, 2011 at 7:02 am

    Listen j, stop getting inside my head and taking my posts and feelings. You may be awesome and all but enough!

    seriously, yes it happens a lot. This conincides with a speech about how love is more important than money that I gave one of my daughter. She used it against me to allow my girls to get two new kittens.

    • j on June 29, 2011 at 8:33 am

      You busted me. I do a little, secret Lance mind-meld at night. When you’re thoughts are juicy, I hold onto them. 😉

      Smooth move with the kittens! *makes note*

  13. Amy on June 29, 2011 at 7:26 am

    I’m writing that down on a post-it note and sticking it to my computer.

    • j on June 29, 2011 at 8:33 am

      Yes, I find it particularly helpful in my online interactions.

  14. Estrella Azul on June 29, 2011 at 8:49 am

    Sure, j! That’s happened to me right here on Zebra Sounds! (and as funny as it was to open with that line, I’m not kidding, it happened quite a number of times actually)

    I really like this take, because it’s true, we can’t know what people are going through. Giving the benefit of the doubt instead of judging can’t really go wrong 🙂

    • j on June 29, 2011 at 10:39 am


  15. echo90803 on June 29, 2011 at 10:01 am

    J–ditto on everyone who says you’ve created tectonic shifts for them – as you have for me. Not only should we run off, but we should stop for Cheesecake in large amounts as we hit the road!

    I agree that this is a great way to let go. I seem to be perpetually a) needing to let go, and b) forgetting my last strategy that worked, and c) having to spend time reminding myself it is easy if I let it be so. Danielle’s mantra is a simple, yet profound method which works.

    I also agree that is the people we do know who are behaving “badly” who deserve our repeating this mantra. In reality, we are doing it for ourselves, which can’t help but have a more loving impact on them. I find myself often assuming that I do know what’s going on, but if I can let go and risk the connection, more often than not I find that my assumption was either way off the mark, or just enough off the mark, for me to ascribe a motive to hurt me when the motive is the other person is so hurt or wounded by what their mind is creating in a situation that they’re oblivious to the reaction I might have. Further, they’ve never learned the power of letting go, so they are weighed down by every slight or serious hurt they’ve ever experienced. When I think of it that way, I can choose to let go, and to be grateful that I have the ability to let go of things if I choose to let myself be reminded that it’s really pretty simple to be compassionate as long as our awareness kicks in just a moment before our “lizard brain” does.

    With big fond hugs, and the hope that you have cheesecake today to go along with all the love you’re giving to us.

    • j on June 29, 2011 at 10:41 am

      Thank you so much for this. I feel the same way about you guys. And yes, you’ve hit upon the key to the whole thing. We have to say the mantra before our lizard brains kick in. (And I have a hair trigger lizard brain, so this is no small task… but then I guess the worthy ones rarely are.) Big fond hugs right back to you!

  16. echo90803 on June 29, 2011 at 10:04 am

    Oh, and can you lovingly teach me to proofread a bit better and quash my misplaced love for run-on sentences?

    (place winky emoticon here)

    • j on June 29, 2011 at 10:41 am

      Ha! I will edit you any time (but I loved this little bit so much, I couldn’t bring myself to do any repair work). xo

  17. Pam on June 29, 2011 at 10:11 am

    One of those things I’ve learned many times, and will learn many more times I’m sure, is that to forgive is a massive boon to the forgiver. Maybe a bigger boon than it is to the forgiven. This is true for misbehaving strangers and misbehaving loved ones.

    With some people we love, it may be best to forgive and then leave them behind.

    I like the phrase “I don’t know what you’re going through.” I have a feeling it will help me remember this lesson more often. Wonderful.

    But really, don’t cut me off in traffic. I will be disparaging your intelligence and humanity right after you do. (Sort of kidding.)

    • j on June 29, 2011 at 10:56 am

      “With some people we love, it may be best to forgive and then leave them behind.”

      Yes! I think that is such an important point. It’s what I was trying to say about the difference between strangers and people with whom we share our day-to-day lives, only you said it much more succinctly. I’m definitely not saying that we need to stay in relationships that are making us sad or crazy, telling ourselves there are reasons for bad behavior. I love that your statement allows for forgiveness and, sometimes, a necessary distance.

  18. Joanne Ludlow Firth on June 29, 2011 at 11:25 am

    Great conversation here. I’m feeling what you are trying to say j, correct me if I’m wrong, using the “I don’t know what your going through”, instead of what have I done wrong, allows us to be more accepting of people’s bad behavior. We can move on past the incident without making ourselves responsible and feeling terrible.

    Last month, I got unfollowed on Twitter by a long time follower. We didn’t tweet each other too much, but it upset me. I was concerned enough to ask the person why they unfollowed. It ended up to be an error. An offensive tweet made by someone else, was attributed to me. It was uncomfortable sorting this out as the person’s action actually was due to something they thought I had done, yet hadn’t. Despite the discomfort and defensiveness, we worked it out. I was cleared of bad behavior that wasn’t mine to begin with. Now, the connection between the two of us is even better for having gone through that. We both agreed that our friendship, though very casual, was worth salvaging. On the other side, trust has been regained and the tension has dissolved.

    So whether we act on it or not, it does feel better to remove ourselves as the reason for the bad behavior and not take it personally.

    • j on June 29, 2011 at 10:23 pm

      Yes, that is what I’m saying in a sense, that allowing for another’s unknowable circumstances lets you (rightfully usually) off the hook. But also, it allows room to treat the situation compassionately, to not devolve to your least kind impulses. (And by you, I mean me.)

      I’m so glad your Twitter situation worked out. I have had inexplicable unfollows that turned out to be Twitter errors too. I’m glad you two took the time to find out.

  19. echo90803 on June 29, 2011 at 11:29 am

    My lizard brain also has a hair trigger. Not one of my favorite traits about myself but I’ve been letting it feel the love since I learned about your project.

    One of my colleagues+dear friend has learned to ask, “How is your Amygdala?” or “Do you need some Limbic System Yoga?” to help me recognize when I miss that the trigger was pulled and the Lizard is at work. It always makes me laugh and let go.

    • j on June 29, 2011 at 10:24 pm

      I LOVE amygdala. talk! I did a whole post on tickling my amygdala once. That is an awesome friend. Hold onto that one. 😉

  20. Michael on June 29, 2011 at 11:54 am

    You do host some lovely conversations, Ms. j.

    I’ve never heard that particular mantra before, but the concept is familiar. And useful. And powerful. We can always choose to offer grace to a person, even if we can’t condone or praise their behavior. That applies to strangers, or family, or friends, and perhaps most important – to ourselves.

    Bravo and thanks…

    • j on June 29, 2011 at 10:25 pm

      I couldn’t do it without you. Bravo and thank you right back. Offering grace. I like that phrase.

  21. Kacey on June 29, 2011 at 1:45 pm

    that’s a great mantra that I will try to remember while at work…. more than 25% of my human encounters are less than pleasant due to people being so much in thier own world, they overlook opportunities for general niceness.

    So keep this in mind….. when you are waiting in the drive thru at Starbucks, that voice inside that little box IS a real person too, with feelings and everything….. and deserves not to be treated like a little box.

    • j on June 29, 2011 at 10:26 pm

      Dear favorite barista,

      I will absolutely keep that in mind.


  22. LunaJune on June 29, 2011 at 8:53 pm

    cool coversations abound today :~) love that about this cozy corner of the universe :~)

    • j on June 29, 2011 at 10:26 pm

      Yes, me too. <3

  23. Eric Naroyan on June 30, 2011 at 8:13 am

    I swear I have no idea how I “unfollowed” you. When you pointed it out, I immediately followed you again. I’ve been following you since I joined twitter! Now I wonder if there are others I’ve inadvertently unfollowed, and even more importantly, I have to wonder if that’s why Tawny Kitaen stopped following me.

    • j on June 30, 2011 at 8:44 am

      Ha! Hello, inexplicable unfollow who turned out to be a Twitter error. I believe you. And Tawny Kitaen must be a mistake. I’ll DM her for you. 😉

  24. Real Wisdom, Socrates-style… « Kid Stuph on July 1, 2011 at 12:43 am

    […] about our interactions with people, and the totally freeing attitude we should have, admitting that we don’t know what they are going through. I have thought about the post, my reactions with people, and the all too easy tendency to create […]

  25. Meg Sweeney on July 1, 2011 at 6:05 am

    Yes yes yes, all those little disses…the raw unkind smile and the brush off.
    I used to think, “I don’t understand what you are going through.” But then I did it. I did the unspeakable…I brushed a person off that loved brushing as a great way to be in-control. After my brush, she felt really miserable (perhaps for the first time in her life, and I felt well, I had other more important things do to). Perhaps attending to my own dignity. Hmmmm. THIS was way eye-opening. Being the receptor of such feelings is a double , no triple bummer….but doing it is water under the bridge. So, sometimes I feel, we care too much. That comment has led to a lot of angst on Zebra Sounds J blog. Actually you can be born (as many of us are) to care tooooo much. Bringing things more into balance is very very nice, and illuminating. Maybe sometimes, love is also not caring so much, trusting in a bigger force that can just let things move the way they should. Authenticity is great. Kindness is sometimes within my grasp, and sometimes outside of it…and it is all just fine. Let it be sista. If people say you are too sticky sweet, you can say, “yes, I am.” Enjoy it while it is here because soon I want to experiment on the “other side!”

    • j on July 1, 2011 at 7:51 am

      I do think this advice is best used on strangers. That’s what I’ve tried to clarify in the comments section. When the bad behavior is a recurring thing, it is time to draw your line in the sand. Absolutely. No one should be a doormat. In your example, it sounds like you have history, and that does change it. Then you have to decide at what point being compassionate becomes damaging to you (and her because allowing someone’s shittiness to continue unchecked does not do them any favors either).

      I don’t feel angsty at all over your comment. And no one who knows me would ever call me sticky sweet. I might get “sweet” out of some of them, but even that adjective is not terribly likely..

  26. Meg Sweeney on July 1, 2011 at 6:43 am

    Maybe we can adapt the advice to “I don’t know what you are going through,,,( a little cold and distant) to but I really really wanna know ^ which is connectedness, and what we are longing for.

    • j on July 1, 2011 at 7:52 am

      Like Cindy’s example above. That could work… as long as you really do want to know. 😉

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