Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras outline the five yamas (guidelines on relating to others) and the five niyamas (guidelines on relating to ourselves). These are our A-B-C principles, the things we learn when we’re children and have such a hard time hanging onto in adulthood. Be nice, tell the truth, don’t steal, clean up… you get it.
The third yama, asteya, is the guideline of non-stealing. The A-B-C version is, don’t steal stuff that’s not yours. The grown-up version encompasses much more, including time, ideas, and happiness.
Kids usually understand to ask permission before using someone else’s toy. They usually don’t understand the concept of stealing thunder – you know, when it’s someone else’s birthday and they’re getting all the attention but you also want some attention and before you know it, you’re singing a song way too loud while the birthday girl is trying to open presents. Stealing thunder.
As adults, stealing thunder might show up as talking over someone, shutting down ideas, claiming first dibs (“I thought of that already”), comparing to something “better,” or intentionally – and maybe subconsciously – making the person feel bad for their enthusiasm.
Stealing thunder usually happens when we – like that kid at the birthday party – want attention.
Someone pointed out this phenomenon to me once and now I think about it constantly.
Now, when someone shows me something they’re excited about, even if I’ve seen it before, I make a point to hold their enthusiasm rather than making the interaction about me.
When an employee shares an idea they’re excited about, even if it’s not something that is feasible or rational, I’ll hold space for the excitement, then, when the time is right, try to redirect it to a more practical application.
If someone is stoked about something I don’t really care about, I try my best to enjoy their stoked-ness without interjecting my apathy.
And if someone tries to steal my thunder, now I just keep it for myself. I once told a boyfriend that I loved autumn in Colorado and asked if he wanted to go to the mountains to peep all the aspen leaves. He told me no, because the leaves in New England were much prettier. It was such a strange interaction at the time, and now is a great example of stealing joy – I loved something, but it wasn’t as good as something else that he had experienced.
I now know that fall in New England is indeed stunning… and so is fall in Colorado. Both make me happy, and that joy cannot be taken away by anyone.
In an era of such overall heaviness, grief, and exhaustion, let’s make a point to cheer on each other’s joy, to encourage it whenever there’s a glimmer of happiness. It doesn’t really matter if you share the same enthusiasm, you can still help stoke the joyful flames of someone else!