In January I read an article titled “6 Harsh Truths to Make You a Better Person”. It’s written in a style that is deliberately confrontational and provocative, but that’s because it’s meant to jolt readers off their butts and get them to do something. If you can’t get past the tone to the underlying truth of the article, go sit in your room for a couple of years and then try it again when you’re ready. I’ve read it about four times since I discovered it. Continue reading “You Are = You Do = Love (or not)”
My husband and I both have a particular small failing, and not so long ago we received a complaint about it. We could see that the relationship with this person had suffered because of this failing, and we felt bad. “Why didn’t you tell us before?” we wailed.
“I did,” was the devastating response. Continue reading “Going to Your Brother, Again”
“If you can’t be a good example, at least you can be a horrible warning.”
It has been many years since I was first amused and instructed by this little saying, and since then I have found it more applicable than one would think. Continue reading “The Value of a Horrible Warning”
This is sort of a companion piece to Complaining for Peace, which I wrote nearly two years ago. During that time I’ve read new books, watched some situations play out, and come to think about things slightly differently.
To be clear, I still stand by everything I said in that post; telling me when I’m off base is absolutely the greatest act of friendship there is. I’m sad that I don’t feel able to be a true friend to more people. In the last few years a lack of honesty about “wow, you shouldn’t have done that,” both to me and from me, has driven a wedge in several valued friendships.
But… I’ve also come to realize that sometimes being brutally honest just isn’t a viable solution, or even the best option. Unfathomable as it is to me, there are people in the world who don’t want to hear truth and will hate you for forcing them to see it – however briefly. Or, more understandably, there are people who absolutely would want to change if they could see what needed to be done, but aren’t ready for it yet.
A few years ago I took a personality/aptitude test that said my most dominant characteristic was a desire for “Harmony.”
People strong in the Harmony theme look for consensus. They don’t enjoy conflict; rather, they seek areas of agreement.
I scratched my head for a full week. So did everybody who heard of the results. How could the girl who never shied from an argument dislike conflict?
Then I started thinking, well, yes, I do want harmony. I want the peace that comes from an absolute absence of friction. I hate the conventional wisdom on literature that says a story needs conflict to be interesting; it annoys me when characters cause problems for themselves – I just want them to do the right and logical and reasonable and generous thing, and be happy.
The odd twist I put on it is that whenever I find conflict, I want it resolved, not just glossed over. For many years I had a certain OCD about telling people whenever they were doing something that negatively affected themselves or others. Despite what others might have thought, (most of the time) I wasn’t trying to be superior – I was trying to be helpful.
Which is perfectly valid in certain circumstances which meet all of the following criteria:
- the person would want to change if they knew
- the person is capable of hearing what you have to say
- the person is ready to hear what you have to say
- your delivery doesn’t interfere with their hearing
But, unfortunately, many situations will not meet the criteria. And in those cases, saying something will not only not resolve the current conflict, it will create a new one.
In such cases, the best option is to cultivate one’s own patience and peacefulness – and tolerance, even love, of others and their foibles.
But I expect there will be a third part to this series in another few years, because keeping in mind George Bernard Shaw’s statement that “The only man who behaves sensibly is my tailor,” one must assume that someone who is not ready to hear at one time may well be ready at another – and I have not yet learned how to retake that measurement. I look forward to that day.
In a recent conversation I cheerfully announced that as some people feel more strongly about the subject under discussion than I do and others feel less strongly about it, I just assume that I’m at the happy medium.
This is a very comfortable notion: that as long as some people are, for instance, more rabidly nationalist/political and a few people are more indifferent, I must be at the exact ideal level of patriotism. Or because at least a few people think I am too lax about enforcing a standard and a few other people think I am too strict, I must be the one who’s right – the one everyone should imitate. It works for nearly every situation.
The logical fallacy of this assumption should be obvious. Even allowing that different approaches can be more effective in different situations, this model guarantees that in any given situation most people are going to be further from the ideal than others. And it’s not inconceivable that the person who is “more” or “less” (who probably also has people who are “more” or “less” than they are) is the one who’s right. While it is comforting in such a case to think that there are people who are more wrong than I am, it doesn’t change the fact that I’m wrong.
Here’s a thought that’s going to sound very strange: The way to have harmony with others is not to reason ourselves out of being offended.
I know, it sounds crazy, right? Somebody does something to annoy you and it’s so natural to think, “It’s not worth making a fuss about such a small thing, so I’ll be the bigger person and will just put up with it.” But you put up with it for years and suddenly when you do mention it, out it pours in a heated tone nothing like what you intended, and now it is a fuss.
It’s tempting, too, to praise ourselves for patience. “I didn’t complain for so long!” But what has that actually gained?
And how often have we refrained from saying the difficult thing to someone about their own behavior because we’re afraid of offending them? It’s right to be concerned about their feelings, of course. But is it right to be so concerned about their immediate feelings that we doom them to stay in patterns that may well hold them back in life, or lead to less happiness in the long term?
It’s never pleasant to hear criticism of my behavior, but it is a greater favor to me to force me to hear it than to say years later, “I have noticed this bad trait you have for a long time, but haven’t given you the chance to do anything about it.” Does more peace result from grudgingly putting up with, say, a harsh and condescending tone, or from helping the person see and change it?
Granted, there are some – perhaps many – people who don’t accept this reasoning and don’t allow others to offer them correction. But they’re not doing themselves any favors. Everyone has at least one failing. Right? Anybody disagree with that? I didn’t think so. Here’s another poll: anybody happy that they have flaws? Anybody not want to be the best person they can be? Yeah, there are a few, like my old boss who told me he’d “earned the right to be a jerk.” But most people want to think of themselves as good people, rational people capable of acting in their own best interests. Isn’t it in your best interests to hear and consider what others have to say about you?
And it’s true, not every criticism is accurate. But most have a grain of truth that can be used. For instance, an acquaintance recently told someone something about me which, when repeated to any number of people who actually know me, was greeted by shouts of laughter and the comment, “You are the last person who would do that.” But on reflection, I could see why someone who didn’t know me would think that, and consider whether some aspects of my behavior could be improved.
As the sage says, “If one man calls you a fool, ignore it. If a second man calls you a fool, consider it. If a third man calls you a fool, believe it.” So if you are someone who doesn’t like to listen to criticism, consider: you can ignore it! But listen, so you’ll know if you hear the same thing again.
A final thought for those special readers who really don’t have any failings: please take pity on those of us who do. Most people are afraid of offering even the gentlest criticism because of the large minority (majority?) who don’t take it well. That is the direct cause of Well-it’s-not-worth-making-a-fuss syndrome. So the next time someone approaches you with an obviously wrong criticism, please, listen calmly. Hear them out. You’re still free to disagree. But respect the courage it took to approach you – even if you wish they hadn’t. That way, those of us who actually view constructive criticism as an act of friendship can have more friends – and maybe one day we’ll be as perfect as you.