Have you ever believed something for a very long time and then found out you were wrong? When this happens, you have a choice: either humble yourself, admit you were wrong at an emotional cost, or act like you believed it all the time at an integrity cost.
I have been wrong most of my life. I have been wrong about how to help others see my perspective.
For most of my life, I have tried to convince Mary Kay, family members, and friends that my perspective was the right one. I would give all the reasons to substantiate my perspective, and believing they only lacked sufficient information to see things like I do, I would give them more reasons or information to support my position. In the process, I would become defensive.
So, how did this work, Greg?
Sometimes, I may have convinced some of my perspectives if their real hesitation was just a lack of information. But most often, when the perspective wasn’t simply a lack of information, it would end up in an unending series of points and counterpoints.
For instance, recently, Mary Kay has made the comment, many times, that it is going to be MUCH colder in Greer, SC. This is where we will be moving in about four months. I have felt the need to justify my position to move, so I would be defensive and respond, “Not that cold,” or “Not as bad as Michigan/Ohio,” or something just as defensive, to neuter her comment. I am not sure why I am so defensive, but every fiber in me wants me to push back. I am bothered by her making comments that the move that I have championed may not always be the best. This is so involuntary, I do it without even thinking about it.
However, now I am learning to say, “Yes, it will be colder in Greer.” And let it go because she is right! Geographically, it is 500 miles farther north, and therefore, it WILL be colder. If I admit this, it may minimize MK’s need to continue saying it. Whether she does or doesn’t stop is not my issue; I can only control how I respond. Because if I keep pushing back and being defensive, she thinks she must convince me, so she keeps saying it. Of course, in the past, this would keep me pushing back…and the cycle would continue. Do you see the problem?
Bowen’s Family Systems has convinced me that I have gone about it all wrong my entire life.
I really have lived as if I could change people’s minds by showing them the error of their ways. However, I have come to see that all I was doing was encouraging their beliefs as they doubled down in convincing ME of their position rather than embracing mine. Wow, for more than six decades, I have been doing it all wrong.
So now, when someone says something (especially Mary Kay) with which I don’t agree, I am learning to neither agree nor disagree. I don’t acquiesce, but I say something like, “I can see how you feel that or believe that.” Or I ask a question in return, like, “That is really interesting. Why would you believe or feel that way?”
I am learning to listen to their response and not retort their belief. It is a challenge! Because I was raised to defend or justify myself. That was the culture in which I grew up. My gut just tells me this is the best way. Defending also seems right to a dominant person with some insecurities. But it isn’t.
What I am learning is that if I don’t defend myself against someone’s statement, they no longer feel the need to keep reinforcing it and eventually let it go. Whereas my prior defending caused them to continue to come back to reinforce their position or show the worthiness of their belief. By acknowledging their comment, they feel heard and understood, thereby allowing us to move on.
Don’t hear me say that I don’t stand up for what I believe; I clearly do when the time is appropriate, and I can do so in a way that I will be heard. However, too often in my life, it has been about defending or justifying my perspective and not clearly articulating my position. I am still learning.