This week I seem to have been struck, from all angles, by examples of injustice. Bad behaviour too easily tolerated, disappointment coupled with powerlessness, and all of it coloured with a wash of “how can I get my view across so effectively that others change theirs?”. It’s hard when we’re fixated on who’s right and who’s wrong, but it rarely makes much difference, and it often doesn’t matter.
Watching the political debate on TV this week I wondered what it would be like if, occasionally, a politician agreed with a sensible proposal from an opposing party. How refreshing, how enlightened, how human. No one person has all the good ideas. Yet we still feel the need to win the argument, when the argument is inferior to the action we take as a result of our own beliefs and values.
In an idle moment browsing through recent posts on Quora I came across a great question. “Why do I keep dating men who are assholes?” After reading the wonderful and pithy advice in the top answer I couldn’t help thinking that it was the wrong question. Surely, “How can I attract the partner I deserve” is more effective. When you focus on the problem you have with someone else’s behaviour you are ignoring the only aspect of the relationship you have control over. You.
The twelve step addiction recovery programme has an ethos which is embodied by The Serenity Prayer.
“God grant me the serenity
To accept the things I cannot change;
Courage to change the things I can;
And wisdom to know the difference.”
This recognition that there are aspects of our lives which are unchangeable is a critical realisation in an attempt to lead a balanced and fulfilling existence. The emotional energy we burn in an effort to make other people behave the way that we want them to is disturbing and futile.
How many arguments rage on because neither party will give ground to the other? How much of our discontent comes from the way in which others act contrary our idealised view? How often do we doggedly defend a position for no reason other than a desire to be right. Who’s right and who’s wrong? Who cares?
This week I have managed to get embroiled in two separate arguments on social media. On both occasions I was drawn in by something I find myself consistently unable to let go, narrow mindedness.
When I became a therapist I was startled by the dogmatism I encountered. The number of practitioners refusing to consider any approach or methodology other than their own, and their dismissal of any tool they didn’t carry in their own bag, was a real shock. I’ve often asked myself why it is so, and the only conclusion I can draw is that it must emerge from a deep rooted sense of insecurity. Why is it necessary to question other methods if you are secure in your own? What opportunity for learning and growth are we refusing if our minds are so closed that we will not accept that with only a hammer every problem is treated like a nail?
Of course, in such situations, after I have made my view clear there is nowhere further to go. Why continue to argue after the map is drawn? What is it that fuels my enthusiasm for broadening someones else’s perspective (almost certainly without success) instead of feeling comfort with my own view and building upon that?
If our desire to be right was sometimes superseded by a drive to find a way forward which feels progressive and positive, we would save ourselves a great deal of angst. Substituting pride for pragmatism is often a wise choice which requires courage and self confidence. It is not, as we so easily see it, weakness and “backing down”.
There is damage done in the dogged pursuit of validation. In its wake we can leave bitterness, resentment and frustration. We can shake the foundation of important relationships when we prioritise being right over careful curation of the union itself. Instead of looking at the other person and asking “why don’t you get it?” try looking at yourself and asking “what can I do to make me feel different?”. Not only is it a faster route to emotional change but its also the only thing you will ever control anyway.