Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Why It Is So Hard To Accept Another Point Of View

Jenny was raised in a loving home, and like most children, firmly believed that everything her parents said was true, and that the way they lived was the right way to live. Great value was given to cleanliness and keeping things in their place, and Jenny was highly praised for every task she learned to accomplish.

When Jenny went to college there was some relaxing of Mom's housekeeping standards because she shared her room with two other girls. Her personal belongings were kept neat and orderly, the only way she knew how. It came naturally without forethought - it was part of her unconscious identity.

Tom also grew up in a home full of love with a brother and sister close to his own age. His father taught Zoology at the local college, and enthusiastically introduced his children to the wonders of “all things great and small.” Growing up, there were a multitude of pets, representing various species, under foot at all times. Mom was a 6th grade art teacher who encouraged her children to use one wall in their room to express themselves artistically. Tom was not all that interested in art, so he tacked up various posters instead. Housekeeping was of the “one of these days” variety, and Tom literally never saw the need for it anywhere. It wasn't part of his identity.

As you may have guessed, Tom and Jenny met in college, fell in love, had tons of fun with all their friends, and moved into their own apartment right after graduation.

The radical difference in the way they were raised, and what they would therefore value, had not become very apparent till now. Jenny believed that Tom's indifference to clothing was due to intellectual preoccupation, and that he really didn't look that much different from their friends. The mess in his room she had blamed on the other two occupants.

Jenny took to their new apartment like a duck to water. She would make it a real home, where family and friends would feel welcome. (And yes, be a little impressed, too.) Decorating was so much fun, and when she talked to Tom about the things she thought they should get, his answer predictably was always, "Whatever you want, babe."

In the beginning, Tom's general messiness - clothes, socks, dirty dishes everywhere - annoyed her only a little. She loved him, he was just a little absent-minded, he hadn't adjusted from dorm life yet, that's all. Her repeated requests for some changes, though always agreed to, never came to fruition. Then came the talks with tears, and Tom since loved his Jenny he promised most earnestly to do better. In fact, he was clueless as to what the big deal was.

Jenny, on the other hand, firmly believed that cleanliness and order showed good character. Once, when her mother arrived just as she was coming home from work, she felt a twinge in her stomach as she turned the key. Tom had worked from home that afternoon and was on his way to the gym. Taking in the mess he had made with one sweep of her eyes, Mom's only words were, "Oh, Jenny!" It hurt so much to know what her mother must think of her now.

Jenny and Tom's love eroded further, when he surprised her with two stray kittens and a week later brought home a ragged little puppy that he had purchased in the Super-Market parking lot. Tom fed and played with the animals and gave them all of his free time, but, as expected, cleaning up after them fell to Jenny.

They broke up when the talks turned into shouting matches. Jenny thought that Tom was just a selfish lazy slob, and Tom thought Jenny was a bossy bitch who had to have all things her way.

They were both wrong, of course. With some maturity and reflection, and understanding why they saw things so differently, they might have come to see that they hadn't taken adversarial positions to annoy each other, but that each of them were good people with vastly different upbringings. With an open mind, they might have come to realize the gifts they could have brought to each other.

Jenny had learned to love those kittens and the puppy Tom brought home. They had laughed together many times over their antics, and she loved to see the tenderness in Toms face when he played with them. Relaxing on the housekeeping might have grown easier with a little more time. Jenny might also have had a different reaction to her mother's criticism, having realized that there was so much more to her than the mess around her.

Tom may have come see that friends and family felt more comfortable and relaxed when the couch and chairs weren't covered with whatever he had left there. He may have noticed how nice it was, when getting ready for work, to find his clothes right in front of him, hanging wrinkle free in the closet instead of the usual hunt for something decent to wear, somewhere in the house. Oh, and no small thing for the absent-minded, is being able to find one's keys, wallet and phone all in the same place each and every morning.

My point in telling their story is to give a clear picture of how strongly our upbringing shapes who we are, and our point of view on how things MUST be done.

As mature adults, it is very helpful to understand that another's opinion or methods is a great part of their personal identity, and outright criticism and hostility only creates more anger. It is very threatening to have one's identity questioned.

It will help you tremendously to keep this in mind, not only with partners but with co-workers as well.  Listen to what they have to offer that is different from your own ideas. If they too have adopted an open-minded attitude, as you have now, the sky is the limit on future success! Replacing an old idea with a new and better one opens the mind for growth, and for becoming so much more than who you were when you left home! So, listen. How else do we learn?

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

When Sooner Is Better Than Later

Frances has been divorced for several years. Ex-husband Ralph had been somewhat of  a bully and Frances still felt intimidated and nervous when communicating with him regarding an investment they still owned in common. As had been his habit in the past, Ralph continued to manage it quite independently of her opinion and wishes.

Eventually,  Frances made plans to change her life completely, shedding the painful past and living a meaningful life according to her own heart and standards. She planned to buy a house in the little town that once was home and find a way to make a difference there. She needed the money from the investment with Ralph.

The thought of having to tell him that she wanted her share literally stopped her in her tracks. She mentally reviewed all the scenarios on how this may play out, and in her mind one was worse than the other. She became more and more upset, and the idea began to fill her with dread. All joy went out of her vision for the future. Instead of making that phone call and, in a business-like manner, claim what was hers, she reverted to identifying with the wife of the past to whom all things were granted according to Ralph's whim.

Reliving all the hurts and insults of her marriage did much to undo the healing she had achieved since the divorce, and her mind got stuck in the past. Not in the habit of aski, she realized that talking to Ralph could not possibly feel worse than what she had been doing to herself. Almost emotionless, she made her request and "if that's how you want it, fine” was his only reply.

Think of all the prolonged anxiety and stress we undergo, when we let our imaginations decide how someone else may respond to a request or an unpleasant event that must be shared. Say what you have to say as soon as you can, before you start second- guessing the answer. Prolonging the inevitable can make you very unhappy, and it can hurt others as well.

Henry was grandfather, and best friend, to his only son's growing boys. Retired and loving all things outdoors, he took the boys camping and fishing and taught them about the local wildlife and the names of all the things that grew around them. He would sometimes quiz them about what they had seen that day, and the winner would get a dollar. Henry also taught them how to make a great kite, and in the fall flying kites and picnics became regular family affairs.

Henry was a long-time widower, had worked hard his whole life and had owned his own little auto repair shop. His greatest sense of achievement came from being able to send his son to college - the first one in the family to go. Jim in turn repaid his father well when he made him the proudest man in town - the day he became the principal in the local high school.

When Henry retired and sold his little shop, he told everyone that he would invest that money and send all four of his son’s boys to college as well. The idea of still being able to care for his family at this time of his life filled him with purpose and pride.

Our recent debacle with the stock market all but broke Henry. Gone was the dream of sending all four boys to college - he felt defeated and depressed. He declined all invitations from his son, made vague excuses to the boys when they called and kept the door locked when they rang the bell. Jim suspected the cause for his behavior and thought his dad might just need some time. The boys, however, were another story.  The daily absence of Grandpa confused and upset them very much.

Finally, an old friend of Henry's (my neighbor, who told me this story) challenged his behavior. "How can I face them, and tell them there isn't enough money left for all of them? What will they think of me then?” he asked with tears in his eyes.

“By God, Henry, you give your family little credit if you think they love you for the money. What do those boys know and think about college anyway? And if I know anything about Jim, and I do, he's preparing for his sons’ education, just like his father did for him. If it's your pride, Henry, you’re paying a mighty price for it!"

Henry returned to the fold, as they say - but again, sooner would have been better.

So, don't agonize over imagined outcomes when you have something to say or ask for. The truth really does set you free.