One Day I Will Rule the World

World Domination, Babies and Middle Eastern Dance

April 21, 2009

Being Impressed

I spend the day thinking of things I want to tell you. Then I sit down to the computer and draw a blank.

Today Ian and I had a fight that culminated in my demanding, “Just admit that I was wrong and you were right.” And he replied, “You’re too demanding. Stop being so hard on yourself.”

Ian and I are both people with a low tolerance for confrontation. Looking back on our early years together we used to have some right, terrible fights. But with a little distance, I now see that our fights were all meta-communication. That is, we were struggling to communicate to eachother what the ideal way to communicate with eachother might be.

When we started to know the other person’s style, and we had learned what the other person needed and had also acquired confidence in ourselves to provide it, our fights kind of leveled off. I hadn’t realized it until recently. I started thinking about our fights and realized that a discussion where, at the end we will heave a deep sigh and go, “woah, that was a big fight,” other people would be like, “what? There was a fight?”

We do have a low tolerance for confrontation. We are both sensitive people, I guess. And Lord knows, sometimes I watch how many times we’re shushing the kids and begging them to negotiate their fights more quietly or to “please just let it go” and I wonder how badly we’re going to impact their ability to get along in a rougher world.

I was in a department meeting some weeks ago, and my director and another department manager and I were dividing up tasks. And my director said something to me about one task, acknowledging what he knew my preferences were. And he was being just so careful of me and my feelings. It reminded me of how Ian and I are with each other and it made me smile and think how I’m in the best department ever. You know, programmers are often non-confrontational types. And sometimes people in other departments talk circles around us. I wonder if maybe sometimes they look at our careful conversations and wonder how we ever get anything done without standing up to each other and pushing each other around a little. But I really like being surrounded by people who are careful of the people around them. We should be careful of each other, try to know each others’ styles and how to give other people things they need. Yes, even coworkers. Yes, especially your family.

When I watch not-careful people negotiating, it seems like they’re scared they’re giving something away if they act sympathetic to others’ concerns. As soon as they see that someone else wants them to be impressed, sympathetic, grateful or sorry, that’s the last thing they are going to be.

I do understand where it comes from. We are all kind of scared that we will never get our own sympathy or recognition. But the truth is that giving away these things actually costs you nothing. It takes a moment of discomfort, of being present in the moment. There will be some squirming as you struggle with your conditioning.

I really didn’t expect to go here. But since I’m talking about it, here is my suggestion. When you find yourself in one of those emotional tug-of-wars with someone who clearly wants a certain emotional reaction from you and you feel very clearly that you don’t want to give it – ask yourself whether, apart from your own negative feelings about the individual, the reaction they want might actually be the most appropriate reaction.

Usually, when we’re withholding sympathy or recognition or apology or whatever, we are telling ourselves some story about how that person doesn’t deserve it because they’re going about this wrong, or they’ve always been full of themselves or this will just be their excuse to milk the situation. But if you could ignore those personal feelings and just look at the situation… Maybe what they did really is impressive or generous. Maybe what happened to them really is just terrible or maybe, even though you didn’t mean to, you really did do something that somehow wronged them. So maybe it would be appropriate to say, “that was really impressive,” or “Thank you,” or “You poor thing,” or “I’m so sorry.” Maybe the problem isn’t them. Maybe it’s your conditioning. And maybe you’re ready to be a better person than the person your circumstances conditioned you to be?

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