It’s really weird when it suddenly occurs to you that you’ve been operating under a self-imposed rule. Because, just like that, you realize that if you were the one making the rule in the first place, then, hey, you don’t have to follow it anymore, do you? Ah, the freedom!
For example, if you live alone, you don’t have to make the bed if you don’t want to! Woo hoo! If you’re the only one who ever sees the back yard, you only have to mow it when you feel like it. Sweet!
I had one of those epiphanies just the other day. Here it is: I don’t have to respond to everything. That’s huge.
Don’t get me wrong. I believe in common courtesy. I make it a point to say thank you and excuse me. That’s the type of lubrication that’s required to keep a civilized society running smoothly.
But I don’t have to respond to unsolicited advice. I don’t have to correct rude behavior (unless I’m looking for closure). I don’t have to explain myself or justify anything. (But I still believe in doing the right thing.)
Just because someone asks an idiotic question, that doesn’t mean I’m obliged to answer. Not every comment requires my input. Not every insult needs to be avenged.
There’s also really no point in carrying your side of an argument if, when all is said and done, it’s not going to change a thing. Your energy is limited. Save it for the positive stuff.
Sometimes it’s okay to let the other person have the last, stupid, selfish word. Whoa. What a concept.
Boy, oh boy, am I about to save myself a heck of a lot of time!
I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the anatomy of disagreements. Naturally this has been inspired by the extreme divisions in this country, but it also has to do with the fact that I’ve had several fundamental disagreements lately with people I love and respect. I really loathe these situations, and find myself evermore diminished by them.
So let’s examine what’s going on internally when someone disagrees with me. First and foremost, I get defensive. I look for ways to justify my point of view. I feel rigid and unyielding. I don’t listen to what the other person is saying. I’m too busy working on a rebuttal.
And my adrenaline starts pumping. You’d think I was being chased by a lion. And that makes me feel sick to my stomach and a lot less calm and rational.
Next, I start second guessing myself. What’s wrong with my viewpoint? Am I being stupid? Did I overlook something? Am I crazy? Should I really hold this opinion? Will the other person think less of me for disagreeing? Do I care?
Then this internal battle goes on with my adult self and my wounded self. The adult self says, “Listen to what is being said. You might learn something.” Wounded self replies, “No! I refuse! This person is a stupid old poopy head.”
Sadly, my adult self only seems to prevail when I’m well-rested, not hungry, and feeling relatively self-confident. I’m a work in progress. Some days I’m better at listening than others.
Disagreeing is stressful. Listening is difficult. And I think we, as a nation, are becoming increasingly exhausted, which makes it harder to be our best selves.
One of my favorite quotes comes from the movie When Harry Met Sally. Marie, played by Carrie Fisher, says, “Everybody thinks they have good taste and a sense of humor, but they couldn’t possibly all have good taste and a sense of humor.”
That is so true that it should be carved in stone somewhere. And I’d go even further, by adding integrity to that list. I can’t imagine someone saying that he or she doesn’t have integrity, and being okay with that concept. And yet, there are a lot of people in this world without an ounce of integrity. (We see this demonstrated in Washington, D.C. every day.) It’s really quite horrifying.
That incremental process we all seem to go through to justify our actions is interesting to witness. Sometimes you just have to look over your shoulder and marvel that you managed to get here from there. But if you didn’t take that crooked path called justification, you probably couldn’t live with yourself.
For instance, I know a guy who lived off the largesse of others for years, lied about registering for college, took money under false pretenses, and not only allowed his boss to steal money from his girlfriend, but continued to work for him. I’d bet my life that he’d be the very first one on the lifeboat if he were on the Titanic. To hell with the women and children. And yet if you were to ask this man about the content of his character, he’d say with deep conviction that he was a great guy.
Integrity seems to be a fluid concept. In other words, there is very little integrity to integrity. It makes it hard to find solid ground. It also makes you wonder if you are one of those people who has gone too far down that crooked path without even realizing it.