Over the past couple of weeks, I’ve experienced several independent events that, on their own, are innocuous and inconsequential.
I found myself plucking them out of the other myriad of conversations, activities, and interactions that I’ve had over the last couple of weeks and pondering them together. I began adding into the mix some accounts of recent world events. I started sensing a connection, but it was just a perplexing collage without a coherent story.
I woke up Saturday morning with clarity.
It’s not a story, but a lesson; a lesson for me that is being reinforced; one I learned a while back; actually one of the most profound lessons I’ve ever learned.
The lesson surfaced out of these variations —
- If you do this, then I will do this.
- If you stop doing that, then I’ll stop doing that.
- We didn’t start doing X; they did. So until they stop, we will continue to do Y …
These are all examples of one party specifying conditions for their future behavior. Additionally, the conditions that are set are for others; in other words, meeting those conditions is the responsibility of other people.
When I make my behavior conditional on your behavior, I give away my power to act according to my values and character. I am no longer responsible, because I’ve abandoned my free will. I am now dependent on you; my behavior depends on your behavior.
You don’t behave very well, sometimes. This is my judgment, of course; which moves me to set the conditions for my behavior in response (which of course requires you to change your behavior) … and you not meeting my conditions gives me a free pass (apparently) to behave … not well either.
To respond “in kind.”
Because I can easily justify my behavior by citing yours. Problem is, so can you …
This dynamic afflicts individuals, teams, groups, countries; and it’s not good. Certainly not effective.
But that’s arguably not the worst of it.
Remember the aha moment for Zusya? (This will only be a 30 second jump, I assure you. It’s worth it.)
How can you be you — and me be me — if we’re always making our behavior conditional on each other?
I imagine this conversation in my judgment hour:
“John, why were you mean to your friend when she did such-and-such?
“Because she was mean-spirited to me!”
“Yes; but why were you?”
I abhor this conversation; even as a hypothetical! It is unthinkable!
It is also preventable.
The path starts with believing there is actually a pretty powerful place in between what you do and say and how I respond … and in that space there are four very powerful tools that all of us have to keep us authentic and right-spirited …
- Self-awareness. I need to slow down long enough — seconds, really, but even if longer, it’s worth it — to realize that the behavior I’m plotting in my head is inconsistent with who I am, what I am, and why I am.
- Imagination. We have the ability to imagine. We have options; we can imagine alternative behaviors! I could do X, but instead I could do Y, or Z …
- Conscience. Which of those options are wrong? Which are right?
- Free Will. We can choose.
My reflection on those apparently disconnected and diverse events has reminded me that there is only one condition necessary for me to preempt slipping into automatically responding “in kind” (not to mention preempting that chilling judgment hour question).
If I use those four tools, I will be okay.
You can behave how you will.
Because while it is undeniable that you influence my behavior, you don’t determine it.
You don’t have that power.
Unless I give it to you.
Nope; truth is, my behavior is not and should never be conditional on a certain behavior from you.
I do not have to respond in kind.
Now, admittedly, this is way easier said than done … Hence, the reminders are helpful!
This post draws on concepts related in The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. Thank you, once again, Stephen Covey!
Pete Brush said:
Hi John, this is an insightful post.
As for my comment on “Better Angels”, it was my observation of the way Facebook is used as a communication tool, vs. being an “in kind” ultimatum.
Facebook posts are a new and complicated form of communication, as we are all finding out. People feel free to post opinions on-line that they would have a hard time saying in person. There are some significant downsides to new media. I do not want to turn back the clock, but I think it’s worthwhile to have a discussion in the public square on these negatives.
After some reflection of my own during the past month, I’ve had to readjust my expectations, my use, and my frequency of Facebook communications.
John M. Greco said:
Hey Pete. Yes, the Facebook dynamic is new and different. I’m all for having the discussion on the downsides and the upsides. That said, your “Better Angels” comment — comparing my posting on my own wall of content that supports my views to “Jehovah’s Witness-type of Democratic propaganda” — was, honestly, off-putting. That doesn’t sound like an invite to a conversation.
I am glad to still see you visiting and commenting here.
Mike W. said:
John, very insightful, no doubt. But with a caveat… I’ve known several people who’ve taken some of these thoughts/concepts to the extreme, only to fall off the other side of the horse. I mean people who have developed the tendency to do the OPPOSITE of what might be logical and reasonable, simply to be DIFFERENT and avoid being
“controlled” (as one person put it) and to excercise their “free will” simply for the sake of it. These are the people who go out and buy a Yugo instead of a Toyota/Nissan/Chevy/Ford/whatever, despite what mountains of overwhelming evidence might suggest. (No offense to Yugo owners; I’m not saying that ALL Yugo owners are like that; work with me a little here (MT3 had one too!)). These are people who, in response to seeing something that reads “do no fold, spindle, or multilate”, they poke holes into it with various sharp objects, pour coffee onto it, etc., simply to prove that they can’t be controlled.
The daily news often describes incidents that involve people who do things simply to be different, and not do what they’re told or expected to do. One glaring example are gun rights activists who carry their machine guns/assault shotguns/rifles/pistols around openly in the streets for no reason other than to “exercise their second ammendment right to keep and bear arms”. Common sense would dictate, well, nevermind… I don’t want to turn this into a gun rights forum.
Another example would be people who wear their pants down around their thighs. They can’t walk, its GOT to be uncomfortable, they look downright stupid, and its DANGEROUS when trying to cross the road. Yet, they still do it. NOBODY can dictate to them how to wear their clothes. But common sense would dictate… well, nevermind that too; I don’t want to turn this into a fashion or freedom of expression forum.
Life is a balancing act, and not an easy one. We can choose, yes. But understanding HOW to choose is a learning process, not a simple application of principles or concepts. You CAN wear your pants any way you’d like, but choose wisely and use the right reasons!
Your points are well taken; and certainly thought-provoking, thanks!
John M. Greco said:
Hi Mike W.! Good stuff in your comments … and I think you nail it on the balance point. Perhaps a related point is with freedom comes responsibility … Though I can’t help thinking that you’re sounding pretty old when you are harping on the pants fashion … HA!
Mike W. said:
Yeah, well… as you know, old age sure can creep up on a guy…!
John M. Greco said:
Wait a minute … what’s this “as you know” business! 🙂
(Yes, I do know …)
Insightful and provoking. I plan to implement this so I don’t respond “in kind” ever again.
John M. Greco said:
Thank you, glad you found value here and all the best with the implementation!