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October 28th, 2020
The problems of friends and family often have painfully obvious solutions. It’s a perennial challenge and difficulty of loving anybody to negotiate this huge dissonance between the behaviour of those we love, and their simultaneous blindness to better ways of thinking, acting and doing. Holiday can easily feel like holy wars when people try to point out “the obvious” to their loved ones. The intention is almost always as pure as the holiest of holy saints, but the result almost always lands about as far from the intention as possible. One of the primary reasons for this is that resistance to advice and an alternative perspective often inspires a redoubling of effort to persuade, which further inspires a mounting resistance, and the whole affair quickly escalates to destructive levels.
The alternative to this hopeless task can seem to be total passivity, inaction and silence. There is however, a middle way that is far gentler, easier and effective. The main difficulty with this solution is that it requires a degree of patience and perspective that is often rare between loved ones.
To start, recall the first response that is likely to rear it’s slimy head when a person suggests an alternative perspective or a piece of advice.
Without missing a beat, an excuse pops up, almost instantly. And for the person who conjures this excuse, the logic of the excuse seems to feel ironclad, if pressed. It’s fascinating to pause for a moment and just appreciate the astonishing speed which accompanies the inspiration of such slippery excuses. It’s incredibly doubtful that even the most advanced computer in years to come will ever be able to match, let alone exceed the speed that excuses can be generated by others. Truly astonishing.
There is something slippery about the phenomenon of these excuses, their speed, and their seeming infinite flexibility. No matter how strong the counter rebuttal we might give, it always begins to feel like grabbing and picking up an incredibly slippery fish: no matter how hard you try, success wiggles out of grasp and grasping tighter only seems to make it slip away faster.
The gentler, more effective path requires patience. Advice or recommendations met with slippery excuses is best seen as a possibility that a seed is being planted. And it’s here where the patience of the gardener makes a great deal of sense. Seeds don’t sprout immediately. We plant them and then we wait, and if conditions become ideal, then that seed cracks open and begins to reach up for some light.
This represents a much better strategy: make a recommendation - if it’s met with slippery excuses, then clearly the soil and the conditions just aren’t right. Leave things where they are and perhaps that recommendation will lay dormant in the mind of the other, and when conditions do change, when perspective and time have developed, then perhaps that seed will activate. It might be weeks, months, or even years, but there’s decent chance the subject will come up again, and if that happens, then it’s best treated like a new sprout. Remember first that such things are fragile, easily killed, and need only gentle encouragement to continue growing. The same goes for any new perspective in others. We flirt with possible changes in the way we see the world. Our old worldview fights to remain, to persist, like any other organism or gene or meme. Even individual mindsets are trying to survive and flourish, no matter how bad that mindset is for the individual. It requires a seemingly unnatural amount of self-awareness to realize this is the case with one’s own mind. Regardless, it’s incredibly easy to see in others. So any changes need to be treated like a fragile underdog - don’t smoother the progress with love. Coax it along with patience and even a little bit of curious teasing.
This gardening approach to slippery excuses is not only more effective, it’s far less energy intensive, at least when compared to Thanksgiving-style escalations of disagreements between family members. Such scenarios play out like fishing by trying to swim after the fish. Not only is it exhausting and virtually impossible, but if you actually grab ahold of the fish, its slips away easily. The goal isn’t to shove the hook down the fish’s mouth, as so many “suggestions” seem to be from loved ones, but to lure it gently and unsuspectingly, like a seed that might one day yield bountiful fruit needs a gentle touch in line with how it grows.
The slippery excuse isn’t an obstacle as so many treat it, but an indication, a reading on a thermometer, it’s a status of what the health of the mental soil is where we hope to plant a new idea.
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