What do we do when other people do not do what we want them to do? What follows are some thoughts written for a friend on 16 June 1993.
This experience is a normal part of life: people do not always do what we want. The question of how we handle it is vital for our wellbeing and success in life.
Here are three less than ideal strategies:
None of these strategies seem too attractive. So what are the alternatives?
Gain some perspective on the situation: how important is really? Is the force of my emotional reaction appropriate to the importance of the event? Is my reaction to this preventing me from enjoying other things, or doing other things I wish to do?
Find the Hook: why does this matter so much to me? Why can't I let go? What is really going on inside me?
Accept the reality of the situation: this is the way things are. I need to learn to live with it. Other people do not always do what I want, and I can't really expect this to change. Other people have their own goals, values and priorities, which I will not always share or understand. I might or might not be able to do something about this particular situation, but this type of situation will come up time and time again.
Re-examine my goals. What do I really want to get out of this situation? If I can actually force the other person to do what I want here and now, will that really help? Will it satisfy me? Will it leave us both in a better position? Will a victory here and now leave me weaker or worse off as a result? What is the cost of winning? Will I create enemies, produce anger or resentment in others? Is it worth it?
Understand the situation and the person: 'to understand is to forgive' - not always, but it certainly helps. If you cannot understand why the other person behaves the way they do, you cannot act appropriately to them, and you cannot expect to produce the behaviour you would like.
You can never fully understand anyone, not even yourself, but you can go a long way towards it. You can gain a working degree of understanding, and you can decide how much you want to understand at this stage.
Love the other person: see them as someone with needs and problems of their own, and seek to help them rather than hurt them. If the problem is caused by their value system or unreal expectations, you immediately have a target, some area where you can aim to help them.
Emotions are here and now. As a child, that is all we experience. As an adult, I know that life is more than the feelings I have right now, and I know that these feelings, no matter how intense, will change and pass in time.
My abilities and responsibilities are limited. I cannot make other people behave the way I want, but neither are they completely unaffected by me. I have the ability to influence and affect much, but control little. I cannot even control myself, let alone other people and situations. I need to recognise and learn my limits, and accept them as they are while seeking to extend them in particular ways. I cannot do everything, I cannot be good at everything, so I need to concentrate on the things and the areas that matter most to me, and concern myself less or not at all with everything else.
I need to be open to the need for change. I am not fixed and immovable: my goals and values need to change with the changing circumstances. A few things - my need for God, my need for other people - remain fixed, but how they are expressed and worked out in practice needs to be flexible.
I do what I can, what is appropriate in this situation, then leave it. I then do something about the situations I can affect. Working with what I can change might lead indirectly to an improvement in the thing that is bugging me now. Hitting my head against a situation I cannot change certainly will not. And producing a change for the better in something (anything!) is certainly going to be more fun and more satisfying than flogging this dead horse.