Friday, April 27, 2012

Not Fragile

I used to believe that people are fragile. As such, it was incumbent upon me to do nothing that might disturb their fragile states. I avoided statements that might hurt or upset someone. I kept inside any thoughts where I was uncertain about the outcome of saying them.

The fragility of others was my number one motivation (and justification) for lying and obfuscating.

I became quite good at lying and obfuscating.

Being good at lying and obfuscating makes it easy to spot when others who are less adept than yourself are lying or obfuscating. I became a walking, talking lie detector. However, being sensitive to the fragility of others, I almost never pointed out when someone was lying.  I'd just keep it to myself.

I started classifying types of lies: misdirection, avoidance, obfuscation, etc. One of the more commonly employed types was: holding back. Someone clearly wanted to say something other than what he was saying.

Being a good liar and knowing the types of lies I reserved for different situations, I began recognizing when people were holding back because they were treating me as though I were fragile.

I didn't like it, not one bit.

I'd think, "Hey, I'm not fragile. Who are you to decide what I can handle? I can handle whatever you have say. "

It slowly dawned on me that perhaps I'd been wrong to treat others as fragile, that in fact, I had no right to decide for someone what she could or could not handle.

Knowing this, I set out to be more honest with people. I made a commitment to say what I was thinking no matter what.

It didn't go so well. I'd thought people would find my honesty refreshing, but instead, it seemed to make everyone uncomfortable, even me.

I retreated to lies and obfuscations. However, seeing that people were not really fragile, lying felt icky. So I decided to debug my efforts at honesty.

The first thing I noticed was that I was uncomfortable with what I was saying. I asked myself, "Why?"

I realized two phenomena. First, although I was acting as though people were not fragile, I still believed they were.  Hence, I was being careful. If you've ever watched an awkward, self-conscious child carrying a too-full glass of grape juice across a newly laid white carpet, then you have a sense of what it was like to watch me carefully being honest.

The other phenomenon was my thinking that what I had to say was "bad". It's one thing to tell someone that his brown socks aren't working with his black suit. It's another thing completely when you believe that brown socks with black suit is sacrilege. Even if you use the same words exactly, it comes off differently.

Isolating these two issues felt good, but I still didn't know what to do. How do you go about not believing that people are fragile? How do you stop judging what you have to say?

I concluded that the answer to both questions was: you cant!  So, rather than not treating people as fragile, I started treating everyone as strong, confident and competent. Before saying something to someone, I'd look at her, see her with those qualities, and set an intention to love and respect her.

To get rid of the judgments, I reduced what I had to say to just the facts, i.e., I dropped opinion, interpretation and meaning.  It's amazing what happens when you lose the what-does-that-say-about-you part of a statement.

I practiced and practiced and practiced. I became comfortable saying what I was thinking matter-of-fact-ly. I carry no hidden thoughts or resentments. There's nothing I've been "meaning to say." The air is always clear.

It feels way better for me and I believe that people in my life feel the same way.

I believe wholeheartedly that none of us is fragile and that none of us wants to be treated as fragile. I also believe that if you:

  1. come from a place of love and respect, 
  2. want the best for someone, and 
  3. get rid of judgment,
you can say pretty much anything to anyone and she'll feel good about it.

Who do you treat as fragile? Who treats you as fragile?

Happy Friday,

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