Welcome to this
issue of "Dr. T's Timely Tips" by Dr. Tony Alessandra. Please send your feedback
When I talk about a negative versatility trait, the image of a mule comes to
mind. Mules are not very versatile animals. They may be good for some things,
but they're not good at adapting their behavior to fit the circumstances. The
mule has come to symbolize stubborn resistance. It seems they can't help it. Any
suggestion that doesn't meet with their approval is strongly resisted.
Do you find yourself resisting most suggestions that come from others? One of my
favorite jokes -- you might have heard a version of it because it's been around
for a while -- has a great moral about resistance to it. One day there were
flood warnings out in this small town and the sheriff went around telling
everyone to get to higher ground before the river overflowed its banks. One man
heard the sheriff riding by his house with the warning coming over a loudspeaker
and said to him: "I'm going to be okay here. I put my faith in the Lord."
The next day the town was flooded and the water had reached the second floor of
the man's house. A rescuer came by in a boat and said to him: "Come on. Get in
the boat. The water's going to go higher." The man refused saying: "I'm staying
here. I'll be all right. I put my faith in the Lord. He'll save me."
The third day the water was still rising and the man was on his roof. A rescue
helicopter came by and saw the man and the pilot shouted down. I'll drop a rope
so you can pull yourself up."
"Don't bother," said the man, "I'll be fine. The Lord will take care of me." A
little while later the man drowned. He walked up to the pearly gates of heaven
and he was angry. When he saw St. Peter he said: "What happened? I put my trust
in the Lord to save me, and I drowned!" St. Peter said to him: "We sent you the
sheriff, a boat and a helicopter. How come you refused all three?"
This man would have fared better if he had made one shift in his mindset -- he
needed to shift from thinking "either/or" to "both/and." In his mind, he either
took the advice of the rescuers, or he trusted in the Lord, to use his terms. He
resisted because he saw no way to connect the two. What if he had thought
"both/and?" Both the rescuer arrived AND his faith was being vindicated.
One of the most constructive and challenging activities our human minds are
capable of is reconciling two seemingly opposite ideas. Rather than seeing
things as either this or that, great minds are often capable of figuring out
Someone once thought: I want a dessert that's both hot and cold, and the hot
fudge sundae was born. Or maybe it was baked Alaska. I want to send you a
letter, and I don't want to have to go to the mailbox. Voila! The fax
machine--assuming you have one too. I like to eat a lot of fruits and
vegetables, AND I don't want to ingest a lot of pesticides. What's happened? You
can find in most towns today the organic produce store.
You may say: "Well, it's relatively easy to figure out solutions to those kinds
of problems--ones that don't involve people and their feelings." I think it's
very possible to take the "both/and" mindset into any difficult interpersonal
situation. When you disagree with someone, she can be right in terms of her
experience, and you can be right in terms of yours. You can say to her: "I can
see why you feel the way you do. It's entirely reasonable in terms of the
experiences you've had. But my experience has been different." You can
acknowledge another person's suggestion, or point of view, without agreeing to
it or accepting it. That creates an atmosphere in which both your view and the
other person's can peacefully co-exist.
Letting go of resistance as an automatic response to other people's suggestions
or viewpoints doesn't mean you automatically agree with everyone. No one expects
you to do that. What makes resistance such an unattractive and non-versatile
trait is that it's a kneejerk, unthinking reaction. The mule reaction. You can
still say "no" or disagree. But you do it by acknowledging that the other
person's thought or feeling can exist along side yours.
Then you can proceed to discuss the two and you might decide to use a phrase
like: "Let me tell you how it looks from my angle..." Or, "What you may not have
considered is..." That's not kneejerk resistance, it's a considered difference
of opinion. Having the ability to think "both/and" gives you great versatility
in your relations with others. And remember the man on his roof and the
helicopter. Things don't always come to us in the ways we expect them to.
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