The New Year is a great chance to make a fresh start. We can take stock of what happened, look honestly at our mistakes, and think of ways to do better this time around. It is definitely possible to change, despite what many people secretly believe, and one of the ways is to improve the way we have our conversations.
I’ve seen a huge tendency to use black or white thinking. I’ve seen it in friends, the media, extremist groups of all kinds, my neighbors, and myself. It’s poisonous and it’s how wars get started. Here’s a little example of what I’m talking about.
Last night, my neighbor was playing his music loudly all day, and my least favorite kind. It was the kind that brings back bad memories and I just don’t want to hear. Yet, it was still at a volume that we could (kind of) ignore it, and it was New Year’s Eve after all, so we didn’t bother him about it. We thought about blasting some Dio in retaliation but in the end didn’t even do that.
Then he decided to turn it up twice as loud on a song we couldn’t stand, which wasn’t helping our already growing headaches. It was so loud that it was loud inside our house with the door closed.
Did we yell at him? No.
My dear spouse stepped outside and asked him if he could please turn it down a LITTLE. She was quite polite in both tone and wording.
He said “Happy fuckin’ New Year” in a nasty tone of voice, called her an asswipe, then turned it OFF.
First, you don’t call my wife an asswipe. I’m proud of myself that I didn’t go out there and make things a lot worse with what I wanted to say and do.
She tried to make peace by saying “hey, you don’t have to be like that, I just asked you to turn it down a little.” He told her angrily to go into the house and then griped loudly to his friends for the next half hour. And blamed us for ruining all his fun.
This was from a guy who called himself a friend.
Now, his problem was the bottle. And he’ll probably come over and apologize at some point, after enough reminding from his family. However, the problem will happen again next time he drinks, and once again we’ll be the BAD people who ruin all his fun, and it’s for one reason.
An underlying attitude of extremism. Black and white thinking.
If it’s not on loud, it’s off. If I can’t have it all, I’ll have none. If you’re not 100 percent into everything I am, you’re my enemy.
Take a look around and you’ll see this everywhere. Wouldn’t it be better if we all took a more middle of the road approach?
Here are some exercises I’ll be trying to rid myself of this poisonous habit, and perhaps you’ll be interested to check them out too. I’ve found them helpful whenever I’ve used them.
Remember that the person is not their behavior. In the previous example, my neighbor acted like a complete boor. However, despite my own impulses, I’m trying not to hate him, but rather only be disappointed in his behavior. They are, after all two separate things. He’s not a bad person, he’s a person who has some really unfortunate habits.
Take responsibility for your own actions. You can’t control anyone else, so there’s no point in being angry about that, so work on yourself and let them take care of themselves.
Look for middle of the road solutions. Even if no one else will, keep trying. Eventually others will join you.
Take deep breaths and maintain perspective. Maybe that world leader did something you didn’t like. But there are other good things they did.
Give up hate. Hate is bad for everybody. It’s like taking poison. And holding on to resentment is like taking poison in an attempt to hurt somebody else.
Always seek the middle road. Things aren’t as extreme as they appear, the world is actually filled with gray areas. Perspective helps you see that.
Avoid snap decisions or habitual actions. This can be hard, but when you have an impulse to do something, stop, take one of those useful deep breaths and think – does this meet my goals? Is it fair? Is it right? Is there a better way?
Don’t act based on emotion. Our emotions rarely align with what we really want to do.
Remember to listen. Let the other person talk and really hear what they are saying. We couldn’t let our neighbor know that our request was reasonable because he had already decided what we were going to say, and was reacting to that instead of what we were really saying.
Keep your words soft and sweet in case you have to eat them. After all, there might have been a misunderstanding. You can always get nasty later if you have to. But you can’t take back harsh words.
Keep on thinking. Don’t let yourself act based on habit.
If you fail, try again right away. It’ll get better.
Here’s to a bright New Year!