Monday, March 4, 2013

A powerful idea: You can't change others

As usual, my kiddo has taught me something valuable. And it wasn't because he knew something so well. It's because he didn't. I learn the most when I'm trying to get a particular idea across to him. He's very, very bright, but sometimes it takes a LOOOOONNNNNG time for a certain idea to sink in.

I'm beginning to see that one of the hardest lessons to learn as a human being is that you cannot change other people and you cannot make them do what you want them to do. Brady has a variety of teachers at different places - classes at school, the lunchroom, the playground, day care, the bus - and every one has a different style. Some are patient and comforting, others are strict and structured, and there is every degree in between.

There are some whose style frustrates him and upsets him. He doesn't understand it. He gets angry. He takes it personally. So I tell him every day, "Kiddo, there will be times in life when we won't like the way people do things. We can't change them. We can only change ourselves and how we respond."

And it's true. I just need to remember it myself when faced with it out in the world. It's worth repeating. We cannot change other people, whether it's our spouse, friends, co-workers, family, strangers. We can't change them. We can't make them do or say what we want. We will never be able to do that.

But.... while we don't have control over others, we do have a great deal of control.

1) We can change ourselves. If what someone is doing seems wrong, we can use that to improve ourselves. We can become more polite, more thoughtful, more patient, more loving, more organized, whatever it is. Take that frustration at the other person and turn it into the motivation to do better in our own life.

2) We can control our situation, sometimes. And there are times when this change in ourselves requires action too. Just because we can't control someone doesn't mean we don't take steps to right a wrong, or find a way to make our situation better. If you feel it's necessary to speak up, do it. I am not shy if I feel something needs to be said.

Sometimes it's worth reporting an employee or a doctor or some one else, invoking the necessary consequences, at home, work, school, hospital, or out in the rest of the world. While you may not change the person, you may be able to change the situation.

And sometimes a person doesn't even know what they've done has caused harm, and just pointing it out changes everything. The art is knowing when to act and speak up, and when it really isn't necessary or really won't help. 

3) We can be a role model. If someone around you is doing something you don't like, model the opposite behavior for them. If they are rude, be polite. If they are aloof, be caring. If they cuss all the time, be judicious with your words. Showing them will always be more powerful than telling them. But don't point out what you are doing. If you mention it, the defenses go up. Just show what you think is right and let them see how well it works for you.

4) We can change our thoughts and feelings and responses. We are at our core physical, instinctual creatures. We are influenced by our emotions instead of logic, our physical state instead of our mind. But we have a brain and we can rise above that :) 

I tell Brady that he can choose to change how he responds to a particular teacher. If they're super strict, well then hop-to as soon as they say something, don't dally around. If they are detached, just go up and give them a hug and surprise them. If they don't say nice things, well then say something nice to them. Maybe they've just forgotten how or aren't used to it.

Regardless of what they do, if you change your thoughts and feelings, YOU will feel better and that will make everything else better too. I also tell Brady a person cannot MAKE you upset. They cannot jump into your head and force you to think, feel, say or do anything. You have to be in control of your own self and not allow yourself to be upset by someone else. (Ha! I need to work on this too!)

5) Pray for them. Maybe there are people out there praying for me for things I've done or things I do. I don't know. I know I'm not perfect, so I hope so. But I find myself praying for lots of people, most commonly people I've found myself or my child hurt by. Or people who I just do not understand why they do what they do, or why they are the way they are that might make things more challenging for me.

I have also learned through praying this way that maybe there's a reason - or at the very least a positive - in why people do what they do. A particularly strict teacher might serve as a learning tool for Brady, for this very idea that people don't do what you want them to. Maybe it will teach him how to deal with different personalities. Maybe it will help him master the art of control because for that one hour he has to be really, REALLY in control to stay out of trouble.

In almost all things, you can see a positive if you look for it. But that too is easier said than done :)

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