Clara had finally created a family life with her husband and three children in which they could open up their feelings, fears, hopes and dreams and know they’d be listened to with understanding, caring and tenderness. They wouldn’t stab each other in the back, throw up old mistakes and fears, put each other down or try to control the turf. Instead, they’d be polite and civil in sorting through disagreements and in trying to find solutions they could all live with. Acts of charity and compromise would be reciprocated.
But with some of her extended family and some of her co-workers those tactics and her principles of openness, honesty, kindliness, consideration, compromise and tenderness got her routinely bullied, putdown and taken advantage of.
She didn’t want to violate her most cherished beliefs. She didn’t want to treat people as if they were evil; she wanted to see the good in them. She didn’t want to turn into a self-centered, narcissistic, uncaring, vicious, manipulative control-freak in order to protect herself.
So what could she do?
Let go of prejudices and abstract principles.
Clara saw that as much as she wanted to see the best in every member of her extended family, she often was treated by their worst. Their spirits might be pure but their personalities ruled their behavior. After decades of contact, the alcoholics and rage-aholics still lashed out at her if she was in their line of sight, the jealous, manipulative, negative relatives still whacked her with their poisoned tongues; the weak and insecure relatives still put her down in order to puff themselves up.
No amount of sweetness, no amount of holding back and biting her tongue, no amount of defending herself and her family, no amount of asking politely, no amount of offering to compromise had changed their behavior.
After one particularly brutal family occasion, she saw things as they really were: she had held back because she hadn’t wanted to give up on them, she hadn’t wanted to see them as evil, she hadn’t wanted to hurt them in retaliation. Her values and principles were leading her to put her head in the dragon’s mouth – her need to treat all people the same way no matter how they’d treated her; her hope that if she was nice enough, they’d be nice in return.
So what could she do?
Test the world – nature and people.
Clara finally broke through to a new way of being in the world. Instead of having universal principles determine how she’d act, she’d test the world and let nature and people tell her the way they were.
Of course, she’d already done that with nature. She’d already figured out how to live in a world where things fell downward, where if she turned her steering wheel she’d go in a certain direction, where if she didn’t put gas in her car or charge her cell phone they wouldn’t work.
Now she’d test other people, not herself. She’d assume that when people were nasty or blamed on her, that didn’t tell her anything about her. Because they weren’t happy didn’t mean she was a failure or bad person. She didn’t need to wallow in blame, shame or guilt. She didn’t have to do everything to please them, it wasn’t necessarily her fault. What they said and did told her about them – their habits, standards and ways they related to people; what they wanted and how they tried to manipulate, coerce or verbally abuse other people in order to get their way.
Create an environment that’s rich, gracious, inspiring and thrilling.
Clara finally realized that her most important value or goal was to create and maintain the wonderful environment she had with her immediate family. She’d do her best to create as much of that as she could in other areas of life – with her extended family and in the workplace.
But did she have to let everyone in or could she be judgmental?
Let people show us how they’re likely to act and what it will take to protect ourselves.
Every person had shown Clara what treatment to expect from them. They’d also shown her what to do to get them to stop hurting her.
Some people showed her they’d reciprocate kindness with kindness. Others told her that to get them to stop hurting her, she might have to smack their noses (figuratively, verbally or literally) just like when she was training her dog. Sometimes she might have to maintain a distance of 2,000 miles and no phone or internet contact. She’d simply have to pay careful attention to how they acted, not what they said, and adjust her tactics accordingly.
Clara would not have to judge their identity or try to decide whether they were good or evil. She would not get involved with their reasons, excuses or justifications. She’d simply be discerning and accurate about their behavior. She’d also assume that they’d continue behaving the way they had until she got long-term evidence of change. Then she could decide whether to trust that change – tiny bit, by tiny bit.
Use different tactics to succeed in different situations.
Clara had a lot of control within her extended family as long as she was willing to invite people into her environment if they behaved in a way that supported it and to exclude people who might pollute or destroy it. Acting that decisively would probably result in huge rifts in the extended family, but Clara had to decide what was more important for her. Then she could adjust her approach depending on the situation and people involved.
At work, Clara had less control. But, if she had the strength, courage and determination, she still could adjust her tactics. She could see the few people at work who had taken advantage of her and she knew, in her heart of hearts, that because she’d tolerated their hostility and attacks, they’d simply become bolder. The more she had allowed them to push her boundaries, the more they’d push.
She knew she’d have to assert herself and learn to push back. She needed to free herself to push back and learn to use her tongue and political savvy to get them to focus on someone else.
But did protecting herself make her a bad person?
She decided that it didn’t. Those bullies, like many pets, had showed her what it would take to get them house-trained. And now she was willing to do the training!
When she adjusted her tactics to fit the different people, she was able to stop their bullying.