“The boy needs to learn the hard way, or he’ll think life is going to be handed to him on a golden platter.” ”It’s common-sense, it’s the way the world works.” “If I forgive them for what they did, they’ll think it’s okay to treat people that way.” “I will not attend the wedding. I refuse to condone this relationship.”
This is a post written to myself. I’m a firstborn. My mother was very young when she had me, and my siblings didn’t start coming along until I was 7. For those of you ‘personality type’ experts you may have already labeled me as a type A, over-achiever, overly responsible, performance oriented…yes, yes, you get the picture. One other aspect of my personality that I’ve worked to consistently challenge is my tendency towards rigidity. My background is conservative Christianity. The message I got at church, and at home, was that “rules are rules and there is only ever one right way and one wrong way to do things, to think or to believe.” In fairness, this was not the way everyone thought, but it is the way I saw things, especially as a literally minded teenager.
Principles, rules, values, beliefs, or vows are meant to guide us, keep us on course, and help us evaluate what the next steps are in relationships and life decisions.
They help us keep our world organized. This is very important. Some of us work hard to ensure that even our most mundane activities line up with our values. This is about integrity and I strongly recommend it (See Values Post).
Unfortunately, very few values work in practice every single time, for every single situation, without ever conflicting with any other values we hold.
When we hold rigidly to these rules, even in the face of extreme distress and conflict, we risk losing out on some deeper wisdom. We also risk violating other values which we may not have as strongly articulated in our minds but are very important in our hearts.
The environment is important to me. I don’t like to use disposable items. I avoid them whenever possible. Family is also important to me. Having my children develop positive connections to their grandparents, cousins, aunts and uncles is why we haven’t moved to a warmer climate (yet).
We sometimes arrange large family gatherings and often attend them. Depending on who’s involved and how many, disposable dishes may be used, sometimes even in our home. This used to bother me immensely. Now that irritation has been tempered by my partner reminding me of our value about family connection and about how not everyone appreciates a lecture on the environment when we get together. People know how I feel, and many share my environmental values, but have chosen disposable dishes for this one event for their own reasons.
I am not advocating for giving up on values when they are inconvenient, but I am advocating for checking where your values are colliding with each other, and then digging deeper to be able to advocate for both in relation to their importance at that time.
When friends, family, or our own children’s words or actions anger or confuse us, it helps to ask ourselves if it might be possible for another person to act in a way that appears to violate our values and somehow, still have good intentions in the process? This is also important to consider with strangers, authority figures, and public servants (See How to Obtain World Peace –just kidding, I don’t actually have a link to a post with the answer to that;) but I think this is on the right track). When that person cuts you off in traffic, could they possibly be anything other than an asshole? Is it possible for you to act in a way that appears to contradict your ideals and yet still actually be on track in terms of your goals and values? Is it possible for your kids or your partner or your friends or family to do this?
Flexibility of thought, and being able to consider alternative possibilities, is a trait of resilient people and actually impacts longevity of life according to Dr. J. M Scatterfield. It’s also a stage of moral development to be able to see past a rule or ideal to its intention and know when to flex it or re-evaluate. As the old saying goes…
“Blessed are the flexible, for they shall not be broken.”
I’m working on this. I’ll keep you posted.
For more on living by your values see What’s Worth Digging For? Finding your Values
Read about resolving conflicts in a values/faith/religious community Before Leaving your Faith Community
For more on parenting see Too Many Sticks & Carrots