Monday, May 28, 2012

Terrie’s Rules of Etiquette

To the disappointment of my trainer, I often read magazines while on the elliptical machine at the gym.  A favorite is Real Simple Magazine.  I like the pictures, quotes, suggestions and some articles, though I often find myself disagreeing with the advice given in the Life Lessons section.  Here’s an example:

My cousin, who lives one state away is a terrible hostess.  Her home is such a mess (think soiled clothes and piles of paper in the hallway) that I’m not comfortable having my family stay there when we visit.  However, I don’t want to hurt her feelings by confronting her about her bad housekeeping.  What should I do?

You’re right to stay away from chastising your cousin.  Unless your family’s health or welfare is directly affected (for example, your child has an allergy to dust), it’s not your place to critique her homemaking.

Of course, you are under no obligation to put up with it either.  Why not simply stay with a friend, if you have one nearby, or in a hotel?  If she asks why you’re bunking elsewhere, avoid hurting her feelings by saying, “You’ve been so generous to host my family and overlook the disruption that a lot of guests cause.  I want to see you, but without creating so much hassle.  With any luck, she’ll thank you for being so considerate.

When I first read this article I was nodding my head up until the part when the author tells the advice-seeker to lie to her cousin. Of course she should stay somewhere else if she feels uncomfortable with the surroundings in her cousin’s home; a sense of obligation is not a good reason to do anything. However, by being dishonest or evasive about her reasons for doing so, she misses a chance build connection and understanding in her relationship with her cousin.


We all have opinions about what people do, how they live, and what they say. The problem comes when we believe that our assessment is the ‘right’ one.  What we think is neither right nor wrong.  It is just a mechanism to help us determine what we value.  In this case, the writer values order and cleanliness as well as family and connection. 


Just because we do not like the way someone does something, in this case, housekeeping, does not mean that we must judge the person as wrong for doing it that way.  By letting go of judgments and using language that emphasizes connection - for example, asking with curiosity and concern about why the house looks the way it does - we promote understanding.  


For the advice seeker to lie about what is going on for her, or keep it to herself and hope that “she’ll thank you for being so considerate” seems at best misguided and at worst mean-spirited. This strategy assumes that expressing her desires will necessarily result in conflict or hurt feelings. 


In this case, there really is no need for confrontation or lying, nor to express condescension regarding the cousin’s housekeeping skills. Nothing needs to be said about the house at all. Rather than saying, “I don’t want to disrupt you”, which is not true, she could say, “I feel more comfortable staying at a hotel”, which is true. By saying what is true and letting go of the belief that the cousin needs to organize her house in a particular way, the connection between the two of them can deepen.  


Sharing what is really alive in our hearts seems so difficult, but by doing so we open up a world of possibilities for personal freedom, connection and satisfaction.  In this case, the advice-seeker would do well to recognize her own values- her preference for cleanliness and her concern for her cousin’s emotions - and ask for what she wants with honesty and compassion. While the short-term outcome might be the same - she’ll stay elsewhere - long term, her willingness to live from the heart can’t help but bring the two cousins closer.

Monday, May 7, 2012

Feeling Rejected?

If you are on Facebook, you probably see many of the same quotes I do.  They are meant to inspire us or make us laugh or cause us to see something in a different light. I’ve read this one a few times as it’s made the rounds, and each time I’ve felt a thud in my stomach.

My intuition tells me that this quote is more likely to keep people stuck than set them free.  So I’d like to tease out what troubles me about it.

What does it mean to feel rejected?

What happened that you interpreted as rejection?  Did someone turn down your invitation to lunch? Did someone you were interested in fail to reciprocate your interest? For the author of the quote, rejection equals sadness. But must you feel sad (or hurt or upset or depressed) when someone turns you down?

If we dig a little deeper into your mind, the reason that you feel sad (or bad or hurt) when someone rejects what you have offered is because you already believe you are not good enough.  Your brain has a way of interpreting the facts to support your beliefs about yourself. This person didn’t want to go out with me; therefore, he must not think I’m good enough.

You can’t always believe what you think.

Bill Harris [] attributes this process of interpretation to what he calls the Internal Map of Reality.  It works like this:  You receive some kind of input from the environment.  As it comes in, this sensory input is filtered. Filters include your beliefs, values, memories, past decisions, the language you speak, information you have retained, and on and on.  Filters delete, distort, and generalize the input as it comes in, based on the way your Internal Map of Reality has been set up to filter, all of which happens in a split second.  And though you’re aware of some of this, almost all of it is going on outside your conscious awareness.

Your Internal Map of Reality organizes information that you receive from the environment. Helpful, right? Most of the time, yes. Except when somebody turns you down for an invitation to the movies, and this “rejection” is instantly filed with the other evidence that proves you are not good enough. When you feel bad about a supposed rejection, keep your attention on what actually happened. Did my friend tell me I wasn’t good enough? No! She just declined an invitation to go to the movies.

If nothing is wrong with me, then something must be wrong with you.

In the second part of this message, there is an implied obligation.  They should have accepted what you offered. If they aren’t interested, then there must be something wrong with them. But isn’t this really a demand?  They must like you, or else. 

Why should we expect everyone to like us? Do you like everyone you meet? Do you say yes to every invitation?  Do you get in a relationship with everyone you meet?  Of course not! It doesn’t make sense.

If you truly believe that what who you are is good enough, then you will be confident that someone will be attracted to you, and you won’t be hurt every time someone is not interested. I like to think of a golden retriever I once knew.  That golden retriever ran around to each person she met - pet me! pet me!  Even when pushed away, she just tried again.

Compassion is the key.

When you offer something that is precious to you and someone says no, you may think
 the person doesn’t value you. Rather than address what you already believe about yourself - “I must not be good enough” - you tell yourself there is something wrong with the other person.  But as I say and write over and over, there is nothing wrong with anyone. Maybe you didn’t clearly express what you wanted, or the other person just didn’t understand. Or maybe the other person truly didn’t want what you were offering. That’s okay.  

Remember that compassion - for yourself and others - is the key to keeping a rejection from turning into “feeling rejected”.  Keep in mind that the person you are making a request of also operates under the influence of an Internal Map of Reality. Perhaps they would have liked to say yes but simply lack the confidence, courage or understanding to do so.  Listen for what meaning they long for, and stay present to that, rather than your own stories.  You may be surprised at what happens when you respond to rejection in this way.

Ask for what you want.

Access your inner golden retriever and ask, ask, ask for what you want.  And don’t let getting a no become more than it is.