Tuesday, January 26, 2016

My Issues Are My Own

One of my common activities is closing doors. I don’t mean that in any metaphorical sense. I mean doors, things that open and close to get to rooms or enclosures. More specifically, cupboards, cabinets, and drawers (which may not be technically doors, but they amount to the same thing). I go around closing these things on a regular basis because, to my mind, they are supposed to be closed. I’m the one who goes around closing these things because no one else in my house subscribes to the belief that they are supposed to be closed. It is likely that no one else in my house subscribes to any belief about these things, one way or the other, so sometimes doors get closed and sometimes they don’t. Sometimes they get almost closed. On those almost and don’t times, I go around and close doors. It’s what I do. It’s my issue, so I address it.

I also turn off lights, but I can claim the Dad Rule of saving on the electricity bill for that one, so I get to be a little more pushy about it. The root cause is actually the same thing as with the doors, but there is more involved, so there are more options. I walk around flipping light switches almost as often as closing doors, but I also tell people about the light switches. I don’t tell people every time - it’s definitely a Pick Your Battles situation - but reminders are not unusual. We don’t leave the house without mentioning it. It even gets put on the chores list occasionally. Turn Off Lights. We’re saving money (not really) and conserving (at least a little, and enough to help), so we get group participation.

That’s how it works. The door thing is entirely my own, so I address it on my own without bothering anyone else about it. The lights thing has impact on practical matters outside of my own head, so other people are involved and are even subject to expectations. There are, of course, an enormous number of degrees between those two ends of the spectrum, but the fact that there is a spectrum is one we would do well to keep in mind a bit more often.

There has been a growing trend recently of people trying to put every situation into the second category. If it’s important to me, it should be important to you, and I may even go so far as to get offended if you don’t treat it exactly as I would. Not only do I not believe in this idea, I believe it is actually counterproductive. We are getting mad at people without good cause, and that makes it more difficult to reach understanding and solve problems.

People are not mind readers. It is neither reasonable nor realistic to expect every person to be familiar with every issue, especially as those issues pertain to individual perception. I have an obsessive believe that certain types of doors are supposed to be closed, but I don’t wear a sign that tells people that. How would they know? What purpose would be served by getting upset with people for leaving such doors open. None, obviously. The only thing getting upset about that would accomplish would be to needlessly raise my blood pressure, followed by raising the blood pressure of the other person if I were to actually make an issue out of it. Great. I just made both of us less healthy for no positive gain. That wasn’t a very good decision, was it?

People don’t work well together when they are on the defensive. Sometimes that has to be a secondary concern - emergencies, active threats, and things of that sort - but we can usually get better results when it can be a primary concern. The more people can work together, the easier it is to work toward a goal, any goal. No matter the situation, working in opposition to anyone will impede or slow down progress. That is simple reality. Putting people on the defensive may not automatically put people in opposition, but it leans them in that direction, and berating people for doing wrong is one of the fastest ways to put them on the defensive. That is especially true if the person being berated is unaware of or in disagreement with the designation of being wrong. Again, sometimes that’s the point. Sometimes we can’t address the situation without going through the defensive portion, but we need to think about it. Are we helping, or are we making things worse? Are we trying to solve a problem, or are we trying to assuage an ego?

We don’t work well under stress. Some people do, and some people believe they do, but most people - even most of those who do work well under stress - work better when things are less stressful. If we have the option of having less stress, why would we ever choose otherwise? I could get bent out of shape every time someone leaves a kitchen cabinet open, but what purpose would that serve? It’s easier - for me! - if I just casually close the silly things when I see them. No harm no foul, as the expression goes and, more importantly, no stress. I address my need in a way that solves my problem and puts no one out of join. Don’t borrow trouble, and don’t make things worse than we are.

Sometimes the best thing we can do, for everyone involved, is just relax. Don’t overthink things, and don’t forget that different people have different priorities. Unless you are really and truly saving the world, it’s probably best if you don’t treat it like saving the world. It’s important to you, and that’s fine, but it’s also fine that it may not be important to everyone. Make that distinction more often and you might even find that you are better able to meet your own needs. Having less stress can be helpful that way, as can having more people willing to work with you rather than against you.

The next time you start to react to someone else’s behavior regarding one of your issues, pause. Take an honest look at what you’re doing, why you’re doing it, and what it is accomplishing. You might be surprised, and you might decide on a different way of doing things. It’s worth a look, at least.

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