Opinion: Wisdom Workout


The Third Choice

My older brother and I fought a lot when we were kids. Sometimes, he would stand in the doorway to the kitchen and if I walked past him, he would punch me in the arm.

I would go screaming that he hit me for no reason and my mother would say: “If you don’t want to get hit, stay out of his way.”

What? To my way of thinking, he was wrong, I was the innocent victim and he should have been stopped.

My notion that I shouldn’t have to get out of his way set up a personal belief that encouraged standing in front of “loaded cannons” in the name of fairness. I would force myself to stand up and fight against abuse or bullying, proud of the fact that I would never back down.

At some point in my career, my mother’s words: “If you don’t want to get hit, get out of the way” came back to me. I realized how tired I was of the fight. I was enmeshed in taxing situations with tough-minded people who wanted to assert control. The thought surfaced that it would be wiser to pick my battles more carefully.

The point in me sharing this story is to ask you to do a reality check.

Are you in the habit of fighting for fighting’s sake? Is your life a struggle because, on some level, you expect it to be? Do you have a difficult time letting go of upsets or moving on?

If you habitually fight, what would happen if you gave yourself permission to flee, to walk away, to get out? Would it threaten your image of yourself as strong and self-assured? Are you afraid you would appear weak? It is important to explore all of our options to make sure we haven’t locked ourselves into habitual and rigid ways of behaving.

One time, I was in an ongoing battle with an executive in the training division of the leadership company I worked for. I was executive director of the women’s division and therefore had the same authority and rank in the company as he did. He insisted on overstepping into my area. I felt like a lion tamer with an invisible chair and was just a step away from shouting: “Back! Back!” whenever he came anywhere near me.

A good friend in the company knew how frustrated I was. One day Stu stopped in my office right after I had just finished another confrontation with Gary. He sat on the edge of my desk and listened to me fume. Then he quietly said: “You know Susan, just because he keeps offering you a choice between vanilla and chocolate, there is nothing that is stopping you from choosing strawberry.”

Sometimes it is helpful to remember that you can fight, you can flee and there is also a third choice. Decide not to play according to the rules that are being offered if the options are too small. When it seems your only choice is to be submissive or aggressive, remember there is a third choice.

Choose assertive. State your needs clearly, hear the needs of others and continuously communicate until there is a resolve that serves all parties. If that becomes impossible, use your discernment, simply stated as “I pass.”

Set your own course, take responsibility and authority for the quality of your life and only play with those people who treat you with the fairness and respect you deserve.

Susan has been a leadership development seminar leader for over four decades and currently facilitates small groups locally. Find her at beyondintellect.com.

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