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Thursday, December 5, 2013

I Don't Try to Get My Friends to Parent Like Me

*You will get a lot more out of this blog post if you have read my 'Main Idea 1'.

'How should I go about talking to my friends about parenting?' and 'What is the best way for me to approach someone I see at the grocery store who is being mean to her kids?' are questions I get fairly often. They fascinate me.

Neither of these questions are about "talking" to someone else. What I want when I ask these questions, is not to "have a conversation" with someone. My goal is not to connect or empathize or philosophize. When these questions pop into my head, what I want is to help these people. They are bad parents! They need my help! Or maybe they are just average parents who need my help, but either way--they are not coming to me asking for help. It is my desire here. I want to help them because I don't like what they are doing.

The question I am really asking is: "What is the best way for me to get them to do what I want them to do?" These "conversations" that I want to have with the Bad and Average Parents mentioned above are "goal-oriented conversations" or "jobs." And the psychology of accomplishing a job is all about me. When I have a job to accomplish and that job is helping or changing or fixing another person, I am not present, I am not connecting, I am not relating to another human being--I am at war. And the other person is the enemy I wish to conquer.

I have a lot of empathy for people who find themselves pondering any form of the above questions. I find myself doing it all the time. I hate the way so many people treat their kids! I feel disgusted when I see how they talk to them! I feel desperate for people to change! AND I have an incredible expertise in this area! I would feel so happy if more people parented like I do! And they would be happier too! In fact, the whole world would be a better place if more people parented like I do. And if they ate like I do. And if they dressed like I do. And if they read as much as I do. If only I were the Supreme Dictator of the Whole World, everyone would be happier... right?

A lot of the time, when we want to "help" other people, we are not paying attention to what is really going on inside of us, we are not clear about what we really want and need. For me, when I desperately want to help/change/fix/dominate other people, what I actually want so desperately can be summarized as: I want people to be more like me.

Which means that I am suffering from feelings of:

-loneliness. If only there were more people like me out there.
-fear. If they raise their kids like that, their kids will be monsters when they grow up!
-anger. How can people treat children that way? Why is life so unfair and ugly?!
-sadness. That expression on that child's face makes me want to cry.
-hurt. I have so much to offer! Why don't these people ask for my help?!

Which means I am actually needing:

-validation. If my ideas are actually right, they will see that and agree with me.
-contribution. If I fix these people, I will have helped to make the world a better place.
-compassion. I wish life were more fair. Maybe someone could hug me while I cry about that.

These lists could go on and on. But I want to keep them short, because the lists are not point. The point is that it is easy to understand why I feel so desperate, why I don't want to think about what I am feeling, why I want to focus on the other person, not myself, why I want to go to war with an enemy rather than invite my intense feelings over for tea.

This explains something I have wondered for so long: people who want to "help" others are often quite miserable, angry people. If they are feeling all those things I just mentioned above... I understand why they are so miserable.

For me, the questions 'How should I talk to my friends about parenting' and 'What should I say to bad parents at the grocery store' are actually: What can I do when I am having strong feelings about what someone else is doing? How can I talk to that person about my feelings? Is it possible to connect with them so that I can feel heard? Especially if the person is my friend. What can I say? I feel so afraid of losing my friend but at the same time, when I see how she treats her children I feel like smacking her. What can I do to feel better? Can I connect with strangers and have empathy for them, even as I am disapproving of them?

This blog isn't about reinventing the wheel or summarizing or restating what has already been said so well elsewhere, so I'm afraid the answer is: read Non-Violent Communication: A Language of Life by Marshall Rosenberg. I cannot recommend enough. We don't get to control other people, but we do get to express our feelings and needs! If you have something very difficult you want to say to your friends or strangers, this book will teach you how to say it. The podcast Complete Liberty does a great job as well in explaining why domination psychology will never lead to freedom.

That being said, this blog is about why? And about what I might know that the above book does not say. I had an interesting conversation the other day with my friend, a psychologist. She became a psychologist because she wanted to help people. "What would be my job in the world that you envision?" she asked.

The simple answer is that psychologists have a lot to offer people who want help.

The more complex answer is that the best thing anyone can do to help other people is to follow their joy. Ayn Rand, Nathaniel Branden, Joseph Campbell and many others say it well but in this context I want to mention a book called, Connected: The Surprising Power of Our Social Networks and How They Shape Our Lives. This book explains the science that shows that the best way for you to get your friends to eat healthier is to eat healthier yourself. And to enjoy it. When your friends see you feeling good and looking good and loving life, they will chose to be more like you. You will never have to say anything.

Maybe physical health isn't what would make you happy--fine. It doesn't matter what it is that brings you joy, the only important thing is that you follow your joy! What people need to see more than anything is others living happy lives. Happiness is contagious, as shown in the book Connected. If you are happy, if you sparkle with joy, you will be a blessing to all those around you. Your happiness will rub off on your friends. That is the greatest gift you could give to anyone. The greatest gift you can give to the world! Want to help people? Go be happy. Most people don't know how to live happy lives. Many even doubt that it is possible. Show them how. Most people have no idea how to relate to children. You can show them!

When I talk to my friends about parenting--and I do all the time--it is never as as a hidden attempt to get them to parent differently. It is because I just learned something that excites me! I finish a book every week and I am always dying to talk it! This stuff is fascinating! And the results of how I am raising my son are fascinating! And how parenting is connected to history and society and education are sooooo interesting!

In these conversations, I want help processing something I have learned or I want to share information that I feel excited about--either way, I am talking to a person and what I am seeking is connection and relationship.

I don't want to be inaccurate or pretend that I am perfect all the time though so, in case it case I wasn't clear enough above: I engage in plenty of unhealthy thinking and catch myself fairly often attempting to relate in ways that I don't support.

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