Thursday, December 20, 2012

KVAP Life Lesson: Learning What I Don't Want

People who have what they want are fond of telling people who haven't what they want that they really don't want it.~Ogden Nash US humorist & poet (1902 - 1971)

I am a self-help freak. If it's on the shelf at Barnes and Noble, chances are I've read it. One of the mantras familiar to the genre surrounds the Laws of Attraction; the notion that reality is created from our thoughts. One common exercise associated with Laws of Attraction requires people to identify what they want; from life, from people, from their careers.  I used to joke, "I want it all." Now I know that doesn't work. In some areas its easier to see. When it comes to careers, I just don't have all the skills to do every job. When it comes to life, I know I want to approach everyday fresh and live it to its fullest. So why I thought I could "have it all" when it came to my personal relationships is beyond me.

Now don't get me wrong, I enjoy people. I've always had several circles of friends, but mostly live an introverted life. Yet, somewhere between lap 21 and 29 in the pool, I started identifying what I didn't want in my relationships. For the first time the list was more specific than I don't want their bullshit or I don't want their drama. It was things like:

  • I don't want to be friends with someone who get offended so easily.  
  • I don't want to be friends with people who can't reciprocate their thoughts and feelings. 
  •  I don't want to be friends with people who are in it for only themselves.  
  • And most of all I don't want to be friends with people who can't be grateful for what they have in their lives and be happy when good things happen to others.

Tons of self-help books tell you not to focus on what you "don't want" because you will get more than the same (*cough* cough* The Vortex).  Yet, there is a limited validity in that statement.  For instance, looking at a guy and saying, "He is so oversensitive.  He gets offended by everything!" versus "I don't want oversensitive friends." In both instances you are focusing on an undesirable trait.  But in the first example all of the responsibility, all the energy, all the power for your feelings is given to the guy.  In the second, you are taking responsibility. It's a small difference; however, the ramifications are huge.  If you aren't taking responsibility for your own feelings, chances are you're engaging this guy in a way that triggers his oversensitivity and likewise he is also engaging you in a negative way.  The encounters may be subconscious or inadvertent, yet what can't be denied is the set pattern. Think about the definition of insanity. Until one of you takes responsibility for what isn't wanted, things will remain a brutal stalemate.

For those who swear the Laws of Attraction will only work correctly with positive statements, let me give you an everyday example that proves how the opposite is also beneficial.  Occasionally, someone will state, "I'm hungry.  Let's get something to eat."  A simple statement yes, but the conversation turns complex once I ask, "What do you want to eat?"  9 out of 10 times the answer is "I don't know."

At first I used to make a bunch of suggestions, but this would often upset the other person. They didn't want me to know for them/tell them what they wanted. They wanted to know what they wanted.  Very early in my life I figured out a quick way to get them there.  I would simply ask, "What don't you want?"

Their brains would jerk alive and their eyes would flicker with a new line of thought.  Answers would fly out of their mouth:

  • I don't want sushi.
  • I don't want fast food.
  • I don't want to eat in someplace busy.

I would just stand there and nod.  If you don't want it then you don't get is because we won't go to places that serve sushi, fast food, or is busy.  It usually only took a few statements like these before they did get to the point when they did know what they wanted.

I want salmon chowder from the Chowder House.

And I suspect this same thing will happen in my interpersonal relationships.  Now that I've moved beyond this belief that I could, or even should, be friends with anybody, I'm identifying what I don't want so that I can get to what it is that I do want.  A simple process, yet it has an added complication.  When you decide that you don't want sushi, you decide you don't want sushi for that particular meal.  When you decide you don't want to be friends with someone, you are pretty much deciding this for life.  There is a certain amount of grieving that goes with a decision like that, especially if you had some sort of established friendship to begin with.

In the end I feel it's worth it.  My hope is that if I take responsibility for my side of the equation, the other half will do what is needed to even the dynamic out. It works that way when solving inequalities in math.  Maybe it can work that way in life too.

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