I previously posted an excerpt from Bridges to Consensus titled, “The Golden Rule Isn’t Always Enough.” If you haven’t read it, or it’s been awhile, I suggest you click the link just above to read it now.
Now, here’s another excerpt, from Chapter 4, pp. 38-40, explaining one reason the Golden Rule sometimes isn’t enough–people resist being wrong:
“While some people actually gravitate toward conflict, most of us dread it, and with good reason. It can hurt, and hurt people hurt other people. Hence the Golden Rule.
“But the Golden Rule is not the only force that repels us from conflict. People instinctively resist being “made wrong.” I use terms like “made wrong” and “wrong making” to mean overtly telling someone they are wrong, as by contradicting, arguing or reprimanding, or indirectly implying that someone is wrong, for example by a should statement like “you should put in more volunteer time.” Wrong making can even be non-verbal, heaving a sigh, rolling one’s eyes, or directing a disapproving glare at another.
“I don’t mean to suggest that no one ever is wrong, objectively speaking. The point is that, when we make people wrong in the ways just mentioned, we should expect resistance.
“When we feel others are trying to cast us as wrong, we tend to push back. The more important my opinion, statement or behavior is to me, the more likely I am to resist when someone makes it wrong, and the harder I push back.
“We actually react physiologically when our important concepts are contradicted. In Power with People, Dr. Gregory W. Lester describes Victor Frankl’s accounts of relatively healthy prisoners in Nazi camps suddenly dying when their expectations about liberation proved wrong.
“Feeling wrong is physically weakening. In my classes, I often do an impromptu demonstration in which a trainee holds her arm out, and I try to push it down. Her ability to resist my pushing weakens visibly after I instruct her to engage in a bit of self-critical head talk. Conversely, re-focusing on a legitimate self-compliment boosts her strength back up.
“The effect is so strong that even an indirect suggestion that a person is wrong can be weakening. The arm strength demonstration works just as well when the subject replaces the self-criticism by a ‘have to’ statement, such as ‘I must start exercising more’ or even ‘I have to go grocery shopping.’
“Terms such as ‘have to,’ ‘must,’ ‘Should,’ and ‘need to”’suggest that we should do something different, in other words, that what we’re doing now is wrong. These terms become so closely associated with wrong in our minds, that they automatically trigger the same dragged-down mood and physical weakness as criticism, even when logic tells us that no criticism is intended, as in ‘I have to go to a meeting tomorrow.’
“This is why, to my mind, some of the best covenants are couched in terms of values which we aspire to live and which offer us hope for personal growth, rather than as rules; energizing want-tos, rather than weakening have-tos. I find myself more motivated to live such a statement, and more successful in doing so.
“Three Ways We Resist
“Beginning in childhood, when someone is made wrong, they typically push back in three ways. You’re walking past the door of the family room, and hear the boings and crashes of a video game. ‘Dandelion,’ you call to your daughter, ‘I told you to do your homework.’ She calls back, ‘I am doing it. Denialis the first way of resisting wrong making.
“The next day, you walk past the room and hear the television. ‘Dandie, I told you to do your homework, and you’re watching TV.’ ‘But, Mom, I’m watching PBS. It’s educational.’ This second form of resistance is rationalization.
“Third day, same scenario, worst form of resistance: ‘Dandie, you aren’t doing your homework.’ ‘Well, I was doing it till a few minutes ago, but brother’s been out riding his bike ever since we got home from school.’ In this form of resistance, projection, little Dandelion alleviates the discomfort of being made wrong, by making someone else (brother) even more wrong than she is, so she feels right by comparison. However, the person adults usually project onto is the one who made them wrong. Projection and counter-projection can easily spin out of control in a series of escalating accusations.
“The urge to resist being wrong is a strong one. In prehistoric societies, wrong concepts could be life threatening. If one member of a hunting group got the signals wrong, one or more of them could be maimed or killed by the prey animal. If a member of the tribe got the rules of behavior wrong, she could be ostracized and would not likely survive alone. To our instincts, being wrong reads as a threat, and we react accordingly.”
Margaret, your insights are profoundly accurate and truthful. Thank you for sharing them.
Thank you, John. This is one of a series of posts I have planned on my book, Bridges to Consensus. There will be another based on Love on the Rocks with a Twist.
Excellent presentation and concepts. Very helpful insights! Thank you!
Thanks very much, Etta. It’s so good to hear when people find my book excerpts helpful.