relationships

Some people are under the illusion that they can change another person’s mind by being more ‘correct’ than them.

Usually, this isn’t the case.

At least, being correct isn’t the only requirement to changing somebody else’s mind.

One of the best teachers I ever had later admitted to me that one of her favourite things to do in class was to facilitate class discussions that didn’t feel like they were relevant, even though they were.

Sometimes it’s easier to trick people into learning than it is to actually teach them.

When we learn, it’s usually in one of two ways; either we were already primed to learn, and were open to and anticipating new ideas; or we were made to feel like the new idea is something we came up with ourselves.

This means that if you’re trying to pass on ideas, be it as a coach to your team, a communicator to your partner or and teacher to your children, you have consider;

Does the person I’m speaking to want to understand the idea I have to share?

If the answer is no, it doesn’t matter how right you are. If you can’t find another way to communicate your ideas, they’ll never be received.

Screaming righteously into the ether is all well and good.

But being able to change someone’s mind by helping them rethink their entire perspective on a problem is that’s priceless.

Especially if you can relinquish the credit and empower them to feel like they got there themselves.

When we ruminate too intently on the pains our future might hold, we experience a portion of that pain in advance.

People with empathy internalise the pain of others when they witness suffering. It helps us to connect, to understand one another, and to care for eachother.

When making a decision, we usually consider the effect it might have on others. In doing so, we are essentially imagining future versions of the people our decisions may effect, allowing us to empathetically consider the potential outcomes of our actions.

We are so good at this that we usually do it intuitively.

I don’t take an online yodeling class at 1:30am because I can imagine that my neighbours (and their baby) might find it difficult to sleep in the presence of such glorious sound.

Unfortunately, there is a little glitch in this otherwise wonderfully human system; we can’t help but also imagine ourselves as a future person. We possess an inescapable and often rather concerning future self.

Anxiety is the pain we absorb while empathising with our future selves.

Harbouring a bit of this pain is sensible, but too much acts like poison.

We consider people ‘anxious’ when the pain they are experiencing in advance is disproportionate to the actual risks their furute presents.

“There are more things … likely to frighten us than there are to crush us; we suffer more often in imagination than in reality.”

Seneca

Your anxiety is as useful as it is actionable.

If you can’t do anything to address a concern, there is zero gain in accepting preliminary pain on your future self’s behalf.

You’ll have to deal with it when your future self arrives at the worrying destination, so what sense is there in experiencing the pain twice?

Getting stuck empathising with future you is dangerous because this process feeds upons itself.

Once painful worrying becomes a habit, you might find yourself worrying about the worrying.

All of a sudden, your introspective empathy has turned toxic, and you’re so caught up inside yourself that you can barely muster the energy to look out.

Illustration by Catherine Lepange from Thin Slices of Anxiety: Observations and Advice to Ease a Worried Mind

There is no simple fix to this cycle.

It’s a grueling, often shameful, thing to break.

But it can be done.

I suggest starting with one of these:

Describes the natural tendency to react to a positive action with another positive action;

You scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours.

You get out what you put in.

Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.

It’s all reciprocity.

Reciprocity is the glue which binds us.

It’s the social chain reaction which inspires deep friendships, and even love.

It’s a powerful force which demands the careful balancing of social expectations and experience.

Relationships intensify when your partner’s reaction to a positive effort matches, or slightly exceeds, your initial effort. But relationships shatter when one’s reciprocity is too disproportionate.

Say you made them breakfast, then they picked up your groceries on the way home. A week later, you do a load of their washing and a week after that they clean the house on their day off. The back-and-forth exchange of favours enhances your trust and appreciation for one another. How sweet.

Now instead, imagine you made them breakfast, then that afternoon they returned home in a new car they’d just bought you.

Even if you wanted the car, you probably wouldn’t stay with them any longer than it took to sign the liscensing paperwork.

Even if the gift was genuinely bought as a selfless gesture, because money wasn’t an issue and they knew how much you wanted it, there is a fine tuned part of your brain which analyses these situations with scrutiny;

What do they want?

What do I owe them?

Could I repay them?

Am I sure I want to?

When reciprocity goes to the extreme our scepticism is triggered.

This scepticism exists to protect us from threats or deceptions. The more disproportionate the reciprocity, the more sceptical we will be of the intention behind the positive act.

Scepticism is exhausting, anxiety enducing and awful to be on the receiving end of.

If meaningful relationships are what you want, it’s best to build reciprocity slowly.

Give, give often and give warmly. But be mindful not to overwhelm others with your generosity; whether in the form of gifts, kind deeds, or your time and attention.