Tag Archives: honour

For Your Own Good

If anyone hurts you, in body or in mind and then tells you they’ve done it for your own good, or that it is necessary in some way, run. Right then. Don’t stop, don’t think about it, don’t look back. There may be occasions to make exception for members of the medical profession, dentists, people who are pulling lumps of shrapnel from your legs etc, but even then if it feels wrong, take that discomfort seriously and make sure they know.

I mentioned in yesterday’s post on You Shouldn’t Feel That Way, how ‘I didn’t mean it’ is often given as a reason for putting that negation on someone. ‘I did not intend you to experience this as harm’ is another one, and goes with ‘it is for your own good.’ Attendant concepts include ‘I know best’ or ‘I know more than you.’

Whether or not the intended process is actually doing you any good, to tell someone it is without recognising that they feel otherwise, is patronising. It’s another way of taking away, reducing the person on the receiving end. It might be your body, your heart, your mind, your home, your child that is suffering… but someone else knows better and says you should take it. They might even go so far as to suggest that you should be grateful for all this helpful stuff they are doing to you.

It’s disempowering. For anyone who is less than totally confident (and if you’re bruised already, you’ll likely be there) it’s hard to be sure. It makes it possible to end up accepting and tolerating hurtful things that are not in fact remotely for your own good. While this kind of patronising and reducing can be undertaken by people who are of the misguided belief that they are indeed right and do know better, it’s also an easy tool in the hands of those who intend to hurt and abuse. So whatever the professed intention, this kind of behaviour should always be resisted and challenged, because if it stops being something seen as ok, that’s one less tool for folk who want to abuse. It’s a very easy way of both harming and controlling a child. It is relatively normal for adults to tell children that they know best, and it’s for their own good.

If you are in a position of authority and responsibility – parent/child relationships being a good example, think carefully about how you express that authority. Yes, you probably do have more experience, more insight, you can see a bigger picture. If the other person needs to endure something they aren’t going to like (taking medicine, the pain of having a splinter pulled out, the discomfort of facing a fear etc) then put it in context for them. Tell them what you know and can see that makes you think it would be better and give them chance to give informed consent. Withholding what it is that ‘you know best’ about keeps power in your hands and prevents them from learning. Even with very young children and very confused people, there’s much to be said for offering some kind of explanation. It shows them that you take them seriously, you aren’t poo-pooing their hurt, you aren’t reducing them, you are actually trying to help. Don’t ask them to put blind faith in your ‘I know best,’ show them respect and explain what you know. However good you think your intentions are, if they learn to bow to ‘It’s for your own good’ you might be setting them up to be victims of someone who really does mean them harm. Knowledge is power. Don’t withhold it.

In whatever form it takes, true help gives to the person on the receiving end. It doesn’t lessen them, weaken them, make them dependent or dent their confidence. True help gets people back on their own feet and as independent as they can be. Anything that keeps a person limited, and takes power and autonomy from them is not actual help, it’s a nasty, manipulative form of control. And frankly, I don’t care whether it was ‘meant that way’ or not, the result is still the same and the result is what matters. Good intentions do not reliably make for good outcomes, especially when we imagine that we ‘know best’ and don’t listen to what the other person thinks and feels.

‘It’s for your own good’ is all about authority and power. It’s about asserting that I’m bigger, better, cleverer than you and making you accept my authority. If I do it, and I get away with it, maybe next time I think I know best I’ll take something else away. I’ll feel justified in hurting you, morally superior as I do it, telling you what you need to hear, even if it makes you cry, forcing you to do things you hate because you have to learn. If we go down this track together, I become a monster and you become a victim.

If someone says ‘it’s for your own good’ when it doesn’t feel that way to you, run, and don’t look back.

You Shouldn’t Feel That Way

One of the least helpful things a person can do is tell someone else that they shouldn’t feel how they are feeling. No matter how well intentioned the comment, it never helps and is inherently harming. This is newly learned stuff for me. I have the right to feel however I am feeling. It does not matter how uncomfortable or inconvenient other people find those emotions, I am entitled to feel however I actually feel. I’ll play out some frequent ‘you shouldn’t feel that way’ scenarios in this blog and flag up the issues and better ways of handling them.

Because I didn’t mean it. This is useful information if it’s actually true. If you want it to be taken as such say sorry as well. Find out why the upset person took it the way they did and you will know more for next time. Maybe it was a communication breakdown. Maybe there are things you do not know. If you are asking them to hear that there was no intention to hurt then you have to hear that they ARE hurt and deal with that. An honourable person takes responsibility for the unintended consequences of their actions. An abusive person will use the line ‘you shouldn’t feel that way because I didn’t mean to hurt you’ and phrases like it to enable them to get away with abuse and to shift responsibility onto the victim. If you sincerely meant no harm, then it is vital to acknowledge when you have accidentally caused it.

You should be over it by now. Often applied to people who have not recovered from grief or anger. This is about the needs of the speaker, not the needs of the one who is upset. If what you mean is ‘I can’t cope with this,’ ‘I don’t understand why this is affecting you so much,’ or ‘I am not interested in how you feel’ then it is more honourable to acknowledge it is so. No one is obliged to deal with how someone else feels, and if you can’t cope it may be better to step back. If someone else’s feelings are uncomfortable or inconvenient to you, do not make them responsible for that. You can most certainly ask them to BEHAVE in a different way but not to FEEL in a different way.

Because it’s stupid/pointless/irrational/excessive/does not make sense to me. Just because you wouldn’t feel that way in the same circumstances, or do not understand the reaction you are seeing does not make it ok to invalidate the other person’s emotions. They are not you, and they feel differently. If you feel they are over-reacting, you will not change that by putting them down. Acknowledge how they feel, talk about the context with them. Be at least as willing to listen as to offer your opinion. They are allowed to respond differently to you. They have a different history, different emotional triggers, different issues and they perceive differently.

Because you’re upsetting me. When someone else’s emotions cause us pain it’s tempting to want to make them stop it. But again, start from the assumption that if you are entitled to feel upset right now, so are they, and a playground style ‘he started it’ won’t help. Expressing difficulty with behaviour is one thing – if someone is shouting, or hysterical then saying that you are upset by their behaviour is fine. They are responsible for how they manifest their emotions.

It is very hard to control how you feel – that’s part of the nature of emotions. We do have a fair amount of control over how we express them, and if all else fails it’s usually possible to walk away for a few moments and seek composure. Acting in the heat of emotion is seldom productive. Denying someone else the space to have their own feelings is abusive all by itself and leaves them vulnerable to further abuse. We all have the right to feel, and we never have the right to deny someone else their emotions. We have the right to ask others to handle their emotions with honour, and we have the duty to do the same ourselves, as far as is humanly possible. When someone says ‘you shouldn’t feel that way’ they are taking something precious away from the person on the receiving end. They are taking away that person’s confidence that they are entitled, and allowed to feel. It is a rubbishing of a person’s most essential self, and never, ever ok. I’ve been on the wrong end of this too many times and from here onwards am taking a zero tolerance policy. I am not going to be told how I should, or should not feel and I am not going to trust anyone who thinks they are entitled to do that. Knowing what it does to a person, I will not let this one go unchallenged any time I encounter it.

A matter of choice

It’s going to be a hard week. However, as I try and deal with my crippling bouts of anxiety, I have to remind myself that it’s going to be a hard week because I did not choose the easy option. There usually are easy ways round and out of things – admitting defeat, stepping back, not fighting for beliefs or principles. There is always opportunity to pick the way of least hassle. And I didn’t.

So here I am, unhappy and anxious, and knowing I have some hard things to get through before there’s any hope of it improving. And I chose this. Every time the thought of what I’ve got to get through threatens to intimidate me into a whimpering heap, I remind myself that I am here because I refused to go the easy route. And I refused to go the easy route because that would have meant betraying someone else’s trust. Sure, I could have avoided a whole heap of trouble, expense and stress, but at what price? The loss of my self respect, the loss of my honour and integrity, and the betrayal of someone who is counting on me to get through this week, do the right things and get the right results.

From a short term perspective, acting with honour frequently isn’t safe or expedient. If immediate gain and/or ease are your priority, having integrity is just going to slow you down. But what is life without honour? What kind of a life do you have if the only thing of importance is being comfortable and safe right now? You can’t know love or relationship if you always put yourself first. Love is the act of putting something external to yourself before your own needs. The easy choices frequently do not permit that. If the rule is ‘I must be safe and comfortable at any cost’ – as it seems to be for some people – then the cost can be horrific.

In every choice we make, we choose who we are. I chose the hard way. I chose to put someone else first, and now I’ve got to follow through on the implications of that. But I’m fighting for the wellbeing of someone I love far more than I love myself, and I am demonstrating that love in a very visible and meaningful way. I may not be going to be able to get it all right, fixed and as it should be, but I will try. In terms of relationship, that I tried will mean something even if I fail. I’m afraid of failing, but far more disturbed by the potential consequences of not stepping up.

Whatever else comes, I can hold that thought as a talisman. I chose this path, and I chose it because it was the right one, and I knew it wouldn’t be easy. Wherever it goes, I will walk it still possessed of my honour, still holding a sense of self that I need not feel any kind of shame over. I may not win through the next few days, but even if I fail at this round, I won’t give up – because that too would be an easy, dishonourable choice and I have chosen to be a person who does the right thing, irrespective of the trouble it causes me.

Shaping Conflict

How we approach conflict situations radically informs their possible outcomes. Disagreements and conflicts of interest arise all the time, in work, in any kind of human relationship, in our connections with non-human things. The mindset we carry when we find ourselves in conflict with another will shape what happens.

If the priority is to win and come out on top, then we have just defined our situation as a win/lose one. From there, we can go on to win or lose, with our winning dependant on someone else not getting what they want. If we hit conflict with the determination to prove that we are right (and that the other is therefore wrong) or to point score, then again we are shaping the possible outcomes. One of the consequences of going head to head like this is that someone is bound to lose, quite possible both will lose and the optimal solution will remain undiscovered. Furthermore, in the process of forcing a situation through to a win/lose conclusion, we may well alienate and injure others, suffer distress ourselves, break relationship and compromise future possibilities. The scope for losing grows, but still it’s all too easy to focus on the immediate ‘win’ and not think about the wider consequences.

It is not necessary to respond to most situations of disagreement as being competitions. When we encounter differences of opinion, what we have is an opportunity to learn. Rather than rejecting the other person’s perspective outright, it is much more productive to hear them out. Find out what they think and feel, seek to understand their perspective and issues. Even if it doesn’t allow you to work things through peaceably, you will know more for next time. It may be that the conflict is the result of simple misunderstanding. A competitive approach will never enable you to discover and resolve such an issue. If you listen to a person and give them chance to express their issues without having those rejected, ignored or shouted down, then the scope for being heard in turn is much improved. Sometimes in the sharing of perspectives, it’s entirely possible to see a way forwards that will work for everyone. Sometimes it becomes evident that we are talking to different aspects of the same thing. Common ground can be established. Often, we learn.

A peaceful resolution to conflict may well involve compromise. While there are things no person should ever compromise (their integrity, the wellbeing of others, and so forth) it is important to be willing to flex. What we stand to lose in fighting is usually so much greater than the small sacrifices we can make to work alongside others. Through compromise, and co-operation we have the opportunity to enrich relationship and build ties that will serve us in the future, while competition will make enemies and create us potential problems in times to come.

Peace is not an abstract concept nor an impossible wish, but if we want it in our own lives, we have to be willing to embrace it and bring it about at every available opportunity. When we do, we win and gain in so many ways.