We rarely think about it but each and every day is guided with choices we make. The choice to get up and meet our responsibilities; the choice to have coffee or tea; the choice to say hello to people you pass by; the choice to be positive or negative; and it goes on. But have you ever considered the far reach each of your choices actually has? Do you ever stop and think how something you do "automatically" has a ripple effect on the people around you?
Let's say you decided to stay up late to watch your favorite TV show. And as a result you oversleep the next day. You are now late for class/work and rush out of the house, you snap at your spouse because you feel rushed, you yell at traffic because it holds you up, you grunt a hello to your coworker as you race to catch up, and when you come home you just want the day to be over....
In Systems Theory it is believed that one person's attitude or behavior can affect an entire system. That means anything we do can have a domino effect on the people around us. Because you snapped at them, your spouse comes home grumpy and doesn't want to help with the household chores; Your hurried "hello" to your coworker has them giving you the cold shoulder all day.... What was an "automatic" response from you trickles down through your world and has effects that influenced more than just you. Whether you realized it, or not, sleeping late affected not only your day but the day of others.
It's very easy to say that you are not responsible for how others act, and yes that is true. But what if we considered choosing wisely to be proactive handling of our own needs? Being aware of the choices we make is important since our choices do affect the people around, just as their choices affect us. There are some socially responsible choices you may already make: recycling, giving to the less fortunate, donating your time…. But what are some every day choices we can make to cause a difference in our immediate world?
Some suggestions to consider with your everyday life that can have lasting impact include:
Gandhi said that we should be the change we want to see in the world. Are you ready?
It's everywhere in the news.... People are lying, the media is fake, we now hear about "alternative facts" and the list goes on.... We see articles, videos, news conferences all telling us things and yet we, as society, can't seem to agree on what we are hearing and seeing! Society can’t seem to agree on what is true!
It’s important to understand that our “truth” is not based on something we decided to believe when we woke up today. It has been building, layer upon layer, and cemented in us as we evolved into adulthood. In Systems Theory there is an understanding that each person is an expert of their own lives. Who knows you better than you? The theory further says the experience of everyone is unique only to them: Two kids can grow up in the same house but still have completely different views of the world. We start to see things in different ways and make our values based on our life experiences... seafood is delicious (or not), football is the best sport (or not), we are close to our family (or need space); our list of values – and our truth - builds as time goes by.
There is a danger in believing our own truths are absolute. It is not in our being certain of our values but, instead, how our truths may hinder our ability to live with the people around us. But what can we do? Do we have to give up our own truth to accommodate those around us? And what do we do if our values are in direct conflict with someone else?
We can agree to disagree and that could be easy... I love football but I will let you tell me soccer is better. Shellfish is slimy but I will make it for dinner because you love it... But what about the tough ones? What if one is pro-life and the other is pro-choice? What if one believes in gun control but the other defends their second amendment rights? Would you be willing to risk your friends and loved ones to live in your truth?
It's so easy to hide behind keyboards and express our truths to the world - telling those who don't agree with you that they don’t have all the facts. Suddenly our values are priceless and its vital that we make our voices heard. We are in an age where our socializing can be limited to the clicks of a keyboard or the swipes on our phone yet do we apply this same approach in our personal lives?
Can you call your coworker a name if they don't agree with you and walk away without worrying about them in the future? Can you call your significant other "ignorant" and not worry about consequences? Social media has given us a slippery slope where our anonymity presents an opportunity for a false bravado which can spill into our daily lives - and possibly risk friendships we have managed to hold on to for years.
If you realize that you may not always be right, some suggestions are:
Our personal values will never be the personal values of absolutely everyone in your life. Just as your values are somewhat different than your parents it is just as likely that your personal set of values will be different from your partner, your children, and even your best friend. Respecting everyone’s truth is where we can all come together.
I once met a couple who experienced arguments in very different ways. When an argument started, the woman preferred to address it head on, deal with the challenge, forgive and move on. Her husband, however, would shut down and walk away which infuriated her and would send her into a rage. In discussing these habits with the couple we realized that when angry discussions started, the husband preferred to walk away since he feared that if he became too angry he would say - or do - something he would later regret. As a result he would walk away. She, however, wanted to immediately address disagreements since she strongly believed you should never walk away angry with the one you love.
Although neither approach is wrong, when two people have opposite approaches to conflict it could cause unnecessary resentment, conflict, and leave the concern unresolved. Once the couple understood how they handled conflict they were able to come up with skills that would work for them: she would do her best to hold her thoughts until he was ready they could calmly discuss the point of concern. They further agreed that if it was intense enough that she needed to address it immediately she would express this and he would not run away but, instead, work to stay engaged. This was work for the couple to handle - neither was comfortable with the new approach - but in time they found a compromise that worked for them.
Communication is the key to any healthy relationship. How well do you and your partner communicate? There are some who believe that their partner is their best friend. Although different people define a "best friend" in different ways, the idea that your partner is someone you are comfortable enough to be completely open with remains true.
When you have an understanding of your needs you are better able to communicate those with your partner and when they know what they need it makes expressing needs and desires an easier path. But what if one, or both, of you struggle with communication? How do you keep yourself open if you are unsure how to share what you are thinking/feeling?
If you and your partner are committed and determined to succeed for the long term, take the time to learn how each of you communicate. Practice with smaller topics so you can tackle the larger items together. How do you share your preferences in food? Can you explain to each other what your ideal weather is, and why? What about your favorite place to visit? Sharing this information and learning how you each process these choices can build a foundation on how to share with each other. Let your communication grow from there…. What makes you happy (and why)? How do you share the household responsibilities? How do you prefer to handle anger?
Taking the time to learn about your own needs and then the needs of your partner makes it possible to see how communication leads to negotiation and healthy conversations for the long term. With communication comes the desire to support and nurture each other. And communication leads to an honest relationship.
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