Last week Michael was at the gym taking advantage of the indoor track to put some steps on his fitness tracker on a cold winter day. He overheard a pair of walkers behind him, one saying to the other, “I’ve been at this gym every day since the beginning of the year, and I swear I not only haven’t lost any weight, I’m sure I’ve gained weight.” The other answered, “I know what you mean. It’s a shame pounds aren’t like kids. You tell them to get off you and they know they better listen or else.”
There is a lot to unpack from that short statement and we may have stumbled upon a reason why things sometimes take longer than we expect. or don't go our way at all. It’s not that our expectations are skewed. Nor is it that we are inherently impatient. There seem to be a great many people may have become spoiled by those who do as they say at their insistence and expect everyone, and everything else to do likewise. The “they better listen or else” method of soliciting cooperation.
In his book, You Are Special: Words of Wisdom for All Ages, Fred Rogers wrote, “There’s a world of difference between insisting on someone’s doing something and establishing an atmosphere in which that person can grow into wanting to do it.” Patience and reasonable expectations may help in establishing a relationship with others, but only those others wanting to be part of your world will enter your world. You can force someone to do something, but you cannot force anyone to want and to enjoy doing that something. Likewise, you can force someone to tolerate you, but you cannot force anyone into liking you. Those who want to do and be with you are those who freely choose to accept you, not those who are coerced into accepting you even if they "listen or else."
You may reasonably question that statement, arguing that you never force anyone to do anything against their will nor have you ever done anything unwillingly. But do you? Did you? Think about you family encounters. Have you ever said, “Because I said so!” when somebody asked why somebody needed to do something or when you felt someone should not want to do something. At work have you ever been told, “Don’t ask why. That’s what they want, that’s what they’ll get!” Were you ever on the receiving end of dictates like those? Did you respect those processes? More importantly, did you respect those people at those times, whether parent, partner, spouse, or supervisor. You notice, a choice we did not list is “friend.”
Friends, true friends naturally understand how to establish an atmosphere in which the other wants to grow. In our post Friend is another word for love, we suggested that maintaining the intimacy of a friendship may be the hardest thing a person can do. Because friends rarely see each other as often as they see family and colleagues, it takes work to maintain their contact. We even suggested three steps to maintaining a friendship, be honest, be available and be caring, and then went on to explain:
Being able to honestly make time for, respond to, and interact with our friends is truly appreciated. The ability is to be there when you are needed before you know you are needed is a powerful component of true friendship. Providing the emotional support that one needs from another without an expectation of reciprocation demonstrates how deeply you care for each other.
Be honest. Be. available. Be caring. Be pushy is not one of the requirements of maintaining a friendship. Nor is be insistent, do it if you know what’s good for you, or do it or else.
It is a hard job to be a friend. It is also a hard job to not slip into the “because I said so” routine with people you see every day, interact with every day, and yes, even at times, can be frustrated with, though hopefully not every day. It is necessary to maintain order not to demand order, to maintain closeness and intimacy not to demand closeness and intimacy, to maintain love and connection not to demand love and connection.
You shouldn’t expect the pounds to fall off after a couple weeks of power walking. After all, they aren’t like your kids and will get off you if they know what’s good for them. You know what else? Neither will your kids. No, for that you better start “establishing an atmosphere in which that person can grow into wanting to do it.”
Friend, family, and colleague deserve your respect along with your honesty, availability, and compassion. That is the easiest way to make a hard job not seem like work and to grow connections last a lifetime.