Can you remember a time when you absolutely, categorically disagreed with something someone said, did, or was planning to do? You may have been critical, judgmental, or even gotten into a heated argument with this person because of it. Well I sure can. I recall a time years ago when my daughter told me that she was going to do something with her friends at a time and a place that I didn’t approve of. She was young at the time, in her teens. I can’t recall the specifics of the argument but I CAN remember this: At closure, my rationale for her not having the freedom to do what she wanted to do ended at “Because I’m your Father and I SAID SO! That’s it! No more discussion!” And, of course, with that she stomped off to her room and we both took a long time before we got together to discuss THAT matter again. Sound familiar anyone? Anybody who has a parent and lived any period of time in the household has been given that ultimatum at least once in your life! Which, I think, is essentially everyone.
So, about a year later, I had a very unique opportunity to do some role playing at a training seminar. The presenter pretty much posed the same question I posed to open this topic, asking that we identify such a circumstance because we were going to use it in a role playing exercise. After some discussion and a brief training around how to put one’s self in another person’s position, I then joined a colleague of mine at a small table in the corner of the hall. I took the role of my daughter Keri and my colleague took the role of me; the adamant parent. Well, words cannot express how much this exercise affected me. Here I was, quite effectively taking on her role, vehemently arguing the position she had taken; what I wanted to do, how I told all my friends I would be there with them, demonstrating in a way that showed, while not exclusively spoken out loud, this matter meant so very much to me and by not allowing me to do it was tremendously hurtful . “How could you do this to me now????? I’M READY TO LEAVE ! NOW!”. That part of me, the teenager that was trying to “grow up”, learn independence, show my friends that I had some control over my own decisions was being challenged! My emotions were clearly coming to a boil. I was so involved in my role as a teenager that I saw my colleague more as a dictator; not A FATHER! None of the reasons he was giving even made any sense to me!. He was being immature and irrational! (I even remember stepping back into my own self asking “Why wasn’t he trying to negotiate this out with me? Isn’t there a compromise that we could arrive at ??? I’m only thirteen years old, so I can’t expect to be carrying a lifetime’s worth of coping methods and the best you have is ‘Because I’m your Father….. and I SAID SO ! ‘ ?.” You’re an IDIOT! )
And then it struck me… along with the ever so important appreciation for what Keri was arguing for, I had another equally important realization. My colleague was SO good at taking on his role as me that I acquired a veiled contempt for him and the position he took; and I didn’t like what I saw at all….. I didn’t like what I saw of… me. On reflection I really performed quite poorly, I didn’t have a very cogent final argument for her not to go…I surely had some reason to not allow her to go out but the issue was that I didn’t manage the matter in an adult and mature fashion. And I didn’t really see it, in fact never even dwelled on it at any time, until I was involved in the role playing.
The quote I originally selected for this posting was the (Native American?) adage “Don’t judge a man unless you’ve walked a mile in his moccasins” and the original destination of the role playing exercise was to put myself in the other persons shoes to better appreciate his/her position. But I ended up using Robert Burns’ piece because, while I did walk away from the role-playing exercise with a much better understanding of a teenager’s values, the other destination, (the self-realization of how poorly I handled myself, my composure, the immediate outcomes of the argument with Keri) was a much better one, albeit bittersweet. There certainly is an incredible unreplaceable value in gaining a better understanding of one’s self.
The last portion of Burns’ poem “To a Louse” translates as:
Oh, that God would give us the very smallest of gifts
To be able to see ourselves as others see us
It would save us from many mistakes
and foolish thoughts
We would change the way we look and gesture
and to how and what we apply our time and attention.