Never explain, never retract, never apologize. Just get the thing done and let them howl. Nellie McClung
You can’t move mountains by whispering at them.
Sooner or later, when we begin to act in our own best interests, we are likely to encounter push back. It is often the small things that trigger such responses but the effect is palpable. This should not come as a surprise. After all, long standing patterns that have been in place are suddenly upturned. We are behaving in a way that is not congruent with the expectations of others. And now a co-worker, a partner, a child, a sibling, a parent, a friend- whomever- is taken aback by the change and protests.
We need to be vigilant to this turn of events. When someone does not get the response they expect they often up the ante. Many of us have experienced this with children for example,when we try a new parenting approach that involves saying no. Even small changes in our own behaviour can provoke a response and put us on the defensive- feeling as if we have to explain. “Why are you behaving like this? Why are you being so sensitive/ prickly/ irritable/ selfish? But you’ve always done things this way until now and it was fine.” And everything was fine until we decided to act in a different way. To be sure we may not have done anything that caused great upheaval such as leave our jobs or spend the rest of our days in an ashram. But perhaps we said no to a request or carved out alone time for ourselves, or asked for a raise. Even if we are doing what we have always done but think about ourselves differently, people will notice the shift even if they can’t explain exactly what is going on. We may like to think that change calls for a thoughtful dialogue, but that doesn’t always happen. Most people like the status quo, largely because it is familiar and it is usually easier to deal with what we know.
To be sure, there are many times when we make a change and it is welcomed by those we are closest to. There doesn’t always have to be acrimony. But if there is, a couple of things may happen. At some level we can sense or anticipate such a reaction and try to mitigate the impact. We may rationalize, obfuscate, or back track. And sometimes we need to do this. But it takes enormous energy to continue to soft pedal around something. And the time may come when we really need to do something that is in our best interests: return to school; say no to additional work; decline a request; or stop being the referee in a family.
There may be battles that have to be postponed. We may want to take on our boss but we may also really need the job. And so we need to be thoughtful about how we proceed. At some point though, we may need to face the storm head on- there is no way around it. Whispering won’t work. Explaining won’t help. Retracting will set us back. We need to “let them howl!” We don’t always need to provide a reason. That we simply want to do it is enough. It is always enough.
So how do we get through that “storm”? A couple of thoughts come to mind.
Trust your gut: Ask yourself if this is the right time and place to raise an issue. Do you have the support of a trusted friend? Seek the counsel of your wise self.
Start small and be realistic: It is difficult to tackle something huge if we have never done anything like it before. No one suddenly builds a skyscraper without first starting with a small construction project. Life presents lots of opportunities to test the waters and practice. And it’s all about practice. The people you are sending a message to may need to hear it more than once- it’s a practice for them too and they need to know what you need from them.
Find an ally: We may have to act on our own but it is much easier knowing you have a cheering section somewhere- a person or persons who have your back and can encourage and say this is the right thing to do (or not). These are the people who have your best interests at heart. They are the ones who are sounding boards, who help you to be courageous, and can help pick up the pieces if things don’t go as planned.
Reward yourself for small steps: Taking a courageous step in and of itself is liberating regardless of the outcome. Acknowledge this. It may seem self serving but the reward system can be quite effective in helping us stay the course. Soak in the tub; savour a wonderful piece of chocolate; give yourself some time to just sit and not do anything except to enjoy the moment.
And in your own way move the mountains and get the thing done!