Everyone is doing it wrong.
Nobody is perfect. We all have emotions, twists and habits that make our own choices less than absolutely the best possible choices. We are all human, and nothing human is perfect.
It is easy to look at someone else’s choices and figure out where they could be doing it better. It is easy to point out where they are doing things wrong, at least from your point of view.
The hard thing is figuring out how you can help them do better.
Sometimes it is as easy as offering a better, more efficient technique, having them quickly get the benefits offered, and then watching them change their behaviour and start to achieve a new level of mastery. They may see the problem, understand the benefit and be open enough to do it differently in a rapid and gracious way.
Most of the time, though, it’s tougher than that.
Opening the space for new often means removing the old habits, the stubborn expectations and traditions we fall back on. We have been doing it the same way for so long that doing it a new way just feels really weird. We resist change until we can see real, significant benefits that convince us to do the hard work of letting go and doing it a new way.
It takes at least 21 days to make a new habit, some experts say, and that means one time change doesn’t really get the work done. We have to keep at it.
Other times there are real emotional blocks to change, blocks we don’t understand and can’t just sweep away but very much cripple our ability to transform. These blocks are deep rooted, making us tremble or making us cling to choices that don’t serve us well.
As easy as it seems to tell people where they are wrong, just telling them will usually not help them get over themselves, change and become new. In fact, if they feel too threatened or challenged by our telling them, we may just end up strengthening their resistance to change, leaving them more entrenched in their current choices.
Until they believe that we understand and respect them, believe that we are being considerate and kind when we offer our own viewpoint, they have no reason to open to what we offer.
If you want to tell someone else how they have it wrong, one of the best ways is to tell them how, in the past, you have had it wrong too. Opening up the path of compassion requires connecting with them not from a place of imbalance — “I’m right and you’re wrong!” — but from a place of caring wisdom — “I struggled with something like this, so let me share what I learned.”
This is coming from a place of positive support rather than a place of negative judgment. When we tell other people how they are doing whatever they are doing wrong we set up barriers between them and us. When we share how we had some hard lessons found ways to do it better, we offer possibilities and encouragement that a better way is possible.
Today I will often start responses to other people with the phrase “You are correct…” and then go on to tell them where we agree, what we both think is right. I want to create common ground and I want to affirm that they are not wrong. I want them to know that I heard and respect what they offered.
Once I do that, then I can go on to talk about how I see the situation differently, where we diverge. Just telling them that they are wrong doesn’t really engage them, but sharing what I have found to be correct, where I have ended up and why, lets them see through my eyes if they choose to do so.
Every human is wrong about something. None of us can ever be totally correct, ever be perfect, ever be completely objective, ever be without emotional investment. Even you — yes, you — are wrong about some things.
Telling other people where they are wrong, though, has very limited utility. It is much better to tell them where you found that you were wrong, what you had to do to correct those crocks and how things are better now that you are not quite so wrong.
You were doing it wrong. You got slapped enough times to learn how to do better. Show the compassion to others that you wanted when you weren’t perfect, embrace how tough change can be, and lead from the front rather than just critique from the rear.
Anyone can tear things down. It takes a mature human to help build things better. Not perfect, mind you, but better.