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Would You Rather Die Right or Die Happy?

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There seems to be a whole lot of “it’s my way or the highway” going on in this country, as the partial government shutdown crosses the one-month marker and 800,000 government workers are without their pay. With both sides digging in their heels on the rightness of their views, how will they ever be able to reach a solution while “saving face”?

Easy…realize that it’s far better to die happy than to die right.

The fight over the border is just one giant metaphor for disagreements that occur every day in every bedroom, office, kitchen, playground and sports field across the country. We all want our way. No one wants to compromise. And we all get somewhere between frustrated and downright infuriated when “they” just don’t understand the rightness of what we’re asking for or trying to do. So what’s the response? Anger. Dismissal. Righteous indignation. Or the silent treatment—I’m never talking to them again.  All options…but how well do those really work?

Sadly, I hear stories all the time about people who haven’t spoken to their parents, siblings, friends, coworkers, former spouses, children for fill-in-the-blank period of time because of something that “they” did or didn’t do. There was a disagreement, and then both sides went to their respective corners and never came back, sacrificing the relationship with other potential community impacts along the way. What a waste! These individuals have chosen to go to their graves believing that they were right, rather than getting out of their own way to focus on the bigger, broader picture of what they are sacrificing—close relationships with important people or, as in the case of the government shutdown, help for the greater good over the personal egos of those involved.  Worse yet, along the way, they are doing great physical and emotional harm to themselves by living in the stress of resentment.

So how do you back down when you’ve taken a firm stand and feel like it will be utterly humiliating to “cave”?

First of all, never draw a line in the sand with extreme statements in the first place. If you promise that you will “never” or “always” do something, that leaves you with no wiggle room. It is better to…

Keep the ball in the air. Sure, it’s infuriating when someone isn’t listening to your requests or is digging in his/her heels on his opinions and desires. It’s tempting to push back in a similar fashion, but two stubborn mules don’t get anywhere faster. Better to take a deep breath and keep your ultimate goal in mind. Drawing a line won’t get you there. Keeping conversation and possibilities open will. If the other person says no, suggest another option…ask him to explain so that you can understand what his objections are and what the ultimate goal is…keep the person talking and in the conversation so that you can find a solution that works for all involved.

Have you ever heard about the “second choice theory of television programming”? My husband, who was a broadcast journalism minor in college, explained it to me. Given the infinite number of tastes and preferences that people have when choosing entertainment, it’s virtually impossible and cost-prohibitive to provide everyone his/her first choice in programming—at least it was in the old days when there were only a handful of channels. So, instead, programming executives had to aim toward people’s second choice—what would people tolerate before they would change the channel? Where was the common ground that they could find across the universe?

A similar principle holds true in keeping that ball in the air and finding a solution that works for all. What is your second choice in the situation? And what is theirs? If it’s paint colors and decorating choices, then try to find ways in which both tastes can be accommodated. As much as you hate blue, he/she may hate yellow. But is there a way to have highlights of both blue and yellow that don’t overwhelm and yet respect both preferences?

What about if you have already committed yourself to extreme statements? Wow…how embarrassing that will be to have to eat crow. Yeah, yuk. How on earth can you ever live with the humiliation of it? Guess how…you just say it. “Wow, I know that I said I would never move to New York no matter how good a job offer you got, but upon reflection, I realize that I spoke more strongly than I should have.” You don’t even have to say you were wrong. By simply saying that you spoke stronger than appropriate, it opens the door to dialogue. And when you acknowledge the error of your extreme statement, the other person will soften as well.

Finally…realize that humiliation in this case is of your own doing. If you don’t make extreme statements, it’s not as hard to come off of them. I learned very early on as a parent to never say “never,” as in, “I will never use a video to baby-sit my child.” Or “I will never give my child donuts for breakfast.” If you draw a hard line in the sand, it leaves no room for discussion…or negotiation. It merely builds walls. How ironic, right?

Life is not I win and you lose. Or you win and I lose. Life is playing the long game and finding solutions that help us all move forward…in marriage…in friendships…at work…and yes, at the government level.

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