The best way to teach your children to live by principle is to live by principle yourself. This is a story of when I was tempted to react, but chose to be assertive instead.
Our family loves to go exercise at a local city gymnasium in the Winter time. I usually go walking while the children roller blade or shoot hoops with the basketball. So, we were rather surprised one day when we noticed a new sign at the building saying that basketballs and roller blades, among other things, would no longer be allowed in the building during exercise time.
When we noticed the sign we were right in the middle of rollerblading and playing ball. Have you ever had that feeling of guilt mixed with confusion, mixed with anger? Well, that was my first impulse. I didn't know why the rules had suddenly changed and felt attacked. No one likes change.
As I walked around the gym watching my children break the rules I started dreaming up ways I would speak out against this unfair treatment. I imagined some cranky lady calling the city complaining about having to share the building with children. I had been really careful to make sure my children didn't ever bother any other exercisers if they should happen to be using the building at the same time we were, so this was a shock.
I have never liked it when people give in to complainers and end up taking someone else's freedom away in order to please the one person who can't control their emotions or seek to understand others.
As I was pondering my assumptions of why this disturbing sign had appeared at our city gym, I had an epiphany. Like lightning striking me, I realized that I was dangerously close to doing the exact thing I was assuming someone else had done, or worse.
Problem Solving Process – Disagree Appropriately
Whenever I start feeling emotionally out of control or agitated I think, “What principle do I need to focus on here?”
These principles are listed here as problem solving steps.
- Connect In Person
- Seek to Understand
- Be Assertive instead of Aggressive or Passive/Aggressive
- Use Diplomacy
- Disagree Appropriately
- Make a Proactive Plan
Connect In Person
Calling or emailing someone is easier, but going in person to discuss a concern is always better. Then the person you are talking to can really feel your heart and see that you don't want to create a problem or make life hard for them. Problems can't be solved to make both sides happy if there isn't an honest heart-felt connection first.
Seek To Understand
Seeking to understand others is a sign of love. It is naïve to expect someone to want to understand me if I don't want to understand them. So, I knew I needed to show the director of parks and recreation that I understood her. After all, she had a hard job. People in her position have to deal with angry people day after day and rarely ever get thanks.
I said, “I know your job is one of the hardest jobs in the city. People call you to complain every day about everything from snow removal to problems with facilities. I don't want to be one of those people, but I do have a concern I would like to discuss...”
If you can remember, it is always preferable to tell someone what you are about to do before you do it. This decreases their anxiety and prepares them to accept your communication.
I said, “I brought my children with me today so that I could teach them a valuable communication lesson. I told them that when you don't like how something is, it is better to go calmly talk to the person instead of get angry. I told them that they had more of a chance of being understood if they respected the person enough to communicate calmly and give them a personal visit. That is our purpose here today...”
Aggressive behaviors and communications always disconnect people. And passive/aggressive or passive behaviors disconnect and don't allow others to understand you at all. The only effective form of communication is assertive communication. There is always merit in calmly speaking up so that you can be understood.
Diplomacy is the act of effectively dealing with people based on a feeling of mutual trust. Each person trusts in the goodness of the other, and relates to each other trusting in their good intentions. This skill assumes goodness and excuses small flaws or misunderstandings.
When I want to speak to the kind woman in charge of city facilities I knew she was trying to make everyone who used the facilities comfortable. Some people are most comfortable when they have solitude to exercise. Other people are most comfortable when they can exercise with their children in an environment which encourages a love of exercise; in all its forms.
I tried to make sure she knew I understood that different people feel comfortable in different situations.
Disagreeing appropriately is one of the four basic skills we need to learn. Even very small children are able to grasp the steps to this simple skill. The hard part is remembering to use the skill instead of reacting to the situation.
While calmly looking at my new acquaintance I explained that I understood her difficult position. After I sought to understand her I said, “I go to the gym with my children for two reasons. I want to encourage them to exercise each day and I don't want to be there alone. I don't feel that it would be safe for a woman to be there all alone, and usually no one else is there...Would it be possible to make a plan for how we can all use the building to fit our needs?...”
The skill, disagreeing appropriate is a problem solving method for life.
Make A Proactive Plan
People thrive when they have a plan. Also, making any changes in behavior or procedure is impossible without a well thought out proactive plan.
In this situation it would be rude of me to come to this person with a concern and not present a proposal for a solution. If I required her to problem solve the whole situation for me, she might be able to see what my family's needs really are, or what my family is willing to do to make the situation work for all people.
I said, “What if we carried on as we have always done for the past two years when no other patrons are at the facility, and then we adjust our activities if others want to use the building? We could ask the other exercisers if they mind our basketballs or roller blades, or I could just give my children an instruction to walk during the time other people are there. Would that work?...”
The Magical Moment
This kind woman really understood our concern and seemed to appreciate the fact that we understood what others could be feeling too. She thought our plan was acceptable and agreed to allowing us to follow through with it. Her decision was a magical moment for my children.
Prior to going to the city offices, I told my children that the city might say no to our suggestions, and that if we got a no answer we would accept it and stay calm. But, this wonderful woman chose to accept the disagreement and practice diplomacy too. She trusted our goodness, just like we trusted in hers.
I am happy that my children will always have this experience at city hall to reflect back upon. They will always know that speaking up in a kind understanding way solves problems, while stewing and getting angry because you don't want something to change never solves anything.