- January 17, 2012
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Traditionally Saturday Night is Movie Night at our house. With four young kids the cost of actually going out to the movies is so high that we have made a big production at home. The kids make their own popcorn, have special treats, can invite their friends over and get excited about picking a movie everyone can enjoy. This past Saturday, while we were watching the movie my wife got up, went to the kitchen and came back with a tall cold drink. For herself! I sat there, thirsty, with a big bowl of salty popcorn and started to stew. Couldn’t she guess that I would be thirsty, too? Wouldn’t common courtesy dictate that she offer to bring me a drink when she got one for herself, or to share hers? I wasn’t really sure if I should take it personally or if it was just an oversight on her part. Was her behavior intentional or just absent minded? And it made me think of how often scenarios like this play out with different people every day.
Wouldn’t common courtesy dictate that she offer to bring me a drink when she got one for herself, or to share hers?
To me, intent was the bottom line and I needed to distinguish whether it was just a behavior or part of her characteristic. A behavior is an act, good or bad, that has no long term stability and can change instantaneously. On the other hand, a characteristic is more ingrained into a person’s personality and is very difficult, if not impossible to change. So not getting me water was the behavior, but the intent was what mattered most. If, when confronted, she apologized because it was simply an oversight, then we would still be at a behavioral level. However, if she did not see the error or if she did similar things on a daily basis even after being confronted, then it would show a pattern of not considering others (or perhaps just me), and the behavior begins to transform into a pattern of conduct, which defines a person’s character. It takes more than two scenarios to establish a characteristic. However, over time and enough different scenarios, it becomes very apparent that the person’s characteristics are beginning to emerge.
I’m not saying you should give up on people, but listen to your instincts and decide if it’s something you can live with or not
When you find yourself frustrated correcting a person’s behavior over and over again, then you’ve probably run into a characteristic wall. A characteristic is not inherently bad. You just have to recognize it so you don’t become frustrated trying to change someone. I’m not saying you should give up on people, but listen to your instincts and decide if it’s something you can live with or not. It’s easier not to take a behavior personally because you can chalk it up to ‘They just didn’t know,’ and they didn’t intend to hurt you. But once you let someone know what bothers you and it happens again, and again. Then you start thinking that s/he doesn’t care about you, and frustration and anger can follow. So the trick is to stop criticizing and to help people find ways to compromise. If you talk about it once, then when the same behaviors reoccur the other person might be more aware and can work on catching themselves. The trick is to put aside your ego and communicate your needs without anger and frustration. This will allow you to build healthier interactions and relationships.
I finally did speak up during movie night, and my wife apologized right away. She was in a movie zone and didn’t think. I felt better and the tension was released. Plus, now I have yet another piece of ammunition in my arsenal with which to tease her. Ah, the silver lining!