The Glories of Rebellion, Stubbornness and Passivity
So here I am with a new couple. They’ve been married 25 years and “things” have been awful and wonderful and awful. Now, they are here with me and wanting to do better or else divorce. My first observation is that they are gloriously stubborn! How in heck could they manage to be together that long without being amazingly stubborn? Later in the session, when I share with them my observations, I include sharing my delight at finding how stubborn they are.
“Stubborn,” I say, “is the core ingredient and all those wonderful traits like Reliability, Perseverence, Follow-thru, Durability, Learning, etc. Stubborn is wonderful! The only thing wrong with stubbornness is that it includes no Wisdom. A person can stubbornly do wise things (things that work) just as easily as dumb things (things that don’t work). Heck stubbornly doing dumb things is the all about people ‘doing the same thing over and over, while expecting different results.’ Tis that wonderful definition the Twelve-Step Programs give for Insanity. Me, I’m glad you are stubborn, because it will be cheaper for you to fix. I can share the wisdom and you add the stubbornness. Things for you should get better much more quickly and save you money.”
I’ve been saying this for 6 years, and believe it. A great relationship is not rocket science. Learning wise things is 1% introduction to a skill that works, 2% theory to satify your curiousity about “why,” and 97% practice provided by your stubbornness. My advice is that “if things don’t go right, stop and stubbornly learn.”
And so I celebrate “stubbornness with wisdom.”
Then along came my awareness of the glory of Rebellion.
Partially this came from my writings on Boundaries and my awareness of how important it is for little kids to say, “No.” I learned that boundaries are all defensive and never agressive. Boundary skills are about defining and protecting a person’s integrity.
But also I learned to delight in Rebellion by teaching my Master/Slave material. I would share that it is the energy of rebelling that is the core behind the development of democracy and Friend/Friend relating. I speak of the “solution” to the dilemma of the tyranny of Master/Slave emerging with events like the American Revolution – an allergic reaction to being Slave, a refusal to submit any more. But also I would share that rebelling against tyranny often appears to be the act of forming another tyranny. “I will not do what you want. But you had better do what I want.” This often surprised people who were complaining about their partner’s rebelliousness without noticing that they themselves were trying to dominate their partner.
I guess it is essential for people who are learning to protect their integrity, whether at age 2, at age 14, or older, to stumble and be clumsy. Rebelling clumsily, a lot of people can get themselves in trouble. I often say that “most men, in the process of growing up, have to wander through a jail cell.” I heard the other day a quote I liked. “The American male will mature, after he has exhausted every other opportunity.” While this is kind of sexist, and can be equally applied to women, I think it is kind of fun thinking about “clumsiness” in learning to rebel with wisdom.
And so for 4 years I have encouraged people to stand up to tyrants, but not stand over tyrants. “Invite them into a democratic, Friend/Friend, way of relating. I would speak of rebellion plus wisdom. I began to enthusiastically encourage people to rebel.
Seems to me that the biggest curse in our society and our families is Passivity. Whenever I see something awful going on, I now expect to see people who are quietly “letting it happen.” I wrote a paper on the Power of Passivity to cover this problem.
But I found myself speaking of the wisdom of Passivity. Sometimes it seemed wise to do nothing. Parents with adult children sometimes are pretty wise to sit “quietly” and let their kids make “glorious mistakes.” Sometimes when my partner weeps it is better to sit quietly with her, rather than “try to fix it.” And more and more I began to see that Passivity was sometimes a good response and sometimes a bad response.
My clue to this comes again from my repeated presentation of Master/Slave. I would speak of the wisdom of learning the skill of Patience. I would speak of how impatient people (and I sure used to be one) suffer so much and often cause so much trouble. I finally realized that Patience equals Passivity plus Wisdom. It is Apathy that is sinking families, couples and the world.
In each case it is all about gathering the Wisdom. So what about that? Well, it seems to me that Wisdom is all about “things that work in the short and the long run.” I love to say that the “right thing to do” is the thing that you do today and then looking back from several months in the future you say, “Gee, I am glad I did that.”
From another point of view, anything you do it right. Either it will work, or you will have a opportunity to learn. So, just do it. Either you will have a nice day or learn something.
I think that Wisdom comes from making mistakes. A mistake I see as something that seemed “right” at the time, and looking back you wish you hadn’t done it. You wish you had done something else.
I think you can learn wisdom by chatting with people who have learned from making lots of mistakes. I believe that as I get older, it is my job to sift through the mistakes in my life, find the wisdom, and then make that wisdom available to others.
The biggest mistake I run into is Apathy about learning. “I don’t know what to do,” should always be followed by “but I am going to learn!” Sadly for most people the phrase “I don’t know” seems to be followed by quietly waiting for someone else to do something.
I thank Paul Pearsall for teaching me about the Polynesian word/value called Ahanui. Loosely translated this means something like "patience with perseverence". I gather it is one of the core values of the oceanic culture that spread across the Pacific long ago. I like it. Seems to me the formula is (Stubbornness + Rebelliousness + Passivity) times Wisdom.
I LOVE that photo of you two!
Yeah, Simeon. Taken in 1985 on the Isle of Bora Bora smack dab in the middle of our Romantic Period. Before we figured out all this stuff and before we knew we had to. I think your looking at relaxation, innocence, and perseverance.
I think I’m also looking at love.
Lots of that glow. And your comment got me to look at a lot of other glowing pictures from that period. Nice to have them. Thanks for reminding me.