March 7

Controlling and Learning

March 7, 2007

Marriage

The variety of ways in which we can make mistakes is literally infinite, and most of us can anticipate spending our whole lives exploring them. My own exploration has both amused and frustrated me — as well as others — for decades. Allow me to share one such moment with you.

My wife, Donna, and I recently entered a store with which I was familiar. She asked the clerk about the location of a certain item, and rather than wait for the answer from the clerk, I interjected with what I knew about the subject.

Donna is a wise and loving woman, so rather turn to me and say, “Would you mind terribly if I handled this myself, you insensitive clod?” she simply repeated her question to the clerk in a slightly modified way.

Once again, I was more determined to be helpful than to allow Donna to conduct this conversation as she wished, so I interrupted a second time with my indispensable wisdom on the subject.

Unruffled and undeterred, Donna continued her communication with the clerk, and in short order, she obtained the information she desired. Now, it turns out that the clerk told her exactly what I was trying to tell her, but that was entirely beside the point. What really mattered was that Donna had made the decision to have a conversation with the clerk, not me, and at that point, their interaction was none of my business. Oh sure, I could have claimed to be helpful, but that wouldn’t have justified my interrupting the two of them and attempting to control the conversation.

We come up with such clever explanations and justifications for controlling people and events, and in almost all cases we are wrong. The most important principle in the universe is the Law of Choice, which states that everyone has the right to choose what he or she thinks, says, and does. Without adherence to that law, we’d all become meaningless objects or puppets, and there would be no learning, no growth, and no joy. When we control people in any way, we violate the Law of Choice, and those are dangerous moments indeed. Other people are quite sensitive to the Law of Choice being disturbed in their particular jurisdictions, and when they feel that transgression occurring or even about to occur, they tend to become frightened and defensive. At that point, productive and loving interactions become virtually impossible.

My interrupting Donna’s conversation was simply wrong. I may have known as much as the clerk about the question at hand — perhaps even more — but that was irrelevant. Donna had made a choice to talk to her, and I had no right to interfere with her choice. Had the clerk’s information proved inadequate or even incorrect, I could have offered what I knew later after their conversation was over.

After the interaction with the clerk, we became involved in other things and other topics in our own conversation, and I forgot about the event entirely. Several hours later, however, after we had returned home, the event with the clerk popped into my mind. Immediately I stopped what I was doing, went into the other room where Donna was working, and said, “Do you remember when you were asking questions of the clerk in the Blank Store?”

“Sure,” she said.

“Do you remember how I kept interrupting you, trying to be all knowledgeable and answer your question, instead of letting you talk to the clerk?”

She smiled broadly and said, “Yes.” Her look revealed that she had understood exactly what I had done at the time I was doing it, and she had chosen to say nothing, then or later.

“I was temporarily insane,” I said. “That was none of my business, and I was trying to control what you were doing, which was thoughtless.”

Still smiling, she said, “I know,” and then she turned back to her work, requiring no more discussion than that.

“I just wanted you to be clear,” I said, “that I understand what I did and that I wouldn’t want to keep doing that.”

“I know,” she said. “I’m fine.” And then she reached out and touched me on the arm. The issue was over.

Conversations like these happen millions of times every day in this country alone. Partner A initiates an action, which Partner B then tries to control. Partner A doesn’t like being controlled — who does? — and reacts by lashing out at Partner B, who is surprised and hurt. “But I was only trying to help,” says Partner B. Partner A, however, has been sick of this kind of help for a long time, and lashes out even more vehemently, or withdraws from Partner B for hours or days. And because neither partner understands exactly what just happened, the entire scene — or something very close to it — is guaranteed to happen again in the near future. What a terribly futile picture this is for so many of us.

With the principles of Real Love, we can understand exactly what we’re doing in any given situation. We can understand the needs of our partners. And with that combination, we can work miracles.

I made a mistake. So what? We’ll always make those. What matters is what we do next. When I recalled the mistake, I shared it with my partner. In this case, I didn’t tell the truth about myself for the purpose of feeling loved. I shared my mistake so my partner would be able to see the event in a different light. When we make mistakes with a particular person and don’t admit them, they tend to pile up as mountains of evidence that we don’t love him or her, and that we’ll never change, and that can greatly interfere with the health of a relationship.

When we quickly admit our mistakes, on the other hand, our partners are quickly able to change their perspective on an event. Instead of seeing a moment of selfishness on our part as yet another piece of evidence that we don’t love them, they can see it as just a mistake, as evidence that we are learning. In fact, our willingness to admit our mistakes in the face of possible criticism is strong evidence of the Real Love we feel for our partners. If we didn’t genuinely care for them, we wouldn’t admit our mistakes to them. We’d hide them and serve ourselves.

Don’t worry about making mistakes. They’re inevitable. Just see them as quickly as you can and admit them.

Don’t worry about your partner’s mistakes either. Do what Donna did. Continue to love your partner and have faith that as you love him or her unconditionally, you will create the best possible environment for learning and growing. This course of action does require great faith, but the attendant rewards are equally great.

Real Love in Marriage

Find genuine happiness now and forever.

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