We have described the bedrock into which the supports for our bridge between us and them must be driven: Precious, the deepest and most solid; Unique, the layer above precious; and Capable. Now we begin driving the piers, the pilings that will support the deck of our bridge. To be effective, they must penetrate into our bedrock layers.
The first pier, the main support without which there will be no bridge, Is Acceptance. We define acceptance as follows:
“I love you as you are. You need not change to receive my love, and if you change you will not forfeit my love.”
This is how you express it for someone close to you, a spouse, a child, a parent, a dear friend. In a business or other more secular environment, where the word “love” would seem inappropriate, substitute the word “respect.”
“I respect you as you are. You need not change receive my respect, and if you change you will not forfeit my respect.”
One of the reasons that people resist building bridges, is that they fear the other party will attempt to manipulate or abuse them. Manipulation and abuse are the opposites of nurture and mentoring, the counterfeit of love and respect. Acceptance assures the other person that your motives are to establish a truly healthy relationship.
Throughout this discussion of building bridges between us and them, we will talk about boundaries, manipulation, and abuse. Again, acceptance tells the other person that you will respect their proper boundaries. This is essential because boundary violations, manipulation, and abuse are unfortunately the norm in human interaction. We are broken people in a broken world, and manipulation permeates the atmosphere in which we live. Manipulation is so common that most of the time we are simply unaware of it, whether we are the source or the object of it.
For many years I have given workshops on this topic. I am probably as aware of manipulation as anyone on the planet — which is frightening, now that I think about. Because, despite my knowledge, and more than 25 years of trying to eradicate it from my life, I still fall into the trap of manipulating and being manipulated.
Let me share an embarrassing example from my own life. One morning, as I was dressing to give this very workshop, I said to my wife, “Wouldn’t you like to…” Embarrassed, I stopped in midsentence. I tried again, “Would you like to…” And again I stopped. This time, the pause lasted a bit longer. Finally, I said, “I would like you to…”
Twice, I had begun my question with an attempt to manipulate. How so? Well, the first attempt began with the words, “Wouldn’t you like to.” This implies that naturally the you being addressed would like to. In fact, it implies that if you would not like to, there would be something wrong with you. Something not quite right, as in, “Most people would want to. Why wouldn’t you?” Subtle, somewhat. But still manipulation.
To my credit, I recognized quickly. However the credit was quickly erased by the fact that I made another attempt at manipulation. Even though it sounds much more polite, much less manipulative, it is still deceptive. Manipulation is an attempt to make other people’s choices for them, to cause them to behave in ways that please ourselves, while deceiving them that they are making their own choices.
And that is why it constituted manipulation, because my real intent was to request that she do something for me, and I was attempting to conceal my desire by putting it in terms of what she would like, rather than what I wanted her to do. I didn’t want to bully her into doing it, that is to say if she really didn’t want to do it, or couldn’t do it, I would be fine with that. But I really wasn’t concerned about what she wanted to do.
We often do favors for other people, things that we don’t necessarily like doing in and of themselves, but we are willing to do because of friendship, or genuine desire to see the other person happy. The truth was, I was not primarily interested in what she would like to do, but rather with what she was willing to do. The most honest way to make that request was the one I finally settled on: “I would like you to…”
True acceptance says that I would love her whether or not she agreed to do what I want her to do. Both of my first two attempts implied that there might be a lack of acceptance should she choose not to.
This may seem like a fine line, but it is just such fine lines that make the difference between healthy relationships, and unhealthy ones. It is just such fine distinctions that make it possible to bridge the gap between us and them, or to cause the effort eventually to fail.
The problem some of you may see with this idea of acceptance concerns the inappropriate behavior of the person I’m accepting. If I say I’m accepting someone as they are, does that mean I accept their abusive behaviors as well?
That’s an excellent and necessary question. Which I will take up in my next blog.