Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Um… it went away

Where does the time go?  Almost a month since I last posted and I was determined to do so. At that moment in time.

A lot of our failures revolve around our inability to predict our own future behaviour. Daniel Ariely, the behavioural economist writes about this in an entertainingly erudite way. The film 'Willow' gives a pungent pop culture example when Joanne Whalley asks Val Kilmer, "What happened to 'Without you I dwell in outer darkness'?" and he replies, bemused, "Um… it went away."

At the time I am confronted by my neglected blog, I am 110% determined to post daily even while travelling in another country. This determination is completely divorced from a strategy to accomplish that outcome.  Apparently the good intention will be enough balm to get me to sleep tonight, and I'll deal with the inevitable guilt… later...

Most of the time we're not as conscious of our own patterns of thought as this. So I wasn't lying when I intend to write every day. It's just that a vague intention, on it's own, isn't worth much.  Many years ago, when I was a young bride, Mr O came home from work and told me that he had meant to buy me flowers, but for one reason or another had not done so. I pointed out that while one often gets points-for-trying this was NOT one of those situations. I recall saying:  "Do it or don't do it, but don't tell me what you would have done if only you'd cared enough to make it happen. Which you didn't. Apparently."

Possibly you, dear reader, are not as desirous of my prose as I was of those flowers, but I suspect roughly the same sentiment covers both situations. On which note, I will go away. Until the next time….

Thursday, July 7, 2011

When did 'no' become the starting point for a negotiation?

I'm now officially so old I might as well be dead. That means I'm not giving anything away when I tell you I came of age during the "no means no" public education campaign. In modern mating rituals, this still - officially - applies, but it's being eroded in other areas of social interaction.

Tell someone, "No." and watch them settle in to demolish your (un)reasonable objections. It's as if the word, 'no' is merely the invitation to commence a negotiation. When, in fact, it's a blunt denial.  I don't mean polite evasions: "Oh I'd love to, but…" or "we'll see…" or "I'll try…" I'm talking about a straight up, "No, thank you for asking."

Our freedom to say YES relies on our equal freedom to say NO in every area of social behaviour I can think of.  Most of us struggle to say an honest and appropriate no, so how free are we really?

This came to mind while I watched dogs and their owners. Dogs can be trained that no always means no.  Dogs can also be trained that no means "beg harder and then you'll get it". Young children work much the same way. Both can be found at your local park, a rich data bank for social research.

It's easy for a parent, under pressure, to say, "No!" which you may later regret as unreasonable. But do pause before you rush to reverse it. If you occasionally hold to an unreasonable no, you learn to think before you speak. Once you firmly establish that no means no - this will take a little while - you and the child both benefit.  You'll both spend less of your day negotiating for a start.

Dogs and people learn from experience. Regularly overturned 'no's' dilute the value of the word. I don't want to be strident in order to make my 'no's stick. Too often I have to be. And I really don't want to return to a social norm where a woman's 'no' was an invitation for the man to be more 'persuasive' (verbally, emotionally or even physically).