Updated: Oct 28, 2019
It can be challenging to tell people that you don’t like a certain behaviour or action of theirs. Even with supportive intentions and compassionate language your message might be difficult for someone to receive. Of course, we are not responsible for others’ reactions, but we are responsible to care about each other, and there are effective ways to express ourselves with more care.
One way to add care to your message is to acknowledge that you do the same thing that you don’t like to experience them doing. For example, if you don’t like that someone arrives late, let them know, when you talk to them about their lateness, that you arrive late sometimes too and are working on being more punctual.
If we are willing to look honestly enough, we can almost always find times when we have done the same actions or behaviours that we dislike others doing. We may not do them exactly the same or as much, but the point isn’t to compare; it’s to invite a togetherness in learning and growing, rather than ignite a right/wrong better/worse power struggle.
Sometimes the behaviours are similar rather than the same, but the underlying motivation is no different. For example, I have never taken heroin but I have used many things in my life to avoid my pain and fears. I have never owned an SUV but I have certainly flown many times, owned many cars, and have used much more than my fair share of resources.
When we admit to the same behaviours or motivations we dislike from others, the message can be heard more as let’s learn together, rather than you’re doing it wrong; be more like me.
If I truly can’t find a bridge to a person’s behaviour—murder, pedophilia—I build the bridge by acknowledging that, given the right conditions—growing up with extreme abuse, neglect, and violence, and no love and nurturing care—I would be capable of the same behaviour. Then I can extend compassion to those with such behaviours (even though I abhor and grieve the acts and want them to stop) knowing that they have endured much more trauma than I have.