Monday, December 17, 2012

On Stubbornness

There are different kinds of stubbornness. As an amateur philosopher, I've identified two.
  1. The first kind of stubbornness is born of a sense of moral courage. This is where people like Rosa Parks and William Wilberforce come from. They stubbornly stand up against the status quo and eventually change the world for the better. I consider this a good kind of stubbornness.
  2. The second kind of stubbornness is the kind that gets people killed. It tears families and communities apart. This is the asshat who won't ask for help no matter what. 
People with the second kind of stubbornness are proud of it for some reason.

Steve Jobs appeared to possess both these kinds of stubbornness. The good one served him well and gave us some amazing consumer electronics. The bad one was destructive and drove away good employees and wrecked his relationships.

I consider it a severe character defect. Anybody living consciously should sit down and evaluate whether being proud of this kind of stubbornness will lead to a better life.

I've seen people suffer injury because they are too proud to ask for simple help. I'm not even talking about "my business is going down in flames". I mean seriously, a 60 year old man I know dropped something behind a shelf and hurt himself because he couldn't ask a younger man in the room to reach behind the damn thing and pull it out for him. Oh, but he was proud. He couldn't move much the next day, but damn it, what strength of character! This is what we all want to be when we grow up.

Then there are the people who destroy friendships because they're too proud of their stubbornness to forgive somebody, or ask for forgiveness. They also destroy families. We've all known people like that. All we can do is shake our heads.

Every time I've been too proud (or ashamed) to ask for help, it always made things worse. Then I found out how much easier it would have gone had I just spoken up in the beginning.

I've known military officers who speak of the frustration when a situation involving men under their command blows up. Their response is almost universally "Why didn't you just tell me? We could have fixed this before it got started." The same thing happened to me a few times when I was in the Navy. "Why didn't you just ask for help? This would have been easy."

I am committed to living consciously. I know I'm incredibly fallible, and I have many faults. I'm slowly examining those faults that affect my interaction with other people and where possible, trying to change. It's a long, slow, and painful process. In the end, I believe it will be worth it. Some things I don't think I can change. They're too ingrained into my character, like my need to be the center of attention. I have to put so much effort into NOT taking control of conversations, it literally exhausts me. If I lose concentration, I go right back into character as soon as I stop intensely concentrating on not taking over the conversation.

Between drafting this post and now, I had a few more thoughts occur to me. As I said, there are a few times in life when stubbornness is a good thing.

So let's consider stubbornness a tool. Just like anger. There are a few times in life when these are the appropriate response; the right tool for the situation. But if these are the only tool you have available, you need to reevaluate your life.

Living a successful life means developing the proper tools in your personality and ability to respond to people and situations. Just like doing work on your house or car, the more tools you have, the more tasks you can accomplish.

So if stubbornness is the only way you can handle other people and situations, consider adding some new tools. Not having enough tools is nothing to be proud of.
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