I play the role of father to three children and of husband to my wife and from time to time they ask me to do things for them.
Rarely do I say “no” and leave it just at that. I often will say no in a way that shows either contempt, frustration or anger with the person making the request of me. If that is not destructive enough I accompany my “no” with some kind of reasoning that suggests that I am saying “no” because of some noble motive or because I believe that their request is not in their self-interest.
The other day when I did that I had a flash of insight: despite what I say, the real reason I say “no” is because I just do not want to do it – usually for purely selfish reasons. It could be because I am busy and want to take care of my stuff, it could be because I am in a lazy mood, it could be that I figure out that it would act against my needs….
Then I got that even where there is a good reason for saying no – such as not letting my ten-year old wear make up – it is possible to approach each request with the following attitude: “how can I help you achieve what you really want?”
For example, my eldest son has been ‘pestering’ me to get his uncle to give him photos and details of the stuff his uncle wants him to sell on ebay. My response to this ‘pestering’ was to become irritated with him and tell him off. Then I asked myself the question “how can I help you achieve what you really want?” As a result I have offered to take him to his uncle’s business and then he can take the photos of the items and place them on ebay.
When I have listened with this frame of mind I have found that:
- My wife simply wants to spend more time with me doing stuff together and there are various ways in which I can make help make that happen;
- My oldest son often finds himself bored and simply wants to be immersed in real world tasks that involve him in organising stuff, making stuff, buying and selling;
- My youngest son simply wants reassurance, help with his studies and lots of hugs, affection and kind words as he is a sensitive soul; and
- My daughter is simply growing up and needs some helpful guidance and lots of love on how to do that growing up.
By moving from simply saying “no” to the immediate request and looking at the need behind it I have found it quite easy to generate compassion and ask myself “How can I help you achieve what you really want?” And that has been really helpful to my peace of mind.