Have you ever been drowning in loneliness or know someone who was? I have been there. And the solution seems so simple: get out and spend time with other people. And yet when people are set in their ways, it’s often very difficult to get them to change their minds.
Why do we have such a hard time convincing people to see the obvious? After all, the simplest solution is the best. Isn’t it?
A Walk Down Memory Lane
Over the past two weeks, we’ve talked about relating to others. We started by looking at living in other people’s shoes. Often we see people we love whom we want to do well and succeed, but it doesn’t seem like they always make the right choices.
We then talked about wanting to save them from themselves. Often people don’t see the danger ahead. We may. We want to help them. We want to keep them safe and away from harm.
Finally, we talked about how to avoid a train wreck using the wisdom of AFV. We want to stop people we love from hurting themselves, but running alongside them with understanding is a much more powerful way to relate to them.
An Obvious Solution
In this final installment on how to work with and relate to other people, we’re going to uncover the best way to change someone’s mind. After all, it’s easy to see where things are going wrong with others. We can see our friend Sue who can never seem to hold a job because she always loses her temper. Or we see our friend Anton who always complains about being alone, but never goes out and meets people.
Sometimes we get so frustrated; the solution is so obvious and yet we hear the same complaints time after time. Why don’t they just fix it? We want to see them experience what’s best for them, and over time it just becomes hard to hear the same complaint when things don’t change. To us, the solution is so obvious. Or is it?
A Second Look
Sometimes we have to look deeper. Sometimes there’s more to the story. Maybe Sue had some role model issues. Maybe as a kid she was constantly told by her mother never to let things go. Maybe she always heard “You can’t let people get away with that! Do you want to be a woman or a do you want to be a door mat?”
Maybe Anton’s heart has been broken. Maybe he fell in love deeply and madly, only to have his heart crushed by the love of his life as she ran off with someone else. Maybe he doesn’t talk about it anymore, but every time he’s out in public he misses her. Maybe being alone is less painful to him than being around people.
Lonely in a Sea of People
I know I can relate to Anton. When I moved to New York, I knew no one. I had gone through a painful divorce and had to move away from everyone I knew to be close to my kids. I strived to be positive, but it wasn’t always easy and it was lonely way too often.
I went to church after church, hoping to find a place that felt like home – hoping to find a place where I felt anything. As a son of a pastor who loved people and made people feel important, I am saddened by how many churches I went to, for weeks, months, and even years in one case, and yet found that most very involved members, as nice as they were, rarely take the time to say “hi”, or they even excuse themselves from a short conversation I initiated to talk to someone else.
It was a dark and lonely time. Sadly, I hated going to church. I hated being around the people there. I felt ten times more lonely in a room with a couple hundred people than I did when I was alone. It’s not that I didn’t want to go to church. It’s that I found it painful – a magnifying glass highlighting my loneliness no matter how many functions I attended.
We All Want the Same Things
We all want love. We all want compassion. We all want to be happy. Sometimes our circumstances and our experiences make that a challenge. We may all want the same things, but we have different paths to get there.
The more we judge people, the more we are saying “you need to live like I do, because I know best.” The more we seek to understand people the more we are saying “I know you want to be happy and do right by others, and I want to know what you need in order to get there.”
As we talked about last time, you can’t get people to change without coming alongside them with understanding and compassion. The best way to get people to change their minds is to change yours. Don’t focus on fixing them. Focus on loving them. Focus on listening to them. Focus on understanding them. We want to solve all their problems, but only they can do that. All we can do is support them, understand them, and help guide them in the path that makes sense for them.
The Best Way
One far away friend could have helped me to make connections at church by finding out why I wanted to go and what motivated me. Since they would know I did want to go and did want to make connections, perhaps they could have suggested that I make sure to start five conversations of at least three sentences each with five new people every Sunday. Sure, that may seem scary or a bit too rigid and defined to some of you, but if someone had taken the time to understand me, they would have seen that I am motivated by challenges.
That’s what happens when you seek to understand: you find out how to help your friends help themselves. Dig deeper. See truly to love them and accept them. Find out how you can best help them where they are, not where you would be or where you want them to be. Seek understanding. That is the best way to change someone’s mind – and maybe it’s your own.