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How to Overcome the Negative Trait of RESISTANCE

Updated on May 27, 2011
I am NOT stubborn. I just have a mind of my own.
I am NOT stubborn. I just have a mind of my own.

When I think about resistance, a very negative personality trait, the image of a mule comes to mind.

Mules are not very flexible animals. They are strong and intelligent, but they are not good at adapting their behavior to fit the circumstances. The mule has come to symbolize stubborn resistance. It seems they can't help it. Any suggestion that doesn't meet with their approval is strongly resisted.

Do you find yourself resisting most of the suggestions that come from others? One of my favorite stories – you might have heard a version of it because it's been around for a while – has a great moral about resistance in it. One day there were flood warnings out in this small town, and the sheriff went around warning everyone to get to higher ground before the river overflowed its banks. One man heard the sheriff riding by his house with the warning coming over a loudspeaker and said to him: "I'm going to be okay here. I put my faith in the Lord."

The next day the town was flooded and the water had reached the second floor of the man's house. A rescuer came by in a boat and said to him: "Come on. Get in the boat. The water's going to go higher." The man refused saying: "I'm staying here. I'll be all right. I put my faith in the Lord. He'll save me."

The third day the water was still rising and the man was on his roof. A rescue helicopter came by and saw the man and the pilot shouted down, “I'll drop a rope ladder so you can pull yourself up."

"Don't bother," said the man, "I'll be fine. The Lord will take care of me." A short time later, the river rose again and the man drowned. He walked up to the pearly gates of heaven and he was furious. When he saw St. Peter he said: "What happened? I put my trust in the Lord to save me, and he let me drown!"

St Peter answered, “Who do you think sent you the sheriff, the boat and the helicopter?”

This man would have fared better if he had made one shift in his mindset -- he needed to shift from thinking either/or to what if. In his mind, he EITHER took the advice of the rescuers, OR he trusted in the Lord, to use his terms. He resisted because he saw no way to connect the two. Suppose he had thought WHAT IF? What if he had gone with one of the rescuers? Then his faith would have been vindicated.

What If instead of Either Or

One of the most constructive and challenging activities our human minds are capable of is reconciling two seemingly opposite ideas. Rather than seeing things as either this or that, great minds are often capable of figuring out what if? Here’s an example: someone once thought, I want a dessert that's both hot and cold. What if I create a hot fudge sundae? Or maybe it was baked Alaska.

Or, I want to send you a letter, and I don't want to have to go outside to the mailbox. What if I invent the fax machine? Assuming you have one, too. And later, what if we discover something called email?

Or, I like to eat a lot of fruits and vegetables, but I don't want to ingest a lot of pesticides. What if we open an organic produce store?

You may say, "Well, it's relatively easy to figure out solutions to those kinds of problems – they don't involve people and their feelings." I think it's very possible to take the ”what if?” mindset into any difficult interpersonal situation. When you disagree with someone, that person can be right in terms of their experience, and you can be right in terms of yours. You might say, "I can see why you feel the way you do. It's entirely reasonable in terms of the experiences you have had. But my experience has been different. What if we were to look at it this way?" You can acknowledge another person's suggestion, or point of view, without agreeing to it or accepting it. That creates an atmosphere in which both your view and the other person's can peacefully co-exist.

Letting go of resistance as an automatic response to other people's suggestions or viewpoints doesn't mean you automatically agree with everyone. I am not suggesting you do that. Resistance is such an unattractive and non-versatile trait because it is a knee-jerk, unthinking reaction. The mule reaction. You can still say "no" or disagree. But you do it by acknowledging that the other person's thoughts or feelings can exist alongside yours.

© Copyright BJ Rakow 2010, 2011. All rights reserved.

B. J. Rakow, Ph.D., Author, "Much of What You Know about Job Search Just Ain't So." This is a serious book about job search which readers say is enlightening but also fun to read.


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