When I think of defense, I think of forts in the 19th century American West, where settlers huddled, protected from attack by walls and the U.S. army. I think of castles in England, with drawbridges, gates, and moats. I think of Neighborhood Watch groups, trying to spot potential intruders and keep him or her out. Defense, by definition, is designed to keep others away or chase them off.
Years ago I read an excellent book, Do I Have to Give Up Me To Be Loved By You? written by Jordan and Margaret Paul. As it turns out, I attended elementary school with Margaret, then known as Margie. The book suggests a skill which I highly recommend, and, at times, even use myself.
When someone at work or at home has a problem with me (which, of course, is almost never), Margie’s book suggests that I can have either “an intent to learn,” or “an intent to defend.” In other words, I can hide in my castle and shoot arrows or pour boiling oil to keep the invader out, or I can roll down the drawbridge, open up my heavy gates, and invite the trespasser in for dinner.
Which would you prefer? Suppose you have invited me to dinner at your home, and I am an hour late, with no explanation or apology. After a few moments of strained pleasantries, you might say, “Alan, you were an hour late. I was concerned.”
I might play defense, offering one or more of the following:
“I wasn’t late. This is the time you invited me for.”
“You know that I am usually late, and you should have expected it.”
“The last two times I invited you to dinner at my home you were half an hour late, so I’m just getting even.”
“Since when is being late a big deal?”
“Traffic was terrible. And I lost your phone number. And the dog ate my cell phone. And I ran out of gas. And your house is hard to find. And you didn’t tell me that it was important that I be on time. And I wasn’t hungry. And my mother died this morning.”
In other words, I can tell you that I did nothing which should have offended you, and suggest that you are somehow at fault.
If I do this, will you invite me to dinner again anytime soon? I wouldn’t. And not because of the lateness, but because of the defensiveness. I wouldn’t feel heard, and, more importantly, I would feel that you would probably do the same thing again and again. I would be downright angry with you.
But suppose that instead of defending myself I said, “Please say more.”
“I spent hours preparing a special dinner, which has now been in the oven too long and is probably dry. I was also worried that perhaps you had been in an accident and were killed or injured. And my husband is upset with me because his friends had to wait.”
“Thanks for telling me. I have no excuse, I appreciate your invitation, and if you were an hour late, I would be concerned and feel the same way you do. If I am ever late again I promise to call you. My behavior is inexcusable.”
“Thanks. Let’s sit down and enjoy dinner.”
If you value friendships, or intimacy, I suggest that the best defense is no defense at all. I invite you to permanently demolish the walls of your fortress, swing your castle gates wide open, and ask friends or strangers alike, whenever they have a problem with you, to tell you more or ask how you can help them.
(Two days ago I followed this advice and saved an important relationship.)
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Alan Fox is the New York Times bestselling author of PEOPLE TOOLS, a series of self-help books that give powerful advice on building happy and meaningful relationships. Alan has shared his wisdom with national audiences including the Steve Harvey and The Meredith Vieira shows.
In Alan’s latest book People Tools for Love and Relationships: The Journey from Me to Us (endorsed by Steve Harvey), he shares genuine advice that you can use to enhance your connection with your spouse or partner, your family and friends—in fact with anyone who is important to you. From learning how to talk about money with your partner, how and when to apologize, to increasing trust and intimacy, each tool addresses a specific issue and provides a simple, straightforward approach to happy living.