I have stubbornly refused to make New Year’s resolutions for close to a decade now. I used to, only to have my high-flung, overly ambitious goals obliterated within a matter of weeks, days, sometimes hours. Aside from the fact that it’s an open invitation to unrealistic goals that ultimately lead to feelings of complete self-loathing, I grew to resent the pressure of having to make resolutions in the first place. I don’t like anyone dictating what it is I’m supposed to do.
The whole concept of the New Year’s resolution is like a giant societal lecture, and no one puts this baby in the corner. The irony (and let’s face it, hypocrisy) of this is that, much as I hate to admit it, I am guilty of having regaled many a captive, unwilling ear with the “occasional” long-winded lecture. I am aware that, in spite of my loathing of lectures of any kind, I am guilty of doling them out under the guise of being “helpful.”
In my own defense, I will say I never set out to lecture, at least not in the sense of being preachy. My tendency to lecture comes from a sense of caring, a desire to resolve conflict, and my empathic need to share the lessons from my own life experience. It’s not that I consider myself to be particularly wise. I just want to connect my own experiences to those of others going through something I perceive as being similar. Oh yeah, and I want to box it all up and make it better. As if my lectures somehow have magical powers.
And for the record, I am often the target of my own lectures. Not out loud (at least not often). But the talks inside my own head are actually the worst ones of all. They’re annoying, they don’t boost my motivation, and they almost always make me feel worse and take a few steps backward. I hate my own lectures! Nobody wants to be told what to do, even if it comes from a place of good intention.
So in the New Year, I resolve to lecture less and listen more. And just to be clear, it’s not because of the implied societal lecture that I have to make a New Year’s resolution. Just because it’s something I resolve to do. Or, in this case, do less of. As soon as I hear the words, “You should…” “What worked for me…” “Have you thought about…?” or “You should/must…” come out of my mouth, I will try my best to hit pause, bite my tongue, and shut up and be more of the shoulder than the preacher.
The truth is, most of the time, I don’t even realize I’m lecturing. Occasionally, I’ll get a glazed-over look from my kids. Because I have some modicum of self-awareness, I’ll actually ask them, “Am I doing it again?” And they’ll nod sheepishly and assure me they know I mean well. Of course, I do! It still doesn’t make it any more palatable. I’ve had close friends confide in me (some more gently than others) that in my desire to help, I can come across as judgmental or, worst of all, a know-it-all. Ugh. They know that deep down, I’m not, but they’re feeling that way because that’s the way a lecturer comes across.
It’s a slip of a noble heart combined with an overly knowing tone. I shouldn’t have so much confidence when it comes to telling anyone, even my kids, what to do or how to proceed. I’ve told the victims of my lectures that aside from wanting to help, I’m also often reiterating out loud lessons I’m still working on. But that’s my business that doesn’t need to be projected onto anyone else. What do I know? And who am I to tell anyone what their lessons or solutions are?
When I’m going through something, the last thing I need, let alone want, is the lecture. We all just want to be heard. In the case of my children, they’ll occasionally ask for advice, which I unwittingly misinterpret as an opportunity to get on my soapbox. It starts off great, then I get carried away, and half an hour later (an eternity for them, I’m sure) I can tell I’ve rambled on for way too long and missed the mark.
This year I resolve to remind myself that even when someone does ask me directly for advice, it is not an invitation to preach or come forward with an avalanche of insightful solutions. Therapists generally don’t lay out a litany of information. They listen and let you find your way to your own answers. Which I suppose is what makes the whole process productive. My greatest lessons have come through duking out my own battles with support and love, not a roadmap.
While it’s not at all in my realm of consciousness when I do it, between the well-articulated and reasoned lines of my lectures is the suggestion that I, in my all-knowing wisdom, am somehow imbued with an understanding that the recipient lacks about their own situation. It doesn’t stem from arrogance or condescension, but that’s beside the point. My good intentions don’t justify the presumption that I know the path forward or answers for anyone.
So this year, I will put my listening ears on, do my darnedest to insert fewer opinions and solutions, and ask more questions. And while that sounds like a lecture, I don’t mean it that way. I’m still in recovery, after all.
Wishing everyone a Happy YOU Year, whatever that means to you, and wherever your journey leads you in 2020!