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GETTING ALONG: "YOU HAVE A RIGHT TO YOUR OWN OPINION"

Orange rock

Parents who give advice to their adult children are sometimes told by their adult children, "Mind your own business. Don't tell me what to do (how to raise my children). You raised your children. Now let me raise mine." This response reveals that these adult children still think of themselves as children, subject to the parents' control. In truth, both parents and children are now adults. Parents have a right (even obligation) to be real persons with their adult children. They have a right to speak their minds, as they would to any other adult. The mature response of adult children who hear advice from their parents is either, "Thanks. I'll consider that" or "That doesn't sound like a good idea to me." The response "Don't tell me what to do" is an immature response. Adult children who get angry at their parents' advice feel disciplined, as they did as children. Parents who give them advice and get this response need to explain to their adult children that the children are no longer under their parents' control. The parent is expressing an opinion, as one adult to another. The child is under no obligation to follow the advice. If the child rejects the parent's advice, they have agreed to disagree. If the parent and the adult child both see themselves as equals, no harm is done. Adults have expressed their opinions to one another.

There is a symptom of controlling behavior that we all see - anger. When a person gets angry, he or she is feeling controlled or else is feeling unable to control someone else. Angry households are households where people are trying to control one another. In these households, unity is the goal - it is important, they think, to present a common front. Peaceful households are households where the individuality of each person is respected. In these households, diversity is the goal - each person is encouraged to develop according to his or her own nature/life. There are disagreements in every family every day. If, at the end of a discussion, there is still disagreement, it is always possible to say, "You have a right to your opinion" or "We can agree to disagree."

One time, when Rita saw me coming from the hall closet with a roll of toilet paper, she said, "What are you doing that for? I left an extra roll right on top of the toilet." I said, "I didn't see it." She said, "Don't you ever look? It was right there where I put it. I knew the other roll was almost used up." I said, "Well, I wasn't looking for a new roll." She said, "I don't know about you. You never notice anything."

At this point I could have gotten annoyed and said something like, "So what if I didn't see it? Why are you so bossy?" but, instead, I was struck by how ridiculous the argument was, and I started to laugh. Rita said, "Why are you laughing?" I said, "Because you are expending all this imperiousness on a roll of toilet paper." She didn't retaliate, and we were even again.

In another instance, I noticed that Rita's place mat was dirty. I said to her, "Rita, your place mat is dirty." She said, "Oh," and then, "Well, you should see the tablecloth around your place mat. You talk about dirty. You should see where you sit." This could have been the start of a good argument. Instead of following up with something provocative, though, like "Why are you so sensitive?" I got even another way. I said, "Aha! Comes the revenge. Get even by counterattack." This put the exchange into a more philosophical mode, and Rita responded, "Well, it's true." Later, she changed the place mat and said, "I've got to change this tablecloth soon, too." That ended it.

It's good to bring everything out into the open. Festering resentments can only serve to poison relationships. However, a good attitude is all important when starting a dialogue. Recently, so that I would be cool, calm, and collected, I waited until after meditation to talk with Rita about an argument that we had had. This is the story: I told Rita that I had bought some new handkerchiefs, and she countered with the remark that she had bought me handkerchiefs quite a while ago, but I had told her that I didn't want them, and so she had thrown them out. I said, "Why would I not want perfectly good, new handkerchiefs?" She said, "I don't know, but you didn't, so I didn't want them hanging around." I thought and thought, and then it occurred to me that I probably had said that I didn't want them. This was at a time when Rita and I had decided not to be a couple (long story ending in reconciliation). So I said to her, very cool, calm, and collected, "Rita, I think I remember the context for my saying I didn't want those handkerchiefs. It must have been at the time when we decided not to be a couple, and I didn't want you buying things for me." She said, "Oh, no, it wasn't then. It was before that." I said, "Why would I not want perfectly good handkerchiefs?" She said that she didn't know. After several more exchanges of this nature, I said, "Well, we don't either of us remember perfectly what happened, so we'll just have to accept the fact that we differ." That was the end of it, and I was glad that I had expressed my thoughts and feelings.

See "My Wife Wants to Win Every Argument" for more information.

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