Friday, March 14, 2008

Choosing To Give People Their Free Will

I've posted about control before, but I'm thinking about it alot more now that I'm reading the book "Choice Theory" by William Glasser and using it with my clients. Glasser talks about how we try to control those who are close to us. Ironically, we do this to those who we need and care about the most. Glasser believes that we should live by the Golden Rule; do unto others as we would have them to unto us. They way to live this way is to not try to control other people's behavior, instead we offer them freedom to choose their own destiny. When we try to control them, that's when relationship problems come arise. NO ONE likes to be controlled.

What does controlling people look like? Lot of things. The nagging wife. The critical mother. The threatening father. The manipulative brother. All of these behaviors are chosen ways of trying to get others to do what we want them to do. What's missing in all of these behaviors is free will. Instead of offering people the freedom to choose not to do what we want them to do, we try to take it away. Parents do this all the time with their kids. Spouses become experts at it.

Every time we choose to control or manipulate someone, we are choosing a few things:
1. To not respect the other person's free will to choose their own behavior.
2. To damage what could be a healthy, free relationship.
3. To create bad feelings in the other person towards us.

Glasser says that for some reason we try to control those closest to us, yet we aren't totally shmucks at this. There are two main relationships where people actually do try not to control the other person. The first area is close friendship. Most of us do not try to control our friends very much because we realize that friendship doesn't work by trying to get our friends to do what we want. We expect our friends not to manipulate us and we try not to manipulate them. The second group of people who are low in control is grandparents. Grandparents in general seldom try to control their grandkids. Why? Because they don't want to risk the relationship. They offer freedom and aren't ticked off when the kids occasionally make poor choices.

What if we would treat our wives, husbands, children like we treat our good friends? What if instead of punishing children (for not choosing what we want them to do) we simply would give our kids the freedom to choose to obey (or disobey)? What if instead of punishment we calmly gave consequences for misbehavior? Glasser believes that when we put aside a control philosophy and replace it with philosophy of choice and freedom, our relationships will improve. When we pair this with taking responsibility for our actions and letting other people worry about theirs - we become psychologically more healthy.

Once I realize that I can't control people, that I can only control myself, then I can offer freedom to others. It doesn't mean that I have to be a pushover. But it does mean that I will honor the human right of others to choose or not choose what I think is best. This is how I want to be treated. Perhaps we need to start offering this freedom to others. How would that transform your marriage, your parenting, your relationship with co-workers? There's only one way to find out . . .

1 comment:

Mark said...

I was thinking this morning more about giving people choices (and not punishing them if they don't choose what I like) and trying to think if I've ever been able to do this. Not very much actually. One area where I was able to do this a little bit though was in camp staff recruiting. When I came on as director someone (a head cook) told me not to be like a past director who everyone avoided because they couldn't take no for an answer. People would actually cross over to the other side of the street if they saw this person coming! Don't be like that!

This made sense to me and instead of guilting/manipulating people into coming to camp, I instead tried to invite them and if they said no, accept it graciously and not punish them for it. I didn't act like this all the time, but I tried to do it most of the time. I lost the need to "make" people come to camp and potential staff didn't feel like our relationship was damaged if they said no. Even if I was disappointed, I didn't make them feel bad for saying no - I accepted that they had free will to do as they wished.

One time, I called a nurse and asked her if she would like to come out for a week. This was a cold call, I'd never spoken to her before. She told me I was the 4th camp director to call her and she apologized that she didn't think she'd have the time. Instead of "guilting" her, begging, punishing, or waxing eloquently about our great needs I just thanked her for her time, wished her a great summer, and invited her to come up to the camp sometime and visit. Three weeks later, she called me and said that she decided she would come for a week! I was shocked. When I asked her what changed for her, she said she didn't respond well to pressure and felt like I sincerely was OK with her not coming - and that made her want to come! It's a good example of how giving someone the freedom to choose unlocks people for relationship and can actually help to get what you want. Instead of sabotaging future chances for her to come by making her feel bad for saying no, I chose to accept her decision. Even if she chose never to come back, she would hopefully remember our camp as being gracious and respectful.

Pastors and Christian organizations often forget that people have free will! They use the guilt thing and it often works in the short term and creates negativity in the long term. It's scary to not use these bad tactics - they've worked for us in the past (kind of). But when you think about it, its' not really a Christian thing to do. Jesus invited people, he didn't guilt them or make them feel bad if they refused him. I want to do the same.

(Wow, the only thing sadder then commenting first on your own post is commenting way too long! Sorry about that!)