It seems to me that the world is stuck. We have political parties with seemingly irreconcilable differences, polarizing opinions on guns, abortion, the environment…with no signs of compromise and no apparent hope of resolution. The rancor from all sides has devolved to a single position: “Just say no.” No matter what price there is to pay. I’ve spent my life thinking about leadership and courage and over the next several posts, I will offer my thoughts on the courage it takes to lead.
The courage to be confronted is more than just the flip side of the courage to confront. This act is critical to true integrity. Without this act of courage, it is easy to end up off course and out of balance.
This act of courage is rare; so few of us have it, and relatively few have seen it modeled effectively. We are constantly on the alert for criticism, and we are prepared to respond to it decisively. Yet our very agility in our self-defense suggests that, by definition, we will learn only slowly and haltingly. We vigorously defend our points of view, our patterns of behaving, and our ways of relating to the world. We also prevent ourselves from living our lives more fully.
The only real defense in the face of criticism is defenselessness. The most powerful and intelligent thing you can do when you feel criticized is set aside the impulse to defend yourself. Instead, vigorously pursue the critic’s line of thought and point of view. Seek to understand the context in which the person sees you, or your words and actions. Explore the person’s feelings, thoughts, and ideas. Look for the truth of what he or she is saying.
Then ask yourself: What possibilities are there for me to become more effective? What can I learn about how I have been thinking and behaving? What does this person need from me in order to give me the best he or she has to give? What would be the most effective thing to do? What can I learn from this criticism? How can I best respond to this criticism to have the impact I want to have?
In the process of defending ourselves from confrontations with others, in denying their perceptions, we do violence both to them and to ourselves. We block their attempts to express their truths. We hurt others by withdrawing, attacking, or discounting their sense of reality, and we mar our own ability to connect with others and learn how we impact their lives.