Sunday, July 22, 2018

Controlled by a Label

Would that everyone could know their own mind and motivations like my daughter in her mid-teens. The intellectual honesty regarding her inner thoughts and decision-making process is the foundation for improving them.

Years ago Emily had received advice from her mother about how to deal with some situation (that I do not presently recall). Later she informed me that she would be taking a different tack rather than heeding Kelly's advice. Since Emily's own plan seemed quite inferior I asked why she was not taking her mother's recommendation.

"Because Mom said it.", Emily replied.

How telling it was that she already knew how she had come by her choice! How wonderful it was for her to be straightforward with me! How sweet it was to be conversing with a person that knew their own mind! What an opportunity for discovery for both of us!

After clarifying that I had indeed heard her correctly, I asked what she thought of the advice itself. Astonishing me yet again she admitted that her mother's course was probably better than her chosen one. What simplicity of acknowledgement! Intrigued, I pressed to determine if the decision was based on a desire to select an independent action. How lucidly she declared the foundation of her thinking!

"If you or Mom say it, I can't do it."

Ah, like a beam of sunlight through a window I understood my daughter better, and I was happy. I was happy, not angry, because she did not shirk being honest with herself. Even though that way of thinking was not only foreign but indeed contrary to my own, we were now able to focus on the essence of the disagreement. Specifically, she was willing to make decisions based not on the merits of an idea but on who had said it. Even more specifically, the label of parent was enough to count the information as unworthy of consideration and the wrong course of action.

What power we held over our daughter, and we did not even know! But she knew. And she knew that even if our advice was relevant and right she would never take it for the simple fact that we were her parents. I asked if she realized that she was choosing to ignore the merits of right and wrong, but to simply react based on who provided the insight. She said she did, but that this was the way she was going to proceed. I asked if she considered the possibility that the number of labels which she would ignore or discount information might grow when the concern is not the merits but the messenger. She did.

My final advice to her was to contemplate the differences of choosing reactions to the label versus considering the right of the information. And of course, the irony was not lost on me that this advice might be dismissed out of hand since I had said it. The decision was hers to make. In the following years I have seen evidence that she came to a deliberate decision about how she wanted to live life and interact with others. I think she chose rightness of the argument over wrongness of the label.