What change-makers and the rest of us sometimes need to hear

May 16, 2011

Do you remember when I talked about the possibility of stages to the growth of trust?

I’m wondering, today, whether stages might be a helpful way to think about change more broadly, and particularly for those of us wanting to helpfully, trust-inducingly instigate it.

Because here’s what I think sometimes happens:

  • Person A learns an important life lesson.
  • Person A sees that person B hasn’t learned this lesson yet.
  • Person A heaves said lesson into person B’s lap, en total.
  • Person B must confront, and in some cases clean up, the heaved lesson which he or she may or may not be ready to apply.

I think this happens all the time and isn’t inherently harmful. It’s the way learning often happens, the way culture gets transmitted, the way kids grow up, parents parent, bosses boss, and, sometimes, nations treat other nations. We are all “person A” sometimes and “person B” at others.

On the same token, I think this process can be harmful, and can do the very opposite of grow trust. It can frustrate person A to no end that person B cannot appreciate or apply the lesson that A has so generously offered. It can offend person B, who isn’t ready or able to see the value of A’s lesson, let alone the timing of it being foisted upon them. And in both cases, it can strain the relationship between A and B.

But maybe most importantly, in the context of this site about growing trust, this process can grow pride in person A, and shame in person B – both, to my mind, antithetical to trust.

Because person B might be perfectly capable of seeing the value of the lesson that person A has learned. But having a different life and a different context than person A, and without all the factors that led to A’s natural “aha” in the first place, person B can feel incapable of incorporating A’s “gift” into his or her lived experience. He/she can feel sharp dissonance between how he/she continues to live, and how he/she would be living were person A’s lesson applied.

And on the flip side, person A can feel in response to B’s less-than-exhuberant reaction to said lesson a smug sort of pride in having learned the lesson at all, and in being capable of applying it – heck, even teaching it to other people too! Person B’s inability to apply it can be seen as person B’s problem, rather than the natural way of things when timeliness hasn’t grown ripe, and unsolicited force-feeding has occurred.

So much theory! How about an example…

Let’s say Big Name Blogger has taken a year or ten to grow a big following (I don’t have anyone specific in mind here – let’s call this an amalgamation). Let’s say she worked her tail off to get where she is today, used all the fuel her ego had to offer her, all the excitement about subscriber numbers and commenters, her willingness to work night and day, travel often, let her body go to pot and her in-person relationships suffer.

And let’s say she did it! She got what she was after! And she realizes that the costs have been enormous and she needs to make some serious life changes.

So she turns off comments on her site, scales back screen time dramatically, begins to rebuild her body and relationships and starts to say no to many of the opportunities to which she used to always say yes.

…And she begins a crusade to tell as many bloggers as she can that all that ego trap? All that out-of-whackery involved in growing a huge following fast? Totally not worth the price.

She knows this. Deeply. From experience.

But she also has such a huge following by this point that she really doesn’t have to do half of what she used to do to keep momentum on her site going strong. She can literally afford this lesson.

Can you see where this is going?

Little Name Blogger, let’s call her, oh, Kristin, is one of Big Name Blogger’s followers. And she really digs deep life lessons. When Big Name throws this one at her, she loses balance for a second, but then willingly gives it a closer look.

And the lesson looks solid. It looks like something she wants to apply.

The only problem is that Kristin is at the very beginning of her life as a small business owner and there is a chasm between Now and Financially Sustainable that she’s pretty sure must be bridged by a hell of a lot of hustle. Hustle that involves ego fuel. That leaves time for sleep or exercise, but not both; online friendships or in-person friendships, but not both.

So she does what her bank account requires – she hustles – but with Big Name’s lesson ringing in her ears and a nagging sense of failing miserably, constantly, in the peaceful, life-in-order, body-in-shape, enlightened-soul arenas.

The Take-Home

Big Name’s lesson was and is an important one, and may even be a healthy agitation for the Kristins of our world. But as we talk about help here this month, and stages of change in this post specifically, here’s what I think bears noting if trust is something As and Bs (that is, all of us) are after:

  • Force-feeding our Big Lessons to anyone can do the very opposite of our helpful intent. It can push people away, close them down, fuel shame and resentment fires, and generally – for these and other reasons – strain our best (and worst!) relationships.
  • It isn’t a sign of inadequacy or defectiveness when the “person Bs” of our world – which are all of us at one point or another – are not ready to hear or apply the lessons of our world’s “As”. If you hear a Big Lesson, however eloquently or persuasively put, and you feel overwhelmed or despairing by the impossibility of applying it to your life right now, maybe it’s not the time to apply it just yet. Maybe your situation is calling for something else entirely.

    Or maybe you need about one hundredth of the force of that Big Lesson to season other things you’re learning right now, and as life and circumstances change, higher doses will apply.

I know this isn’t rocket science, but I sense these are things we all could stand to hear from time to time – that we aren’t defective if we can’t apply or even understand all the good lessons we hear; that our loved ones aren’t hopelessly lost if they’re pushing away good advice; that change often happens incrementally, over time, and one person’s (or nation’s!) “aha” can’t usually be packaged and peddled (or heaved, or bombed) and experienced the same way by other people whose circumstances have not led them to that same “aha”.

I sense if we all lived inside such things – feeling them viscerally and seasoning our words and actions with them – our world would be a much more hospitable, trust-inducing place.

But by all means, you don’t have to take my word for it… :)

This month’s theme at Trust Tending is Help (description here). Click here to view past themes and to see a working list of themes to come.
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12 comments   |   Filed in: Meditations   |   Tags: ,   |  


  1. So on time this post for me today!!!
    This days I am trying to learn some line I repeat to mayself often
    Ÿoy are not a prophet in your own land¨
    As painful as this seems to be for me sometimes, it is truth and I better learn it and with that, grow in the trust that everyone (me included) will grow in it´s own particular and miracolous way and time.
    thanks again for sharing your clarifying thoughts!

    Comment by florencia — May 17, 2011 @ 4:47 am
  2. I’m glad this spoke to you, Florencia! I’m not sure how to reconcile this whole post with what I *also* believe to be true: that there really is a place for prophetic voices. Sometimes we NEED to be shaken up to actually wake up.

    It sounds like you’re clear that that is not the role for you right now, and I’m guessing that some of us take it on more often than is actually helpful. But some of us could probably stand to own it more fully – to speak our thoughts with even greater confidence than we often do.

    The image for this post is what I keep coming back to – a kind of mindful weighing and considering of what we sense is our role right now, and the proportions of passion and sensitivity to other people we sense are right for us right now. I’m glad that Galileo didn’t acquiesce to the sensitivities of his time. Or any number of mystics and reformers – from ancient history up to today.

    Comment by Kristin — May 17, 2011 @ 6:58 am
  3. Well said Kristin! Both your explanation and your examples are spot on. I can totally relate to the frustration of being on both sides of that fence. When I was changing careers, I was a person B who was anxious and frustrated by the demands of the person As. Then I realized that these person As telling me what to do were riding the success wave and looking back at how they could have done it differently. The comparison of where they are and where I want to be is in congruent, because they already have success under their belt. There’s a difference between teaching a lesson of “what not to do” when you have the stability to eliminate that piece. We have to learn to take the essence of what they are saying and know what to look out for, but not necessarily eliminate things that are necessary for us to learn what we need to on our version of the journey.

    On the flip side, I am currently in the position of Person A in both my consulting business and in one area of my relationship. In those cases, I do take special care not to dump or force, but I admit it’s much harder in the relationship than as a consultant because my expectations are different.

    Thanks for this article…it’s a fresh look at a problem that’s not discussed very often.

    Comment by Susan — May 17, 2011 @ 8:28 am
  4. Susan, your words here clarify so much! Yes to all you’ve said!! I think the part about there being a difference in applying this to intimate relationships from applying it to more public relationships is such an important one. There is an urgency about change that often comes with intimate relationships, I think, because these are so wrapped up in our own sense of well-being. An urgency and a feeling of being wronged when our dear ones’ paths (…and rejection of help) make life harder for us. I don’t know any other way to reduce that sense of urgency than to try to reduce the power of my own ego, which constantly wants me to think life should be easier than it is and people should be more instantly whole (…including my own self!). Underneath that blaring voice is much more patience, I think. And a much more happy life.

    Comment by Kristin — May 17, 2011 @ 9:40 am
  5. You nailed this one!!! I am A and my friend is B right now. I am thinking she needs to wake up- but it is such a fine line between truth as I see it and letting her come to it on her own time.Thanks for the thoughts to ponder in my relationship with her. Great comments, also. Your timing could not have been better, so now what do I do with it, continue to plant my obsrervations to her or rest in her growing at her own time. A constant battle to when do we be that prophet. :):):)

    Comment by Shandeen — May 17, 2011 @ 11:20 am
  6. I think you’re right, Shandeen: there’s always that question of how much to say and how much to stay silent. Any ideas for how to get better at knowing?

    Comment by Kristin — May 17, 2011 @ 4:03 pm
  7. Sometimes when I am ready to do some dumping of my thoughts and ideas and lessons learned, I stop and wonder if I would have wanted to hear all that when I was in that position. Would I want someone to say this to me in the way I am about to say it? I am finding that, more and more, I am keeping my lessons learned to myself and trying to wait until I am asked for suggestions or advice.

    Having been person B so many times in my life, I remember wanting to have someone to ask. I remember not wanting to be told what to do and how to do it. I remember wanting a more experienced person to listen to where I was and not do all the talking.

    I find that I’m talking less these days than I used to. Dishing out less advice. Listening and encouraging rather than making lesson plans.

    Comment by GailNHB — May 19, 2011 @ 4:59 pm
  8. Gail, I’m thinking back to the most meaningful conversations I’ve had with mentors, and the common denominator in all of them is just what you’ve described: them listening more than talking. Them asking really good questions that weren’t designed to lead me to a particular place or conclusion. And then a sprinkling of honest stories about things they’ve learned that don’t feel like advice, so much as storytelling between equals.

    The other thing your comments have me thinking is how important those relationships have been for me. There is a beautiful, blossoming effect that mentors can have on our lives and I don’t want this post to imply we all step back from other people and intentionally let their lives happen without our active involvement. It’s the *nature* of that involvement that I think makes all the difference.

    Thanks for your reflections here. They always add so much depth to the conversation!

    Comment by Kristin — May 19, 2011 @ 8:19 pm
  9. Wow!

    Comment by Jamie — May 25, 2011 @ 2:05 pm
  10. Hi. Genius. Thank you for sharing this insight–PRICELESS. Applicable. Nuanced. Amazing.

    Grateful :)


    Comment by Jessica — September 4, 2012 @ 3:00 pm
  11. Timeless golden messages fom Krisin :)
    Thank you

    Comment by jody — January 4, 2014 @ 12:23 pm
  12. Thank you for these words. They are just what I needed to hear both as an A and as a B. I am dealing with just such a strained friendship at the moment and this is very helpful.

    Comment by Imogen — January 20, 2014 @ 12:39 am

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