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TO DEFEND OR NOT DEFEND, that is the question

I really admire people who take criticism well; people who are highly self aware and do not react defensively. I admire their courage in the face of accusation and criticism which invites the accuser to expand on the criticism so it can be used as personal development. Most of us fall into the defensive category, I know I do a lot of the time because it just seems like the right thing to do. So, it was with interest that I read an article written by Russell Bishop on why we should NOT defend, explain or justify our behaviour.

My first reaction was to cite situations in which defending was definitely needed. For example, when a person is wrongly accused of something serious or when an explanation about a situation clears up a misunderstanding. However, the scenario to which Russell alludes is primarily one of justification– insisting that what you are doing is perfectly okay in the face of protest from another. In fact, from your point of view, there is no case to answer.

Russell says, ” When I find myself in justification mode, there’s almost always some part of me that feels insecure about that area, perhaps even wondering/fearing/believing that it (the criticism) must be true.”

Justifying a behaviour puts us in protection mode. What are we protecting? Most of us can admit to areas of self doubt; areas where we feel not good enough. Words that betray these areas are, ‘aught to, should, should have.’ When our attention is drawn to these areas of lack, we become fearful and defensive. Defensiveness serves as a distraction from the possibility that the criticism may be valid and we do not want to face this fact. We want to distance ourselves from this’ supposed’ flaw/weakness in our character. By defending, we cover up our short comings and our disappointment with ourselves. I agree with Russell that when I feel the need to defend or justify myself, some part of me is of the opinion that ‘they’ must be right and I must be wrong. Feeling wrong is very uncomfortable therefore protecting myself from this feeling seems like the right thing to do. Have you noticed how justifying does nothing to change a situation? And that the issue which needs to be addressed becomes more deeply entrenched?  Stalemate.

Russell quotes a story told by Bucky Fuller which highlights the attitude of non defending and self awareness. Bucky Fuller gave large group seminars on personal transformation. He has written books on this topic. After concluding this particular seminar on the value of seeking to understand and be understood, Bucky was taking questions from the audience. A gentleman stood up and vehemently disagreed with Bucky’s point of view. Bucky considered the comment and replied, ” Thank you.” Not satisfied, the gentleman continued with his objections. This was Bucky’s response:

“Did you not notice that each time I paused to consider what you had to say? I looked inside myself to see if some part of me was reacting to what you said about me, particularly is some part of me was upset, prone to counter attack or otherwise affected. I have found that when I am in that kind of reaction, there is typically something there for me to learn about myself, something I need to improve. In this instance, I found no reaction. Thus you were simply sharing your opinion to which you are fully entitled and with which I have no argument. Therefore, ” Thank you,” seemed most appropriate.”

What a great lesson in self awareness and integrity to inspire us all!

Russell Bishop says, “Learning to see the reaction inside myself as feedback about me, pointing out areas of growth rather than something to defend, has been both expansive and liberating.”

With a high level of self awareness, we would be able to say to our detractors, ” That’s very interesting. can you expand on what you see or how you see this playing out in my behaviour?” WOW! That takes courage, and lots of it. Most of us are embarrassed or angered when criticised or just want to curl up and disappear. Have you noticed how little time for choice seems available between  accusation and  reaction? To make this change of non reaction, a conscious choice, to accept and love all aspects of self, is needed. When we no longer fear our labelled ‘less than’ parts, there is nothing to react to.

Russell cites two pay offs when we take the courageous path.

Firstly, we might just find out something that liberates us when we choose inquiry over defensiveness and justification like an increase in confidence and inner strength.

Secondly, we may also close the gap between us and the other person. Our sincere enquiry may melt away something that  has prevented us from getting along with this person in the past.

I am grateful to Russell for reminding us that transformational work takes courage. If our goal is to be more self aware and lead a more satisfying and richer life, then it is certainly possible….easy?…. no it’s not….we need to wrest control from those old habits that feel so comfortable and right and are unconsciously played out in our daily lives.

Remember the old adage: If you always do what you’ve always done, then you’ll always get what you’ve always got!

Be kind to yourselves

Source: The Huffington Post: Why you should never defend, explain or justify: Russell Bishop


One comment on “TO DEFEND OR NOT DEFEND, that is the question

  1. Jen
    January 31, 2017

    Excellent reading as always, thank you :o))))))

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