Thursday, December 3, 2015

Everything Starts Small

In my validation book, I have a section on accepting that everything is not okay with everyone, and not assuming that people are okay with a change in the plan without asking them first. In this chapter, I begin with a very basic example that you told your friend you had Oreo ice cream at home, they said they'd love some, then you get home and realize that it's actually chocolate chip ice cream. This example explains to ask your friend if they still would like the ice cream, rather than just assuming that they'll still eat it. I include several examples of this kind of situation, gradually building up the stakes, until reaching the point of someone breaking a living arrangement promise because they assumed you would be okay with it, leaving you nowhere to go.

Upon editing this chapter, I asked myself, "Do I really need to include the ice cream example?" It just seemed so small to bother mentioning. Would the section be better if I only mentioned the examples with higher stakes?

Then I realized something - I understood why I needed the ice cream example. I needed to start small because everything starts small. Consent, validation, respect for people's differences and choices - they all start on small-scale situations.

I've spent a lot of my life rationalizing staying friends with people who were not validating, did not respect my choices, and who pressured me to do things I did not want to do. I sometimes used the rationalization that, "This is a small thing, I don't know that this person would behave this way with something more important." In other words, that if I was upset because someone kept pushing me to try a food that I didn't want, I would tell myself that maybe they only acted that way because the food seemed like no big deal to them, that this behavior was not indicative of how they would treat me if something came up that was really a problem.

But it was. It absolutely was. I know that now. From all my observations and interactions with people who are validating and invalidating, I know this very clearly: the people who couldn't accept that I didn't want to go to their house after school or share lockers or get my driver's license as soon as I turned 16 also could not accept how bad my college experience was, or how I've reacted to my latest breakup. The people who do validate those things pretty much validate everything I tell them and don't push me to do anything that I don't want to do, even small-scale things like sharing lockers or trying a food I don't want.

When I learned to be validating, the magnitude of situations did not matter. There was never a difference between saying, "It's perfectly fine if you want to quit your job," and "It's perfectly fine if you don't want broccoli," There were times in my life when I was not very validating about anything, but I cannot ever remember a time when I would have validated one of these things but not the other.

The smaller situations have always mattered to me a lot anyway, but I realize now that they really do say a lot about how someone will behave in higher-stakes situations. If someone keeps insisting that I try a food I don't want, I can't trust that person to accept bigger things in my life like wanting to quit college. I've learned to watch for that now. I need to be able to trust someone on those smaller things. That's how I'll know if I can trust them on anything.

And that's why the ice cream example is necessary to the book. Because everything starts small. Someone who has an instinct to say, "Are you still okay with this flavor?" is more likely to ask, "Are you okay with a change in our living plans?" than someone who tends to assume that everyone is okay with everything.  The example of changing apartment plans when you had promised your friend you would live together will not apply to all of my readers. Some readers will be too young to have experienced this issue. Some readers will be past the point in their life where this situation would come up. When a situation is far from anything you've done, it can be difficult to relate it back to your own life. But the ice cream example, everyone can relate to. Almost everyone experiences situations like that. The concept of asking your friend if they still want a different flavor of ice cream is something that young children can understand. The ice cream example is essential because that's where validation starts. If you respect people's choices in small situations, you're more likely to respect their choices in bigger situations. Everything starts small.

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