When I was growing up, my neighbor’s teenage son had a Jeep. I was convinced this was the COOLEST car ever. I pretty much decided then that when I had the opportunity, a Jeep would definitely have to be my first car. I discovered the love that can only exist between a guy and a car. So, when it came time for me to shop for my first car, I knew the first place I’d look. The problem was, I had set my heart and committed emotionally before ever looking at the facts.

I should mention that I was buying this car right before moving to Boston from Montreal, where I grew up. So it was more than likely that I would be driving back and forth between Boston and Montreal to see family and friends. Like many first time car buyers, I went shopping and test driving with my dad, to make use of his experience and perspective. Boy would that come back to haunt me… and boy am I glad I did. In talking with the car dealer and a family friend who was a car expert, we heard a lot about how Jeeps at that time were not built for a lot of highway driving, and that if I was going to be doing a lot of highway driving, it would wear down on the Jeep, and likely lead to a lot of problems and expensive repairs.

However, as I said, I had emotionally committed to the Jeep before we ever went shopping. I was already imagining myself in one. And when an emotional commitment precedes viewing the evidence, you end up with a decision driven by want instead of practicality or good sense. Essentially, no matter what the expert told me, all I heard was the psychological equivalent of white noise. My desire drowned out the facts.

What’s more, when my father tried to be the voice of reason, and pointed out the facts, I grew frustrated with him. I made the mistake of blaming him as if it were his fault that Jeeps at that time were not designed for long highway driving. I didn’t want to hear what he had to say, because it conflicted with what I wanted. So I made it about him. I felt like he was raining on my parade or being too protective, too careful, worrying for nothing, etc.

My dad had the good sense and the perspective not to take my attacks personally. He knew it wasn’t about him, even if I didn’t. To his credit, he didn’t try to force me to make the smarter choice. He simply named the facts, and then backed off and let the facts speak for themselves.

He knew that if he didn’t force it, eventually I would step back from my biased desire for a Jeep to see that it was not the right choice for me given my needs; which is exactly what happened. It broke my heart a little, but I bought a smarter choice. However, he did gamble in that decision. It is possible that I would not have come around. In which case, life would have probably taught me an important lesson. A lesson I was not able to hear from him.

While my father knew better, he also knew that I had to come to my own decision. If he weighed in too heavily, then my decision would become more about proving that I didn’t have to listen to him rather than about making the best choice. He had faith that I would either come around to good judgment or else I would learn the hard way. He knew that the force of his will was not going to improve the odds of me making the wiser decision.

I learned some important life lessons from this experience. For one thing, don’t blame the messenger. I was attacking my dad because he was seeing something that I didn’t see, and didn’t want to see. I felt like it was something he was doing intentionally to sabotage what I wanted. But it was not his fault that those were the facts. He didn’t create them. He was simply able to see them differently than me because he didn’t have the same emotional investment in getting a Jeep that I did.

Second, I learned the problem that arises when you approach a decision with your heart already set before you look at the facts, you are setting yourself up for some problems. This provides a serious obstacle to seeing the facts objectively. When you do have an emotional attachment, it is easy to react emotionally when someone doesn’t agree with your choice or your perspective. It can feel like he is deliberately sabotaging what you want or your choice.

This is best illustrated with a clinical example. There was a family that I worked with for several years. On occasion their arguments stemmed from such situations. On one occasion, they were arguing because Dana wanted to spend more time practicing with the school basketball team. The basketball team was really important to Dana. She valued the time she put in there. So when they asked her to increase her involvement (signifying that she would also get more time on the court), she was highly motivated to say yes.

The problem was that her mom needed her help at home on Tuesday nights. Tuesday nights were very busy for the family. Dana’s mom, Kathleen, had her own commitments on Tuesday nights with a book club, and Dana’s father was also busy that night. Dana was already committed to staying home with her younger siblings, not to mention Dana would need a ride to take part in the additional practices. Kathleen had her own bias, since she already had a commitment, and felt like Dana was all too willing to sacrifice her time and interests to do something that she wanted to do.

When Kathleen pointed out how busy a night it was already for the family, Dana felt like she was deliberately standing in the way of her doing what she wanted. There were several reasons for this. For one, Dana was involved and invested with the basketball team, it was important to her in way that she did not believe that it was as important to her mother. Second, Dana really wanted to be able to say yes. So when Kathleen pointed out how unfeasible it was for her to say yes, she blamed her mother for the fact that it was unfeasible. Third, when she pointed out that it was a bad idea, Dana took it personally, as if it made a statement about her for having or wanting to try the idea (discussed previously in the section My favorite TV show). She made the jump from Kathleen criticizing the idea to feeling it was a criticism about her.

Lastly, on some level, Dana knew that this idea of trying to squeeze in the basketball practice on such a hectic night was unwise. When you want something to work out, but on some level you know it is unlikely or unwise, it is human nature to resist and deny all the facts that tell you that you can’t do what you want. This can result in putting a lot of pressure on the other person to agree with you, because if she doesn’t, you may start to question your own confidence in your position. Because how can you maintain your position if she is so certain that the opposite is true?

More importantly in the end, Dana needed her mother to agree in order to say yes to the team. She would need support (such as a ride) from her parents in order to do it. So she could not simply go against her mother’s wishes. She needed her mother to agree in order to do what she wanted.

So, after a while in the argument, part of why you hold onto your point or choice is not because you think the evidence supports it, but because it is the answer you want to be true. If, on some level, you know that, then your parent not agreeing is threatening, because it brings you that much closer to acknowledging what you sense is inevitable.

Coming back to Dana and Kathleen, their argument continued. However, it was not only Dana who was taking it personally when Kathleen pointed out how something was not feasible. The reverse was also true. Kathleen was typically the one to manage the family schedules. So she often felt like the rule manager and the wet blanket, of the family because she was taking the role of speaking for the schedule and obligations. So she was also making it personal. She was reporting the family’s obligations. That is not a statement about her. It is not her being inflexible. It is a statement about the obligations. Both Kathleen and Dana needed to remember that Kathleen was taking on a role for the family. She was not being inflexible; it was the obligations and schedule that were inflexible.


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“Our critics are our friends, they show us our faults.” –Benjamin Franklin


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“The real art of conversation is not only to say the right thing in the right place, but also to leave unsaid the wrong thing at the tempting moment.”

– Anonymous


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“The act of longing for something will always be more intense than the requiting of it.”         – Gail Godwin


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“To ignore the facts does not change the facts.” – Andy Rooney


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