22 June 2013

What I'm Reading: How to Win Friends and Influence People

Well, this book, How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie, has engaged me so much that my mind's been racing with thoughts, epiphanies, and more than a little humiliation.  As it stands, I'm a little more than halfway through the book.  And I'm ashamed of myself.  And discouraged.  But also inspired.

I'm ashamed because I've been looking at a harshly accurate mirror of my unpleasant behavior.  So far I've read "Part 1: How to Handle People," "Part 2: Six Ways to Make People Like You," and I've just scratched the surface of "Part 3: Twelve Ways to Win People to Your Way of Thinking."  It's Part 3 that's really polishing the mirror and making me consider my own reflection, though the whole book so far has been quite insightful.

Here's a self-truth:  I relish being right.  That's probably no surprise because 1: you probably know me and my vices if you're reading my blog, and 2: most people, I think, enjoy being right.  I, for one, get comfort from feeling that I know something.  I enjoy the thrill of hashing out opinions and arguments, especially over a beer. But at the end of the day, I lack tact and probably also timing.  This is why my desire to be "right" has probably cost me several relationships, both personal and professional.  I can be too literal, to quick to point out another's faults, and definitely too ready for an argument.

I'm not this way out of malice, at least, I don't think I am.  I'm literal, judgmental, and argumentative because I largely want my friends to be the same way.  It's a sort of interpretation of the Golden Rule.  I want people around me to be literal and straightforward with me.  I want to be held to high standards and told when I'm falling short.  I want to have lively debates where my core values and beliefs are shaken.  I want to be treated this way, so I treat others this way.  Unfortunately, it seems the rule doesn't quite work like that.

And there rests a big part of my problem: I think too much about what I want and not as much about what other people might want.  Coincidentally, it's by focusing on what I want that I've started to come to this realization.  Namely, the things I might want most for myself can happen only if the people around me are happy.  The things I want more than being right might be better served if I'm not literal, if I'm not judgmental, and if I'm not argumentative.

My wiser readers are probably thinking, "Well, duh, Jessi.  Did you have to read a book to figure that out?" Well, maybe yes and maybe no.  When I say "I relish being right," please understand that I've perceived my "rightness" to be a part of my identity.  It's an off-putting side of my identity, but it's nonetheless difficult to devalue or be critical of a major characteristic of yourself.  It's only recently that I've perceived any personal desires that legitimately trump my desire to be right, so reading about various situations where not being right is advantageous certainly speeds up a process that would-- hopefully-- occur naturally with time and experience.

I think it's partly a maturity issue, which is very humbling for me to admit since I've been told since childhood that I'm mature for my age--another point of self-perceived, personal identity.  That might have been true then, but I think I stopped maturing for a bit and might be slightly behind my peers now.  Childhood and adolescence are times when we're afforded the opportunity to be right and to be validated by people of power.  What else are grades, tests, and the like?  Answer B is right, anything else is wrong.  If you answered B then you're right, you're brilliant, and everyone from teachers to parents to scholarship committees congratulates you.  I thrived in that environment, and I haven't quite moved beyond it.

Of course, decision-making and choices as an adult aren't nearly so clear-cut as "choose answer B."  In almost all my decisions I'm finding there isn't a "right" answer or even a "mostly right" or "favorable" answer.  Actually, my current life circumstances are challenging the idea that there's an answer at all.  I'm quite uncomfortable in the ambiguity of adulthood, and looking back on my actions during and since college, I see that I've resisted moving into an environment where no one is right and everything is gray.

I'm not writing this as a manifesto of reformed ways.  Nor am I declaring this as a life-changing moment.  I've found such gestures to be empty when I make them.  Rather, I'm mulling over this different perspective in the case that it resonates deeply enough that the next time I'm inclined assert my "rightness" I give my actions a second thought.  Maybe I'll choose to charge ahead.  Maybe I won't.  But at least I hope to be giving the choice more consideration than I typically do.