WHY CARING DOESN'T MEAN AGREEING
PSYCHOLOGY + THE WALL
Back in June, I hosted my friend and colleague Dr. Aaron Estrada for episode 44 of JOY. We discussed many things about the therapeutic process for both patients and clinicians. I always enjoy talking with Aaron because as a clinician and a Clinical psych graduate level professor he has a valuable perspective on what sticks. What sticks with patients, and what sticks in terms of training for future clinicians. He had a ton of gems to share and I highly recommend you check out episode 44 if you haven’t already. But something that he said, in particular, really stuck with me. About halfway through the episode, Aaron drops this gem, “Caring doesn’t mean agreeing.” It felt like a wall within my mind instantly fell. My mouth hung wide open, I had all the goosebumps, and to be honest, I’ve been tossing around this phrase in my mind, caring doesn't mean agreeing, ever since.
And side note, this is what is so cool about psychology, therapy, and internal work. Oftentimes we know the thing, or have heard the thing. But it takes for the message to come at the right time and in the right way. Aaron’s words were a key to a lock and they have since opened up a world of thought for me.
But let’s go back a minute. Why is it important to think on this idea? Why is understanding that caring doesn’t mean agreeing so significant? Because, this bit of understanding impacts everything.
I think the two best examples of the significance of this idea exist in childhood and in leadership. Let’s start with childhood. We know that boundaries create healthy children. Setting limits, saying no, and basically not being the cool parent is what’s best for kids. That’s not to say children thrive in strict environments, that’s not the case, but children thrive when they feel safe. And feeling safe as a kid has everything to do with boundaries. And this is hard because part of our job as kids is to test these boundaries. And this is also hard because a big part of our job as parents is to set and maintain boundaries. Boundaries take two - PS you can learn more fun stuff about boundaries in episode 42.
Essentially, children will reel and spin out until they come up against something hard. While it is important to be flexible as a parent, it is also important to “be the wall” This idea of pushing up against something immovable offers such important containment for childhood development, that scholars like Steiner of the Waldorf style of education, models including lessons like woodworking in Waldorf programming to mirror this internal need externally in real time. Woodworking is literally the act of coming up against something hard. Hammer to nail, and the inflexibility of wood. Many Waldorf programs will introduce woodworking in early adolescence to acknowledge this internal need through bodily expression at a time when containment and boundaries are really important. Rules matter and rules, boundaries, and containment can be difficult to enforce in a respectful way, but doing so means you care. As I have said before, boundaries are a courtesy.
Agreeing is easy, right? Compared with saying no, nodding our head in agreement avoids a lot. It avoids conflict, and keeps everything real cool. And agreeing is great. It feels good. Think of how nice it feels to have someone you respect say, yeah, I totally agree. Hello ego, how are ya? Now they may be agreeing with an opinion or they might be agreeing that it’s a good idea to try a trick you’ve never tried before on a skateboard without pads and a helmet. Hmmmm. Not even the pros do that. But agreeing and saying go for it is easier and saves a lot of time and energy instead of saying, well that’s cool, but also you need to be wearing life saving equipment while trying a new trick. Option two can lead to all sorts of results. A disagreement, feeling like you are not being encouraging, being a total buzzkill. And to be honest, a lot of the times as a parent, these options mostly suck. Being a buzzkill, getting heated and disrespected in public when your kid tells you to shove it up your ass in front of an audience. Um no thanks. It sucks for everyone. The excited kid and the parent who is like, that’s a stupid idea, but of course coming up with a better way to say that. If as parents we agreed with everything our kids presented, well we wouldn’t have very healthy kids. Emotionally or physically.
And this goes for leadership too. As leaders, we are essentially asking our employees to leave every single thing that is important to them, family, pets, and partners, to work toward our dream. And this is BIG. Like really big! Would you want to spend many of your waking hours working toward someone’s dream who was super cool? Sure, it might work for a while, but sooner or later you would be like, hey, do you have your shit together? Because my kid is sitting in aftercare right now because I believe in your dream. So the dream better be good, super organized, and well researched. Workers deserve that much. And in exchange, leaders need to provide a safe and well boundaried environment to their workers. The successful ones do.
So the next time you are presented with a response of agreement or disagreement, remember to consider the source. Let go of agreement being solely about encouragement. They are two different things. Oftentimes being challenged comes from a place of love and caring. Quite simply put, caring can also be agreeing, but they are also not the same thing.
Listen to this episode of JOY IS NOW here