Practising the concept of “allowing” is very important for successful communication. However, we need to understand the concepts of “control” first to better our understanding of what is meant by “allowing”. So, let’s begin with a look at what “control” means in this context.
In any social exchange, there is always a “power exchange” between two or more individuals or groups. What is meant by the phrase “power exchange”? I will define it as the power welded by someone over the rest and this determines the direction or the actions of other individuals in the group(s). Some of us might not agree with this, especially those of us who believes in the values of equality.
Although equality is a good value to hold on to, our everyday experience speaks otherwise. The world works in a different way. Someone almost always holds the reins. Someone always calls the shots and makes the decisions. You can observe this in the behavioural aspects of couples and in a corporate workplace, the boss/CEO determines the direction of the company. Even if the boss’s leadership style is not authoritarian in nature, there’s no denying that he or she makes the final decision. Parents and teachers usually have control over a child. Even if we consider situations whereby individuals are of an equal status, we still see the same observations. For example, consider a social group. We can almost always see the more vocal members speaking up and determining the activity of the group for the day. We see this in the workplace and we see this even in team-building games where no team member is given leadership roles but leaders emerge on their own. For the latter, should we query the more vocal team members on the reasons for speaking up, the most common response will be “Nothing is getting done while we are all stuck in the game. I need to do something to get things moving.”. While this response seems to relate to a more altruistic nature (which is often true), we can also observe that the respondents want to control the outcome of his team’s performance. In a nutshell, these team members want to control the situation and achieve the desired outcomes that they feel that they deserve. All this reveals a basic fact about control:
All if not most of us wants to take control when it comes to our lives and often, our relationships as well.
Then what about the quieter members? Does this mean that they do not want control over the situation? More often than not, it’s more a case of passive resistance (“Why doesn’t somebody come up to solve the situation and get it over and done with?” Someone could have just taken a step to the left side of the carton box and the puzzle is solved. Our team wins!”) than a case of quiet obedience (“Okay, I will just wait it out and see.”). What this means is that the quieter members usually have an answer in their heads but often do not speak up, either because they do not like the limelight or they are disinterested in the activity. This also indicates their intention to control the situation but in a passive way: through their thoughts rather than physical action.
Nevertheless, there might be some quiet members who choose not to take control for this activity, either because they feel that this is not a situation that they want to get involved or that they feel that other members are able to help them in this aspect. For instance, some individuals might not help people who approach them on the streets to buy packets of tissue. This could be attributed to the fact that these individuals feel that it’s illegal to make the purchases or they could have the perception that others will help the sellers. However, when these individuals reach home, all if not most of them will take control of their own lives. They write resume to get a new job (with the perception that success comes with effort), they coach their kids in their studies (thinking that they are able to make their kids excel through encouragement) and they go shopping for some new clothes to look good (knowing that by putting in the effort to dress well, they will do well to impress their clients in the workplace). This reveals another basic fact about control:
Taking control is a choice, and each of us makes a different choice in different situations in our lives, and with different people. Most of us will want greater control when it comes to people whom we know (such as our loved ones as compared to strangers) and situations that we are familiar with (such as regular routines as compared to unexpected occurrences or emergencies).
In a nutshell, to want to control means imposing our expectations on someone or something and having expectations leads to an intention to control someone or something. When we want to control someone or something, we are actually expecting something. However, the converse holds true as well. When we expect something, we tend to want to control someone or something. Consider the example of a couple Peter and Marilyn, where Peter is always late for most of their outings. When Marilyn wishes to control Peter’s social movement, she will expect Peter to inform her of his whereabouts wherever he is. Conversely, if Marilyn expects to marry Peter as husband, she will have a tendency to control Peter by ensuring that he is not engaged in any flings within his social circle.
However, when we try to control another fellow being, we often end up damaging the relationship instead. For the above example, Peter might feel controlled and wanted a break-up. This is part of human nature, since most of us do not like to be controlled.
However, the intention to control is prevalent in our lives. Just consider the following:
- “I am your brother. Someone has scolded me unreasonably. Why are you not standing up for me?”
- “I am your mother, which gives me the right to forbid you for watching TV. Now go back to your room!”
- “I am your best friend. So, what are you sitting on the fence? Help me out.”
- “This Saturday’s your brother’s birthday. So, do come back home for dinner, you hear?”
- “Hey, I want to watch soccer at 8pm as it’s a live match. You can always record your programme and watch it later, right?”
Control and expectations always go together. So, in order to let go of control and embrace the concept of “allowing”, we need to rid ourselves of expectations.
But what’s “allowing”? “Allowing” is the concept of giving someone the freedom to lead his or her own lives without putting any form of restrictions or expressing any form of displeasure. For example, some of us expect our friends to reply us immediately when we send them a text message. However, some of our friends respond at their own time and there are some friends of ours who do not respond at all. This is just the way that they are, and we should not get angry or frustrated with their actions. We can and should – however- advise them when appropriate but we have to do this with their well-being in mind. I will highlight exceptional scenarios where allowing is not the right thing to do in the later part of this post.
I first came across this concept of “allowing” in David Richo’s book How to be an Adult in Relationships: The 5 Keys to Mindful Living, where I find his elaboration on the term to be very elaborate and detailed.
Using my own words to describe the act of allowing, I will describe it in this way:
Allowing is seeing each individual as they are, regardless of how they relate to us or treat us and regardless of their social status. Allowing is having an awareness that each individual are unique and that they have their own lifestyle, thoughts, perceptions, dreams and realities. Allowing is to have a big heart. It’s to inculcate the value of acceptance in ourselves and telling ourselves that “You may be different from me but I choose to accept and love you as you are.” Allowing is – in a nutshell – the practice of agapic love.
However, it’s important to note that there are exceptional cases where we should not allow, as follows:
- When we know that allowing is doing somebody harm: For instance, when an educator discovers that a student is constantly late for school because he or she is hanging out with gangs, the educator should not allow this.
- When we know that allowing is doing ourselves harm: For instance, someone offers us a cigarette and encourage us to smoke it. If we allow them to persuade us, we will probably end up being addicted to smoking while damaging our health at the same time. This is the time to say “no”.
- When we know that others are taking advantage of us: There are some individuals in life who will take advantage of us. For instance, when we practise the act of allowing by helping them out financially, they constantly pester us to help them financially on a consistent basis. This is when we should stop the practice of allowing and make our stand by saying “no”.
Other than the circumstances identified above, the practice of allowing often has the effect of making someone a better communicator because it’s human nature for people to like being around someone who let them be who they want to be and accept them as they are.
So, the next time we fumble in our attempts to communicate with someone, it will be good to ask this question:
Are we practising the act of allowing for the good of others and ourselves or have we been controlling someone due to our (unreasonable) expectations?
Richo, D. (2002), How to be an Adult in Relationships, Shambhala Publications Inc, Boston, US
All of us have various relationships in our lives. Some of these relationships are positive while the rest are not as positive. In my next post, I will be discussing a way where we are able to use our positive relationship(s) to influence and change the rest of our relationships.