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Sunday, October 28, 2018

Why You Can Lead a Horse to Water

Do you have a case of the “If only”s?

You know, I would be happy “if only”, or I would be successful “if only”, or he/she/this job/this house/this world would be perfect “if only”…?
“If only” we could shake the “if only”s, we’d all be a lot better off!!! 

I have noticed recently, a tendency of people that I perceive as being decent, kind and compassionate, to overlook some REALLY egregious behavior and frantically waving red flags due, in part, to their tendency to think in terms of “if only”.

We all have at some point (and probably currently) drawn into our life relationships that cause us more pain than gain.  Friends, lovers, family, co-workers, you name it, who mire us in melodrama, or undermine our efforts, or devalue our creativity, ideas, emotions, experiences.  Those who’s selfishness, wounding, upbringing, stubbornness, you name it, is constantly at odds with our happiness, growth and greatest good.

And what do we usually do when dealing with these folks?  Politely show them the door?  Or say “if only” they were different and then continue to bang our heads against the wall in frustration at their behavior?
I am one of those people who agrees with the adage that generally speaking, people don’t consciously behave in ways they believe are “wrong”, given their model of the world.  In other words—racists don’t believe racism is “wrong”.  They believe their point of view is valid and justified and act accordingly.

This is why it is so difficult (nay, impossible) to convince another person to change their perspective through debate alone.  We don’t change our opinions or behaviors because someone else tells us we should; we change because our life experience has proven to us that this is the “right” thing to do or what is best for us.  Unfortunately, it often takes a tragedy or otherwise dramatic event to shake someone loose from their firmly held prejudices.
People believe what they believe because they believe that their beliefs are in the best interest of themselves and their loved ones.  Even if those beliefs are rooted in ignorance or outright lies, they will cling to them in hopes of assuring the best possible outcome for those most important to them.  This is true of all of us, not just the people who perpetuate negative stereotypes about people of other races, religions and sexual orientations, etc. 

So this leads us to the horse.
If you are the sort of person who says, “So-and-so would be SO great IF ONLY  he/she wasn’t:

racist/sexist/xenophobic/homophobic/classist/whatever-their-particular-brand-or-brands-of-hate-are”, THEN you are most likely also the sort of person who says, “My partner would be SO great if only he/she wasn’t:

always sitting in front of a screen/undermining my dreams/emotionally shut down/abusive.”  

You are the sort of person who leads horses to water and then spends a lifetime perplexed about why they won’t take a damn drink.

Let’s talk about this for a minute from a parenting perspective—if you have had the honor of raising a child from infancy, one fact that cannot be denied is that babies are born with PERSONALITY.  Even before they can walk, talk or assert themselves in any kind of a meaningful way beyond crying, you will already start noticing things about their character. 
“He’s so stubborn!”  “She’s so easygoing!” “He’s curious!” “She’s social!”
The older the child gets, the more these intrinsic traits bloom, which is why parents will laughingly peg their offspring as future scientists or vets or chefs or race car drivers as early as pre-school.  The kid is who the kid is and attempts to force the kid to be other than who they are will end badly.  Yes, we are here to set a good example of character and perseverance for our children, but mostly we are here to keep them loved, safe, clothed and fed and to get out of their way as they evolve into themselves.

With children you will learn over and over that you can lead them to water, but if they don’t want to take a drink?  Woe to you who resorts to dunking them in.
This is not to say that you can’t or shouldn’t encourage positive traits such as integrity and compassion;  Lord knows there are plenty of people encouraging intolerance in their broods.  This is to say that no matter what you are encouraging, the truth will out—which is why a racist can raise a civil rights leader and good parents might raise a criminal. 

You cannot make someone else into something that they’re not.  Only they can choose change; only they can choose growth.  And you standing over them lecturing or pushing and pulling won’t make much of a difference, if any.
It might even push them further in the opposite direction than you wish.

So if you have a serious case of the “if only”s in any of your primary relationships, I am going to gently suggest that not only is it not good for you to be intimately engaged with someone who consistently does not meet your needs and support you in becoming who you are meant to be, it is actually also not good for THEM to be in relationship with someone who doesn’t accept them where they are at (even if it is for a great reason.) 
Time has taught me that whenever I am blaming an “if only” for my unhappiness in a relationship, I am essentially living a delusion.  I am saying, “This would be a good relationship IF ONLY that other person wasn’t who that other person is.”  DUH.

You cannot change anyone but yourself and you cannot fight another person’s nature.  If you are with an artist and think you’d be happy “if only” they would stop pursuing their art, or if you are with a workaholic and think you’d be happy “if only” they didn’t work so much, or if you are with a couch potato and you think you’d be happy “if only” they’d turn off the damn TV, guess what?  You would ACTUALLY be happy if you found someone who already wasn’t an artist, workaholic or couch potato.
You aren’t loving the person who actually exists, you are hoping to love the future version they might become “if only” they would comply with your wishes.

If only you would realize how unhealthy and unfair that is, you could move on.


  1. I loved this post. Yes, we all really do need to accept people for who and what they are.

  2. Yup. I hear this. I struggled with this at the beginning with Alex. He's a difficult feeder, and I had to learn the really hard way that he's going to be who he is going to be. All I can do is guide and advise.

    As for the wife we address each other directly, else like you say, we'd be living a lie.