“Whoever would have freedom
must win it each day new.”
- Johann Friedrich von Schiller
The Big Picture
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What values are most important to you ? What goals do you have for your life ? What do you hope to do - or be - for others and the world ?
The world we live in is immense, and has powerful currents. Though we may have plans and dreams for ourselves, it seems to have its own ideas, and at times pushes us where it pleases. How do we navigate life, and not just get swept along ?
A very wise person once suggested that in ordering our lives, we first give attention to our inner life - our relationship with God, to "a power greater than ourselves", and the spiritual element (see Resource) in our lives ; then to our relationships with other people ; and only then to our work and career. This can also apply to structuring our daily life, and seems a healthy path, as it includes from the start factors beyond ourselves. It doesn't negate our own interests or initiative, but is open to what else there may be. It weaves "the big picture", the most essential, into everyday life, and keeps the two from drifting apart.
Man and Woman
This same ordering of priorities also has implications for relations between men and women, concerning certain "default" tendencies in each - including the kinds of errors they may each be prone to make.
Although each man may have female and each woman male qualities, it's generally characteristic of men to be inclined towards the earth in their interests ; to strive to know and explore the physical realm, to grapple with it and transform its substances. Failure at this can be a source of despair - but great success can also be a source of temptation and error. Women, for their part, tend - again, in general - to take more interest in relationship. A sense of failure in this realm may be a source of anxiety and shame ; success or overconfidence, a source of temptation.
In either case, this perspective suggests, the inclinations are unbalanced in a certain way. The sequence of priorities - spiritual, social, professional - does not negate gender related characteristics, but lends structure and support to them. The common and parallel ordering of priorities can be a bridge between - and in spite of - natural interests and differences.
Priorities in Relationships
"Interpersonal Effectiveness Skills"
In relationships, every situation - and especially every conflict - faces us with choices. We need to see clearly what these choices are. Knowing our priorities in a situation supports the process, and helps us make our choices well.
Past experiences, especially painful or traumatic ones, can make conflicts especially confusing, whether they're purely inner and personal, interpersonal or more general and social, as in those playing out in society today. Interpersonal Effectiveness Skills were developed in the context of Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (IES) (Resource), as ways to identify priorities in conflict situations, and successfully resolve them. Here's a quick overview of the "priorities" component of IES :
Priorities of significant needs we may have in relationships - and in conflicts that may arise in them - fall typically into three categories :
- Obtaining objectives. Objectives are things we seriously need or want for our own well being, or of those we're responsible for. To obtain these, we may have to ask someone for something - something they may possibly not want to give. Or we may have to refuse someone something, and tell them “no” - again with the potential they won’t accept our boundary. In some cases, what we want or need, or saying "no" to a demand, may be our highest priority, and we'll need to be both clear and firm.
An example : we, or a child we care for is quite sick. In the emergency room, we describe the situation, but it's clear it's not being properly understood and dealt with. Perhaps we're told to just go home, watch and wait - but we see very clear danger, and must speak up, and must obtain action.
- Preserving the relationship, especially in cases where there's conflict. Here the meeting of the need is still important - but the protecting of the relationship is also a high priority. An example :
We have a good friend, partner or family member we love, who also does things that hurt or bother us. This happens regularly, and we really want it to change ; but we also don't want to end or lose the relationship. We'll need to say or do something - but it will take tact, skill and compassion for the other person.
- Maintaining self respect. There may be moments where keeping our dignity and positive sense of ourselves is most important to us, even in the midst of conflict. We may feel fairly certain our request will be rejected, but for our own peace of mind, want to state our case clearly.
An example : We're in a discussion on social media, and someone ridicules or attacks either or views, or us personally. From experience, we sense that no matter what we say, this person will at best not listen, and at worst, escalate. Recognizing this, we may step back - but first restate our thoughts or viewpoint with razor precision, and succinctly. We make our point with dignity (others on the thread will also hear it), and step back. If the person continues, were justified to say no more - and perhaps even block him or her.
In truth, each of these priorities is important, in every situation. But in any given moment, there will always be one priority that’s most important. Choosing which priority to focus on is a matter of observation, insight - and practice. For practical steps and techniques of IES, see our resource Interpersonal Effectiveness Skills.
Article by : Jeff Smith RN (Retired)
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