“To defend is to protect something of value; something that is seen as good.” from Getting Through by Dr. Bob Smith
“Don’t get all defensive. I’m just trying to help.”
How many times have you heard this in your life? From a partner, a family member, a co-worker or boss?
Or, perhaps you’ve been the one? Saying this, while splaying your hands in front of you for protection?
Do you hate conflict? Avoid it at all costs? Yet, some how, some way, after all you’ve learned to date, do you find you still end up, from time to time, having ridiculous arguments in which crazy things are said? How does this happen?
For most of my life I’ve deemed defensive behavior as bad, because that’s what I was told, yet Dr. Smith calls defensive behavior good. He describes it this way: “Defensive behavior is always a response of a person who perceives that something of value is in danger or is under attack.”
Note that he uses the word “perceives”. Says Smith, “It is not important what is said, what is heard is what matters.”
Are you like me? Do you have an Audio-Tape-Feature (ATF) in your brain that accurately stores every hurtful thing a person says to you in the heat of battle, so that you can listen to it over and over later and feel even worse about yourself than you already do? Well, it’s time to destroy that ATF. Go ahead. Take a sledge hammer and smash that sucker to smithereens. Because here’s a thought: maybe your ATF isn’t so accurate after all. Maybe, in the heat of battle, what you “heard” is different from what was said. And what about what you said? Do you remember that so well? And what about what the other person “perceives” you said. Geez. It’s complicated, isn’t it? No wonder we have misunderstandings.
So, anyway, this is how Smith sees conflict as arising. You have one situation. Two people. Both motivated by good. Each valuing things in different ways. Each either seeing different aspects of the situation or interpreting the situation in different ways. Each person argues for what they see and ignores what they don’t see.
But let’s get back to the “motivated by good”. What is good? Well, this is tricky and doesn’t necessarily have a moral component. In a chapter on good, Smith writes that while serving as a judge in 1932, Dr. Hartman often listened to Nazis defending crimes against their fellow Germans. Hartman came to this disturbing realization: “the Nazi criminals actually believed they were doing good!” Yikes. Hartman realized that “people do what they do because of their understanding of what is good”. This helps explain the motivation behind terrorism, doesn’t it? Well, my wish for you, as you head toward future conflicts in which you have a better understanding of defense, is that your opponent is motivated by good good, maybe bad good, but definitely not evil good.
Speaking of “bad good”, here is how Smith sees “good” looking “bad”:
“*I do something that I think is a good thing to do.
*You come along and tell me that I should have done something else.
*What looks bad to you looked good to me.”
Pretty simple, huh? And communication between humans, when we agree, is pretty darn simple. It’s when we disagree that it becomes challenging. Oh, and another defensive response? Not communicating at all. The silent treatment? Ever tried that? He pissed me off so much, I’m just not going to talk to him. Ever. I used to try this on my late husband Hugh. I suck at it, so I’d last maybe half a day max, but I’m really good at another tactic. Sarcasm.
Anyway, here’s some advice about advice you may have for others. Ha. Smith writes: “Helpful advice is often interpreted as: ‘You’re stupid and I can help you!’ or ‘You’re incompetent and I can help you!’” Ouch.
Also. Anytime someone exhibits defensiveness in response to something you did or said? That person sees you as an attacker.
It’s important to note too, that a defensive person is thrown into a stressful state, a state of thinking that fixates on that threat to what they value. Like the parent in the hockey stands heckling a ref for what he perceives as a bad call on his kid. It’s generally hard for him to let it go. He may even take it further, start fighting with other parents.
I think we’ve all been, and will be again, on each side of the D-Fence. Just knowing that we are valuing things differently, based on our individual perspectives, is enlightening. Harsh words may be spoken but not meant. Other words may be misinterpreted. Do you need to work things out, because you must work with that person? Do you respect that person? Do you love that person? Does it really matter if you’re right? Are you taking things personally, again?
Ooh. That used to matter so much for me. Being right. And I still take a lot of things personally. As I said last week in Five Plus Eight, let it go. As you can see, defensive matters are about what people value and value systems, based on moral goodness, are important. Try to get a good understanding of those that guide the people closest to you.