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A Line Has 2 Sides

The other day, I stumbled across a deck of cards called, “Oblique Strategies,” written by Brian Eno and Peter Schmidt that contain little blurbs designed to get past creative blocks.

What’s so interesting is that so many of them can be applied to life in general.

The one I’m looking at right now says, “A line has two sides.”

Hmmm. Let’s take a look at that. A line DOES have two sides. No matter what thickness it is, there is always an edge on the top, and an edge on the bottom (or on each side, if you’re viewing it vertically).

Also, there are two sides on either side of the line, too. The line is dividing the paper.

So which is it? I, personally, think it’s both, but you might not see it that way. You might have another answer entirely.

And that’s the point. There are usually two (or more) ways to view things. There generally are at least two opinions on how to solve the same problem.

Just because we think one way is the “right way” to do something, or the “right” thing to think or believe doesn’t mean that there aren’t other options.

Other people have the right to their own behavior and beliefs. Doesn’t matter if they’re right, wrong, demented, or nasty. Our expectations of what anyone else in the world should or shouldn’t do isn’t going to change the weather on Jupiter, is it?

There will always be at least two candidates running for office. We aren’t all going to support just one, even if the other is pure evil. (And even then nothing is certain!) There will always be differing opinions on politics, solutions to pressing problems - like the economy, poverty, healthcare, crime, etc.

And there are times when you’re absolutely right. Your mother-in-law shouldn’t be telling you how to raise your kids. The store clerk doesn’t have to be rude. And that jerk shouldn’t have cut you off in traffic. But guess what? They did.

So a good plan is to change the way we view this stuff. A line has two sides.

Allow others to have their own opinions and viewpoints. Instead of saying (or thinking!), “Wow, that’s just wrong!” Say or think instead, “That’s interesting. I see it a different way, but I’m glad to hear how someone else thinks.” (By the way, listening to others is a great way to learn new things.)

When we were kids, we were told to “keep our eyes on our own paper.” Don’t worry so much about what other people are doing. Recognize their perspective, accept their perspective, but keep your eyes on your own paper until their actions impact you negatively.

I’m going to steal two phrases that apply to things having two sides. The first is, “Be the change you want to see.” Be the example. Show others what you think is right, and how you’d like to be treated.

The second is, “Think globally, act locally.” You may feel strongly about an injustice or a situation that you believe needs changing. As individuals, we don’t have the power to fix things on a huge scale. So think of things you can do about it! For example, we can’t stop factories dumping pollutants into the environment. But we can join or support environmental groups, drive an eco-friendly vehicle, make sure we don’t waste, and recycle everything we can.

If someone crosses a line and treats you badly, set limits. Use Reflective Listening first. “It sounds like you think…” “I’m hearing that you want…” “It seems like your opinion is…”

The next step is to set a limit by using the XYZ formula. “When you do X, I feel Y, and I’d like Z.” Finally, offer a solution or ask to cooperate on one.

So let’s see what that sounds like…

“It sounds like you’re angry that I didn’t call you. When you get upset that I don’t fill you in on what client I’m seeing, I feel micromanaged, and I’d like that to stop. What can we do to keep you in the loop without me feeling micromanaged?”

“It seems like you’re upset that I made a mistake. When you point out my mistakes in front of the rest of the staff, I feel ashamed and discouraged. I’d like to speak to you privately when you have advice for me. When is a good time for you to talk about things like that?”

I think you get the idea. Another great thing to do is put yourself in someone else’s shoes. (Remember, the line has two sides!) What made them behave the way they did? Maybe they had an argument with their spouse this morning, or found a flat tire. Perhaps there was a lot of traffic, or their boss came down on them. It’s possible that they never learned how to be kind and caring, because they were raised in a dysfunctional environment. (Then it probably stinks to be them, right? It must be awful to be crabby all the time!) If their behavior crosses the line you can always set a limit, but by having compassion for what others are experiencing, it not only takes away some of our own irritation, but helps us stay calm during conflict.

There are always at least two perspectives to every story. There are at least two outcomes to nearly every event. Recognize that a line has two sides, and let the rest of the world own their side.


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