When I tell people about Rethink Perfect, the Upside of Uncertainty, the universal reaction seems to be: “You can’t work out relationships! They’re too complicated!” followed by “It’s too time consuming to prepare for all the failures that can occur” and a final declaration that “We are all different and no one plan can fit all.”
Needless to say, I do not agree with their apparent certitude. I consider that the saying “He who fails to plan is planning to fail” applies to relationships as much as anything else that we do. As complex as people and their relationships are, humans are also blessed with an incredibly complex computing system: the mind. I believe this powerful internal computer can assist us in understanding ourselves, given some time and effort. The irony is that while many people spend vast quantities of time and effort planning their wedding day (or pay a fortune for someone else to plan it for them), they seem to balk at the thought of expending as much time and effort to consider improvements in their relationships. It is as though increased awareness might detract from their relationships, rather than enhance them. On the one hand, they seem to be looking for certainty, stability, security and commitment from their partner, but on the other hand, they desire spontaneity and believe they can’t get that with forethought. I think it is still possible to have both and that planning for such awareness can open up a relationship to so much more than we ever thought possible, and maybe even more.
The first thing you might notice is that the naysayers’ statements above are designed to goad me into renouncing “this folly”, and to conform instead to “accepted thinking”. Even though they may concede that they have not got the answers, they seem certain that I don’t have any either, and seem determined to make sure that I am not encouraged to continue my quest, deeming it a waste of their time and mine. I would say that that has been the general response from the vast majority of the people I have spoken with about relationships over the last 25 years. But instead of discouraging me, it was more like a red rag to a bull. The way that they seemed to “protest too much” convinced me that I might be onto something. That something, I now see, is an approach that encourages diversity of thought in two or more people; an approach that supports the free expression of these thoughts, rather than trying to quash new ideas, just because we did not come up with or understand them. Learning to appreciate feedback, regardless of how it is delivered, and attempting to modify my conversation so that others might someday be able to agree with it, seems to form the core concept of Rethink Perfect.
So, what is perfection, and does it exist? Can we have a “perfect” relationship, and is it worth planning for? Can perfection have failures? I guess these and many other such questions have been asked since the dawn of time. I will be attempting to answer these questions throughout this book, and I even have a few neat diagrams that help to clarify it. I do believe that “perfection” is a lot closer to us than we imagine, but is not what we may think it to be. For now, let’s look at two parts of a person that we all seem to have in common, and see if we can get a Rethink Agreement on these two points.
Our Ears: How many people do you know that enjoy being shouted at, or demanded of, in a tone that is laced with expectations? None that I know of.
Our Mouths: How many people do you know that could profess never to have complained about others behind their backs, or to have never assumed an angry tone in an attempt to coerce someone into acquiescing to their demands? None that I know of, either.
As you can see, these two human parts – ears and mouth – are not compatible and when combined, are likely to put stress on the workings of the relationship. This is not rocket salad and you don’t have to be Sherlock (that’s me) to realise that demands, and the aggression associated with them, are not conducive to happy relationships. Demands may produce short-term results, but the attendant stress can exact a high price, such as unhappiness, resentment, breakups – even ill health.
It is self-evident that aggressive demands are likely to happen because of our mouths, but are unacceptable because of our ears. Rethink Perfect has a series of rules, tools and agreements that anticipate the failure of these mismatched human parts. The proposed solutions have been put together by the investigation of what I call our Black Box recorder. We all have one, and when investigated or “data mined” through objective observations, these internal recorders can reveal a mountain of information, which is useful for exposing the common failures that occur in relationships, and allows for the creation of common solutions.
Independent Observations: I guess I am claiming that I can make such “objective” observations. So why do I claim such expertise? To date, I have never received a cent for anything I have written about relationships. I am not a member of any psychology or relationship organisation. I am not married. I have no boss. I am not an academic, and I am not an expert. I am not “dependant” on anyone for sex, money, power, support, or endorsement to boost my ego at present. I suppose that people who are in the trenches of a relationship, or who are affiliated with various organisations, might consider my ideas to be uncertain, underdeveloped and untested. I agree! That should encourage such readers to examine each concept so that they may spot errors in my logic, and offer me feedback. However, I feel that observers who are dependant on others might be less than objective. If there is validity to my philosophy, each person reading it might ask themselves, “Would I be willing to retrofit any of my existing relationships at the risk of losing them?” As you can see, this could explain why relationship theory has changed very little over the last 100 years, as compared to the other sciences.
Our Desire to be Always Right: In one of his latest books, Think Before It Is Too Late, Edward De Bono claims that if we can understand the brain’s mechanisms, then we can create the thinking “software” to cope with these processes. He also talks about self-organising systems and how our brain is one.
Self-organising systems are those that take the path of least resistance, such as erosion from water, for example, or the Law of Continuity and Flow Fields that Leonardo da Vinci espoused. (Think of the airflow over a wing or water flowing down a mountain.)
Rethink Perfect is about understanding the brain’s mechanisms to find the path of least resistance. Being “right” or a combination of certitude and the “desire to be always right” forms our path of least resistance in our thinking, but also forms a major problem. I think our desire always to be right is so strong that we seem to insist in making what is not necessarily right into “right”, so that we can claim that we have found the path of least resistance, to ourselves and to others. It’s a bit like fashioning a “god” or “truth” from a golden calf, because we don’t have the patience to wait for the “answer” to appear. Or the reverse can also be explained with the term “Cognitive Dissonance” or by the more commonly used expression, “sour grapes”. That is, if we fail to achieve our goal, we pretend it is not what we wanted in the first place, and falsely accuse the desired grapes of being sour.
If we don’t have the patience required to find what is actually “right”, or the honesty to say that it is only our opinion and potentially flawed, then we will continue to tell falsehoods to others and, more importantly, to ourselves. Worst of all, we actually believe these falsehoods. This explains why we say that we are our own worst enemy, because of this inbuilt bias towards our own certainty, or the desire to always be right.
So what thinking software am I proposing to counter this problem? Well, I think that it already exists and is called real conversation or conversing. It is through conversing that we can find out, from other people’s feedback, that what we thought was right was actually not. And this is where some rules of engagement, once agreed to, can assist us with our desire to always be right and the certainty that we actually are. By tapping into the same bias in others, we can naturally get them to act as the “devil’s advocate” to help us out of our own bias, just as we can help them out of theirs. As long as we both understand this principle, diverse thinking and expression will be encouraged from both of us.
Seeking Dissent and Diversity: On page 34 of Think Twice, Michael Mauboussin’s book on harnessing the power of counter intuition, he talks about seeking out dissent by finding data from “….reliable sources that offer conclusions different than yours. This helps avoid a foolish inconsistency”, and “When possible, surround yourself with people that have dissenting views. This is emotionally and intellectually very difficult but is highly effective in exposing alternatives.” Rethink Perfect is designed to reduce the emotional and intellectual difficulty of interacting with people with dissenting views.
In Guy Kawasaki’s book Enchantment, he talks about having a diverse team. “A diverse team helps make enchantment last, because people with different backgrounds, perspectives, and skills keep a cause fresh and relevant. By contrast when a naked emperor runs a kingdom of sycophants and clones, the cause moves towards mediocrity.” Rethink Perfect is my way of encouraging and maintaining diverse views during interpersonal relations.
Who Wants to be Wrong: Is there any question that we all desire to be always right, all the time? Okay. When was the last time that you wanted to be wrong? Or when was the last time that you admitted that you were wrong, and how easily does it flow off your tongue? Or when was the last time you said that you were sorry first, and then admitted that you were wrong or had made an error in judgment? I am sure you can do it, but not as often as the errors that you created in your previously flawed judgments. (I’ll bet that this is even hard to read now.) I can understand, as I still have trouble putting up my hand.
Why is it that we get angry or agitated so easily when someone does wrong by us? Even if the error was not done intentionally, we can still take it personally when things don’t go right (think of road rage). When was the last time you said to someone something like, “Good point, that beats my argument hands down”? Or when things don’t go our way we “lose it” and don’t even think twice about our anger and where it came from. Rethink Perfect is not only about thinking twice when we lose our cool, but also entails a willingness to evaluate and re-evaluate our thinking processes, in an attempt to avoid those actions that cause grief, both to ourselves and to the people around us.
Balancing the “Desire to be Always Right” is about realising first and foremost that when one of us loses it (our cool), we both have lost it (the plot). That getting angry and being right do not go together. It seems that our desire to be always right is so strong that we create all sorts of excuses and/or perpetrators to blame when things do not go right for us. More on this in chapter 8.
Still doubt that you desire to always be right? So, when was the last time you told someone to “get over it” or “let it go”, or simply refused to enter into a discussion with someone who had an issue with you? Did it ever cross your mind that this might be your way of protecting your desire to always be right? Rethink Perfect is about always being ready and open to engage in a discussion with anyone that has a problem with our behavior. The rules of engagement allow us to have the diverse conversations needed to resolve the effects that our errors have on our own and other people’s lives. It is a bit like the Black Box Recorder in a plane. In this case after a clash we can examine the contents and see where we went wrong and right during the process.
Our desire to be always right leads us to avoid making decisions or to do something different that could result in our being wrong or uncertain. This could explain how a lack of creativity can occur in people. At the same time, to maintain our facade, we put on a front of all-knowing. After all, how can we be certain if we don’t know everything? Bluffing and crafting answers from hearsay or loose interpretations, we appear to be wise. For example: how often have you used the phrase “I’m not sure” when you did not have a clue what the actual answer was? Surely it would have been more accurate to simply say, “I don’t know”.
A funny yet interesting experiment was carried out by Professor John Trinkaus, who is known for dedicating his academic life to the scientific observation of ordinary people going about their everyday lives. In his study “The Demise of Yes”, he plotted the verbal trends in providing an affirmative response to an inquiry. Of the 419 questions analysed, ‘yes’ was only used 53 times, whereas ‘exactly’ was the affirmation used 117 times, and ‘absolutely’ appeared 249 times.
The Desire to be Always Right is a Noble Desire!
The desire to be always right is not inherently a bad thing, it just has a few cracks in it. And as Leonard Cohen says, “…that’s how the light gets in.” After all, it is only a desire isn’t it? Unchecked by friends and family, the cracks can grow but as far as a desire goes, I think it is probably the key to human survival (and prosperity) up to now and probably for a while to go.
When he was 12, my nephew said to me, “You can’t always think that you’re always right, all the time”, like it was a bad thing and I should stop doing it. My more primitive defensive response at the time was “ditto”, but after a few months of rethinking, I came up with a responsible reply. Imagine traveling down a highway full of indecisive drivers. If they did not think that their decisions were right, they probably wouldn’t get very far. No, I am grateful for this very precious desire that has kept me alive and well for this long. Thinking that I am always right, all the time, (at the time), to me is not the problem; however, “knowing” that I am always right is indeed problematic.
Just imagine that we always thought that we were always right, all the time, at the time (nano second) of decision making; that we needed to believe that we were perfectly right or certain in order to make instantaneous decisions; that we lived in a virtual paradox, where we knew that we could be wrong about the next thing we thought about and the last decision we had made. But for the briefest of instantaneous moments, representing “now” or the present, we thought that we were perfectly right. If this were so, then that would mean for any given day, we could average some 20 perfectly right decisions a minute or some 20,000 of them daily. I believe that this is how our mind actually works.
Imagine the effects such thinking could have on our general thinking and planning. Heck, it might even explain how people can claim that they can guarantee to stay with someone for a lifetime, almost as though they could make an instantaneous thought last a lifetime. However, we all know the statistics: as many as 1 out of 2 reading this have already experienced the effects of having such unrealistic promises made to them, or perhaps have found themselves on the promise-making side of the equation.
For this reason, I have created/discovered “Rethink Perfect” as a counter balance for our “perfectly right” decision-making brain. It is intended to fight the effects that such biased thinking can have on us, especially if we are unaware of this process as we make snap decisions. “Perfectly right” has a tendency to ooze out into other parts of our thinking, on either side of “now”. In my diagram below, it can even explain how we can actually achieve or touch on perfection during the day-to-day, to-ing and fro-ing, power play (driven by our bias) in a relationship. For a split second, as the power shifts to the other, we touch upon or cross over this perfect balance point or Agreement Point, in the centre.
1. The square is an ideal relationship with the fullest are used
2. The parallellagram is a compromised relationship, area is reduced, that occurs at times
in diagram 2 when the two people enter into the resentment or RED area and have a bitter dispute.
Keeping the relationship out of resentment, caused by a bitter dispute, is obviously the goal.