let's call her Nicki Klemweff, wrote to me with an interesting
question about conflicts in my writings. I was originally going
to answer with a quote from one of my favorite pieces of writing
Emerson). The quote goes:
A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin
of little minds, adored by little statesmen and philosophers
and divines. With consistency a great soul has simply nothing
to do. He may as well concern himself with his shadow on the
wall. Out upon your guarded lips! Sew them up with pockthread,
do. Else if you would be a man speak what you think today in
words as hard as cannon balls, and tomorrow speak what tomorrow
thinks in hard words again, though it contradict every thing
you said today. Ah, then, exclaim the aged ladies, you shall
be sure to be misunderstood! Misunderstood! It is a right fool's
word. Is it so bad then to be misunderstood? Pythagoras was misunderstood,
and Socrates and Jesus, and Luther, and Copernicus, and Galileo,
and Newton, and every pure and wise spirit that ever took flesh.
But as much as I love that quote, it doesn't
answer her questions, and she had some legitimate questions that
I could actually answer. Here's what she asked:
I study the information on your site closely
because it has helped me so much. As a result, I have run across
the following points I can't get clear in my mind. I know from
experience that you do answer your email, and promptly at that.
I am not in a hurry, but as time permits, here is what I need...
I need to have the following quote...
Lets say you decide, Thats
just the way teenagers are.
Is that a good explanation? Well, its
better than, I cant make anything work, but
no, it is not a good explanation. Why? Because it implies that
the situation cant change until your kid is an adult. And
that may not be true. It is a way of accepting the
situation without feeling too bad about it. But it doesnt
help you accomplish your goal having a good relationship
with your teen.
Accept as natural the conflict between
parent and child.
Also, I would very much appreciate having
the following quote...
You can become more energetic in ten seconds.
Simply start acting more energetic.
You dont have to feel energetic to
be energetic. A nice bonus, however, is that often when you act
energetic, it will rev you up and make you feel energetic too.
In other words, act as though you were
If you are angry and want to be calm, act
as though you were calm. Do you feel weak and want to be strong?
Act as though you were strong.
Being yourself is the absence of something,
not the presence of something. It is the absence of forcing and
restraining yourself. If you force yourself to smile when you
don't feel like smiling, you're not being yourself. If you restrain
yourself from crying when you feel like crying, you're not being
Thank you so very much,
Here's my reply:
I am impressed! I have often thought that
someday someone would notice these, and you are the FIRST one
who ever has (and my web site has been online for ten years).
One of the problems I run into when trying
to keep articles short is that sometimes I don't go into detail
about the exceptions to the rule or the caveats. I read scientific
articles quite a bit, and of course, they give you a lot of detail,
which usually makes it boring or difficult reading, partly because
there are so many exemptions and qualifications that the main
point becomes hard to follow.
But for people like you who are really
paying attention, here is a little more detail: For your first
example, I have the word "accepting" in quotes because
it is not really acceptance. It is really resignation.
It is giving up on a goal you really want. And it is giving up
on a goal you could actually accomplish.
On the other hand, some things just "are,"
like the natural conflict of interests between a parent and a
But just because your interests conflict
doesn't mean you can't still have a great relationship with her
or him. In fact, it is much easier to have a good relationship
if you realize, understand, and accept the existence of that
natural conflict. As long as you have control over your child,
and responsibility for her or him, a good number of conflicting
interests will be unavoidable.
Does that answer reconcile the issue for
Your second one is a little more complicated.
First of all, I say "act as though you were happy,"
but that phrase is really a kind of shorthand (and therefore
somewhat imprecise) way of saying, "experiment with different
ways of breathing and walking, experiment with different postures,
different looks on your face, different ways of talking to yourself,
different ways of using your visual imagination and use
what you find to help you create the state of mind you want at
But there is another misleading and more
fundamental element in this, too. We think "being ourselves"
is a permanent thing, as if ideally you would learn to do that
ALL the time. But being yourself is a tool like any other. Sometimes
it's a good idea to use it, and sometimes it isn't.
If you were being mugged, for example,
and you see a cop coming up behind the mugger, catching him in
the act, you would of course be very happy, and if you were being
genuinely "yourself" you would APPEAR happy, but if
you did that, the mugger might do something dangerous, like use
you for a hostage in a getaway. So you pretend nothing is happening.
You'd probably use the tool called "poker face," right? And that would be
an intelligent thing to do. Being rigidly and always your authentic
self would be counterproductive.
Another example: Let's say you work in
customer service. You handle complaints for a company. Someone
calls and they're really angry and they say personally
insulting things, which genuinely angers you. If you were "being
yourself," not forcing or restraining, you would give the
person a piece of your mind.
On the other hand, your employer has
hired you to do a job. You have agreed to do that
job. You represent the company. It is an obligation of yours
to restrain yourself from lashing out and to force yourself to
be pleasant. At that time, and for that circumstance, it is wise
to choose NOT to "be yourself."
In other words, there are times to use
the tool, and times it would be smarter to use a different tool.
It depends on your intention. It depends on what you want at
When you want to be yourself not
for all time, but right now you know how to do it. And
when you want to feel better, you know at least one way that
might work to change your posture, breathing, the look
on your face, etc.
By the way, you can change the look on
your face in order to fool others into thinking you're
happy so they think better of you, or you can change the look
on your face as an experiment to see how it changes your
feelings. These may be the same action, but they will feel quite
different. Why? Because it depends on your intention.
Does that reconcile it for you?
I'm thinking of publishing this answer
as an article just for the few, the proud, the intelligent who,
every ten years or so, discover these inconsistencies. If I do,
would you want me to use your name and quote your questions exactly?
If not, I can summarize your questions in my own words and simply
call you a "discerning reader." Let me know, and thank
you for reading my work with so much commitment.
Nicki's response was a good summary.
Here it is:
Thanks to your concise explanation, I now
"Accept as natural the conflict between
parent and child" means: Realize that conflicts are to
be expected as you go about pursuing your goal a
better relationship with your teen. (Helpful idea.)
Whereas, "Thats just the way
teenagers are" means: Your goal a better relationship
with your teen is unreachable. (Demoralizing idea, which
was your point.)
Issue #2: You can become more energetic
in ten seconds. "Simply start acting more energetic"
means: Try mimicry as tool to toward pursuing your goal of
feeling better. (Helpful idea.)
Whereas: "If you force yourself to
smile when you don't feel like smiling, you're not being yourself"
means: Pretending to feel cheery when you don't is not an
effective way to pursue the goal of being authentic in a given
situation. (Also helpful idea.)
I had to smile at your use of the term
"tool" in your explanations. I have kept a list of
on a document called "toolbox" for years. To me, this
type of tool embodies the philosophy of self-help...not advice,
but insights distilled from research and experiences. These can
then be used as tools by an individual to HELP THEMSELVES live
Thanks so much for your kind response,
Read more: Does It Ruin Your Mood To Be Authentic?