Monday, July 30, 2018

I wish you would

It's weird how adamant people are sometimes about making someone else try their favorite food.

You've seen this. Even if the person historically doesn't like the thing, doesn't like something IN the thing, or is otherwise resistant to eating the thing, some people won't let up. They're sure that you just don't like it because you've never tried it the way their brother cooks it, or they had it in a different country but not here, or they surely like something in the ballpark but maybe not that particular variety.

And then they won't. Stop. Pestering. Sometimes even to the extent that if possible, they will attempt to trick or pressure the person into eating the food.

Of course, this extends beyond food. People do this with their favorite books and movies, their favorite activities, introducing each other to their favorite people--humans are social and that's how it works. But instead of respecting each other when invitations to participate in someone's favorite thing are not received positively, it's very common to wheedle, beg, harass, pressure, and propose.

I get it, on one level. You enjoy the thing. You want the people you like to enjoy the thing too. It baffles you that they do not like the thing or have reasons for not wanting to experience the thing. So you default to assuming their reasons for not wanting to participate are not very important in the face of how good enjoying the thing is.

But the big issue with insisting and being persistent on an issue like this is that you're ignoring the damage you can do with your refusal to respect "no." 

If someone proposes something and the other person says no, the person who won't take "no" for an answer is either assuming the "no" isn't firm or assuming the "no" isn't reasonable. Either way, that person has decided that the pleasure that COULD potentially arise from experiencing the thing is worth risking any negative fallout. And because that person may not be listening or taking the other person seriously, it's easy to be insensitive or even cruel about downplaying that person's objections. 

I've had this happen on occasion. An example: A couple years ago, someone I know began describing a television show they enjoyed--a documentary series from another country in which viewers can actually watch patients get surgery. This is very, very far from my interests and I'm also sensitive to looking at images of blood and guts. When this person asked me to watch this program with them I declined, and then they began harassing me about it almost immediately--claiming the images were not or should not be unsettling to anyone, accusing me of having a complex, eventually telling me I needed therapy to "get over" this ISSUE I clearly have with looking at cut-open bodies because it's a normal thing to enjoy, and even accusing me of having a problem so pathological that I probably can't even get blood drawn for health reasons at the doctor. (This is not true. I have never declined medical treatment or testing due to my own aversion to blood and guts. I just don't look at the needles.) I was also told I was selfish for not trying to desensitize myself to such images because they wanted to watch the show with me. (They, of course, were not selfish for expecting this of me. My feelings are unreasonable; theirs are not.)

This is a common path for arguments like this. I left this conversation rattled that someone I otherwise had a good relationship would use such underhanded techniques to push me into watching a television show, of all things. I've seen other conversations that involved openness to entertainment, food, or experiences go the same way--the invited person is expected to stop having the sensitivities, tastes, desires, or preferences that are inconvenient for the proposer, and the invited person is portrayed as unreasonable, selfish, or pigheaded if they will not be "open-minded" to something they may actually have very strong feelings about. Those strong feelings, including aversions, moral obligations, and even allergies, are sometimes disrespected by people who just plain don't believe other people's convictions or feelings are as important as their own.

Before you project your wishes onto someone else and try to make them feel obligated to accept your expectations, you should think about the trade-off. If pressuring your friend or loved one results in their acquiescence, and they do indeed realize they enjoyed what you suggested, that's . . . a best-case scenario, I guess. And I won't deny that sometimes people who are resistant to an idea because it's unfamiliar can be led to enjoy a new experience because someone they loved encouraged them. 

But? Usually if you ignore what someone says about their willingness to try something (or even ignore that they've had the experience needed to say why they don't want to engage this content or experience), you're doing it at the risk of making your loved one feel harassed, pressured, cornered, maybe even unsafe, and most likely disrespected.

It really depends on your relationship with the person and also the other person's stability; some people will react to "come on, try it" with "okay, okay, FINE" and it won't be a big deal. But especially if there's a power differential (e.g., you are the person's parent, boss, or superior in some way), insisting that the other person defer to you is also potentially abusive, and it can be so even if you're not in one of those roles if the other person is vulnerable in some way. I'm not a particularly vulnerable person, but I was blown away by how awful it was to have someone take my refusal to watch actual footage of surgery on television and turn it into aggressive conversation about how I am exhibiting disordered thinking and need therapy. That's a bizarre reaction to someone not wanting to watch a TV show for a very common reason, right?

If the other person doesn't like milk, has issues with spicy food, hates horror movies, doesn't like crowds, is afraid of heights and doesn't want to ride the roller coaster, can't handle flashing lights, says they have a food intolerance or allergy, or isn't comfortable in that outfit, you should consider letting them set their limits and giving them the space to do so. You should want to communicate the following perspectives to them:

  • I accept your reasoning.
  • I am listening to you when you describe your experience.
  • I do not believe my experience is the same as yours.
  • I do not believe my desire for you to enjoy something trumps your objections.
  • I will not treat you like you cannot have a justified reason for avoiding this experience.
  • I will not risk my relationship with you over this.
  • I do not feel entitled to your humoring me and will not judge you or shame you if you will not.
  • I respect you as the arbiter of what experiences you would like to entertain.
  • I am not in charge of what thresholds of discomfort you are obligated to tolerate before I will treat you like you're reasonable.
  • I will not create a dynamic in which you must regard my preferences as the default or your own as a less reasonable alternative.
  • I will not accuse you of "overreacting" or "being too sensitive" if your thresholds are not the same as mine.
  • I understand that people have different senses, bodies, experiences, and backgrounds, and that these differences do make us able to enjoy and tolerate different things in the world. I will be respectful of those if you communicate to me how I should do that.
  • I will not use manipulative language to make you feel unsafe or disrespected.

I love when people enjoy my favorite foods, favorite television, favorite experiences. But I don't take it personally if someone has a reason for declining. And--this is key--even if that reason is that they just plain don't want to. Sometimes my friends are vegan and don't want to eat the butter in my cake, or sometimes they are allergic to soy and can't have the tofu dish I made, or sometimes they just plain DON'T LIKE STRAWBERRIES and won't eat my strawberry cake. That's okay. Sometimes my friends are epileptic and triggered by flashing lights so they can't play my favorite video game, or hate epistolary stories so don't want to read one of my favorite books, or find it difficult to watch my favorite show because it includes regular references to a dead mother. Yes, I wish I could share the thing. But do I want to create a gross atmosphere of pressure and disrespect on the off chance that they're wrong about themselves?

No. Never.

Sometimes they don't want to eat the strawberry cake because they can't stand seeds, and if I'm respectful enough when I ask about it, they might disclose this to me and I am able to give them a cake made with strawberry flavoring, not seeds. Maybe I can recommend the books or TV episodes that don't contain the content they have trouble processing. Maybe I can make suggestions or--here's a concept--just say it's actually okay if they go the rest of their lives not experiencing one thing I enjoy.

Get some perspective, y'all. Do you really want to be the person who causes anxiety, ruins or poisons relationships, or sets up a gross power dynamic over wanting the other person to have a POSITIVE experience? Are you prepared for how negative that experience may suddenly become because you failed to offer respect?

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