Bad act vs. bad person — preferences and rationalizations

Have you ever felt that it is hard to say no to a decent person?

I for sure have. Many times, we feel a need to find a problem with the person, and make them wrong before saying no to them. We feel a need to think a few ahead about what they might think and say, and how we might respond and so on!

A case in point. A friend has a hard time keeping distance from a relative. They try to find what’s wrong with the relative which helps them keep their distance and say no to their requests. But then some events happen that make him question his belief about the relative being bad. Then they go close again because they had a bad reason to keep the distance, and the whole cycle begins.

One possibility that they don’t consider is: they just don’t gel well together, that is all. They are decent people who don’t gel well together.

A friend once told me: Yogi, why do you have such a hard time saying a simple no? He was asking me about going somewhere together, and I said no, I cannot because yada yada yada. He stopped me in the middle and said I did not have to give a reason for saying no. The fact that I don’t feel like it is a good enough reason, especially if my decision does not infringe on other people’s freedom.

One reason we have a hard time stating our preference without giving any reason is that it makes us seem more emotional. In a society that values rationality beyond almost anything, it is hard to accept that we are acting based on our emotions and feelings. We want to rationalize it, although rationalizations are mostly afterthoughts anyway. We first make a decision, and then try to rationalize it.

This arises often in my coaching with people too. People feel a need to label a person bad, instead of just an act as bad, and reducing the dissociation from them. They (and me included) have a hard time just seeing a bad act as a bad act, without letting that badness seep into the character and moral judgment of the person.

What if we tried expressing our preferences and feelings without rationalizing them?

It is wise to start with small things, that have little consequences, but that still might be difficult internally for us because they make us question our identity — how can I be unreasonable, e.g.

It is also wise to start with issues where we are not affecting other people too much and especially not in an irreversible way.

Taking such intuitive decisions is also like building muscle and habit. It takes some time to get used to it. So, what is one intuitive decision you will take today without rationalizing it?

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