Friday, June 15, 2012

On Presentation over Principles

Think for a moment about the last time you learned a great lesson, changed your mind, or experienced significant growth because someone condescended to you or made you feel shamed and judged.


Nothing?  Me neither.

I've been learning this difficult lesson lately... I'm calling myself out more than anything.

About 9 months ago, I wrote about my decision to pursue a career as a nurse-midwife.  Then, finding out how much time, money, and schooling it would take, I decided to set my sights on a goal more achievable for where I am in life right now.  I know I'll put "CNM" behind my name someday, but for right now I'm gaining invaluable experience as a labor doula.

The biggest thing I've learned since I started this journey isn't any fact about the birth industry, medical intervention, hospital policy, stages of labor, birthing positions, or any other practical aspect of my job (although I've learned volumes of practical stuff)... my biggest lesson has been this:

The best advice, the most sound information in the whole world, when offered not in love but out of a desire to manipulate or to impose my own values, can never be effective.  You could be completely right, but no one will listen because the way we share information is so much more important that the information itself.  Presentation trumps principles, and if you present the principles in an alienating and offensive way, you lose people.

Going through my training, I've realized how many strong biases I have about the birth industry.  How quickly I give my opinion without being asked.  How little it takes to set me off on a statistics rant.  How easily I judge someone for making a decision that I wouldn't.

I already know how much I hate dealing with these behaviors in other people.  We all have friends who share their opinions in such a loud, militant, black-and-white way.  We all know people who we feel judged by.  After a while, we become so turned off that we begin to dismiss them as fanatics of this-or-that and simply ignore them.

This is the first time I'm seeing myself this way.  Truthfully, I have the very best intentions.  I want so much for women to have birth experiences that allow them to walk away feeling positive and empowered that I often come off as adversarial and insensitive in my effort to educate them.  I've realized that positive and empowering birth experiences are greatly varied for different women and that my very positive natural birth experience isn't the ideal for each of my clients.  Now, I'm learning how to set aside the emotions connected with my ideals and just help women have their best birth... whatever it looks like.

When I present a choice as incontrovertibly right or wrong, I am imposing my choices, my values over yours, instead of sharing my opinion and allowing you to decide what is best for you.  Condescension, shame, and guilt are very poor ways of helping people see things from your viewpoint.  Likewise, refusing to consider any viewpoint but your own is a great way to isolate yourself.

"There's a difference between loving to speak the truth and speaking the truth in love." -Kris Vallotton

When I first read that quote, I was horrified to find myself squarely in the former group.  Now, I'm learning to be more merciful in the way I share my opinions on all those things that divide like birth and parenting and politics and theology.  I'm trying my best to share my passions in a way that says, "This is what I do and why I do it..." without implying (overtly or otherwise) "...and if you don't, you're wrong, wrong, wrong."  I still get caught up in the need to be right, and it's then that I remind myself: presentation trumps principles.  I'll never foster true, open discussion if all I want to do is talk about how right I am.


Linda said...

Very well put. We can all improve in this area, I'm sure.