A Task or a Favor?

Unless you live alone, you probably have tasks or chores in your home that are divided up as to which ones get done by which person, and those may or may not vary.  In some households, certain chores are considered women’s work while others are thought of as a man’s job, and some people have difficulty crossing the lines.  In other households, there is not as much of a distinction.  I know a few stay-at-home dads and other men who are not hesitant to clean bathrooms, mop floors, do laundry, or cook, and I also know women who do more of the handy work around the house and are not afraid to use power tools, snow blowers, or drive tractors.  However you divvy them up, you may or may not be seeing tasks or chores the same way as others in your household.

What I mean by that is that some people like myself see dishes, laundry, raking, shoveling, taking out the garbage, and so many other things as tasks that need to get done, and whoever is available or capable of doing them is free to and should chip in and help whenever they can.  I do not have tasks that I claim as mine that I don’t like other people to do.  I’m happy to have the help if anyone else is willing, and I am happy to get whatever done that I am capable of doing, with few exceptions.  I prefer to not cut the grass, not because I think it’s a man’s job, but because I very much dislike the smell of freshly cut grass, especially when combined with sweat and gasoline.  I do, however, enjoy raking and don’t mind shoveling.  I do all of the indoor tasks (with some help doing dishes and cooking) and will do some of the outdoor stuff such as pruning bushes, watering the lawn, and weeding.  I like to paint as well and always help with those projects, sometimes doing much of the work myself.

Perhaps you see tasks the same way I do, or perhaps you view some as not your responsibility and if you happen to do them, then you are doing someone else in the house a personal favor by doing their job for them.  I believe my husband sees certain tasks in this manner, and I know others who do as well.  I think that’s fine as long as when you do them, you are doing them to be helpful without being resentful and are not expecting a favor or a big fanfare in return.  Otherwise, unless you are lucky enough to live with a really thoughtful and appreciative person, you are just setting yourself up for frustration and more resentment when you don’t get the recognition and/or reward that you are expecting.  I would hope that if you see tasks in this fashion and someone else does something that would be considered your responsibility, that you are not stingy on showing your appreciation and reward that person in the same way you would expect to be.

I do think the best model to set for your kids is a team approach where everyone chips in either with or without assigned tasks and without defining things as women’s or men’s work.  And I believe that should include the kids as they get old enough to help with smaller tasks such as setting or clearing the table or helping with garbage and eventually moving up to bigger responsibilities such as raking and shoveling or mowing the lawn.  Whether or not they receive an allowance for doing these things is a whole separate topic.  Learning a variety of skills will only be helpful later in life, if and when you live alone, so you don’t have to depend on too many other people to do things for you.  And I think you will have a better chance of not getting into disagreements with a partner later in life or feel resentment towards them if you don’t have such rigid definitions of who should do what tasks, should you end up with someone who does not have the same expectations.  The more flexible and open minded you are, the easier it is to work together.

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Being Open-Minded

I believe there are multiple parts to being open-minded.  The first is not being judgmental, which encompasses avoiding putting labels on people or putting them down because they are different.  The second would be giving people the benefit of the doubt and not being so quick to assume what their intensions might be or what they are going to say or do.  A third is to not be so set in your ways and how you view the world around you.

Unfortunately, I think we live in a society that breeds people being judgmental.  Many people are too quick to form opinions of people and situations without really getting to know the person or the facts pertaining to the situation.  We’re quick to not only form an opinion but also express it, and sometimes we are being overly critical.  We should be embracing people’s differences rather than making people feel they need to fit a certain mold.  There are plenty of people I know who could stand to be a little (or a lot) less critical of others when maybe that person made a poor choice that didn’t really harm anyone.

Giving people the benefit of the doubt is difficult for many people, especially if they are more of a pessimist and tend to look for negatives.  Assuming the worst in people is a hard mentality to break, particularly if you have had numerous negative experiences with others and have formed some very negative opinions of particular people, a particular group of people (the opposite sex, for example), people in general, or the world in general.  Even when that’s not the case though, it is sometimes difficult to not make a negative assumption of what someone is trying to say or do.  When you expect people to let you down or do the wrong thing, that is often what happens.  It is always better to listen and give people a chance.  This is something I am not always good at with a few particular people in my life who have disappointed me previously.  Being more optimistic and open-minded isn’t all there is to it in every circumstance, but it might help the relationship or situation from getting worse.

The people I know who are quick to form opinions are sometimes the same people who are reluctant to change their opinions once they are formed, even after they have learned new information.  Perhaps they are stubborn and/or don’t like to admit they are wrong.  I think this is a contributing factor to being set in your ways.  Another part of it is understanding that we were all raised differently with different experiences, values (or lack of, in some cases), expectations of our roles and how people should treat each other, and so on.  Many people have a certain expectation of how their marriage will be, based on what their parents’ marriage was like.  If your spouse was raised in a very different environment, then there are bound to be obstacles to overcome, many of which may have to do with expectations of each other that are different.  If you are set in your ways and don’t realize that your parents’ viewpoints or the way you were raised aren’t the only way, then you may have difficulty making compromises or working as a team to navigate through life together.  If you are not open to trying new things or doing things differently than you have in the past, that can make things difficult as well.

The bottom line is that the more open-minded we can be about people, situations, expectations, ways of doing things, other people’s opinions, the other side of the story, the way people look, the way people think and feel, and so many other things, the better chance we have of getting along and making a positive impact to the world around us.

open minded

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There are a multitude of reasons that lead to misunderstandings.  And whether we like to admit it or not, often times they have to do with our own perception of the situation.  Many times we are making assumptions about what the other person does or doesn’t know or understand, which may not be correct, and the other person may then get frustrated or feel insulted.  There are those people who often assume that a straight-forward question or statement is somehow an attack or criticism of them when it was not intended to be, and they react according to how that is making them feel (I discuss this in my post titled “Over-Interpreting”).  There could be perceived animosity because of the person’s tone of voice or how we hear them say it in our heads when we are reading what they wrote.  With some people, it is difficult to tell if they are being sarcastic and/or humorous or really mean what they are saying. And of course, there is always the possibility that what we are saying or writing is not being interpreted in the same way as what we are trying to convey, either because we are not being as clear as we think we are, or simply because there is often more than one way to interpret things.  There are other reasons as well, but these are the ones I seem to have the most experience with in my life.

Listening to what someone is saying or reading what they have written without all the negative filters can be very difficult for some people.  They may not even realize they are doing it, or if they do, they may not want to admit it, and they may not be willing to or know how to do things differently.  Once some of these habits are formed, they are very challenging to break.

It amazes me how easy it is to think negative thoughts sometimes and how difficult it can be to remain positive, but I think that ties in with our expectations and assumptions.  It seems the more negative experiences you have with a person, the more apt you are to interpret their words and actions through a filter of negativity. And if you grew up in an environment full of criticism and bitterness, then chances are much greater that you are going to view things with a negative perspective. When more than one person is guilty of letting their negative filters cloud their perception, things tend to escalate even more quickly. Sometimes I get eyes being rolled and frustrated facial expressions from my husband before a single word comes out of my mouth. I think he assumes I am going to scold him or something every time I speak to him, so as soon as it looks like I’m about to say something he reacts negatively in anticipation, which certainly doesn’t help matters.

The best thing to do, of course, is to give people the benefit of the doubt, but for many of us, those negative assumptions and thoughts are quick to pop into our heads, which puts us on the defensive.  Unfortunately, this is one of those things for which there is not an easy fix.  It’s a whole mind set, which is very difficult to change. Part of it comes down to being a good listener in general but also listening with an open mind and not a pre-conceived notion of what the other person is really trying to say, which I will address in my next post.

misunderstanding 2

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Your Reputation

It’s funny how people who have good character don’t seem to worry much about what people are thinking or saying about them.  They know they are good people and are not motivated by what people think of them in the first place.  They give to others, for example, because they know it makes others feel good, which makes them feel good in return, not because it will make them look good.  People say positive things about them because they are positive people with positive qualities.  Their reputation speaks for itself, so they don’t need to try to make themselves look good.

On the other hand, I know someone in particular who is always worried about me speaking negatively about him, yet he has plenty of negative qualities that he doesn’t feel he needs to change.  For example, he will say whatever he needs to say to get whatever he wants, even if it means being deceitful or asking others to be deceitful as well and making others look like they don’t know what they are talking about, all to prevent him from getting caught in a lie and looking bad.  If I do point out anything negative that he does, he tries to turn it around as if I am so much worse of a person for pointing out anything negative about him than he is for doing those things in the first place.  I am supposed to work harder at not saying anything negative about him, yet he can continue to be as disrespectful and deceitful and whatever other negative qualities as he wants.  That seems really fair.  Basically, his reputation speaks for itself as well.  He just doesn’t get that.  Perhaps he is so concerned about what I might say about him because he knows there are PLENTY of negative things I COULD point out about him.  If that weren’t the case, then he wouldn’t have anything to worry about.  I have said numerous times that if he doesn’t want anyone to ever say anything negative about him, then he shouldn’t keep doing all of the negative things that he does.

The best way to have a good reputation is to earn it by having good character and doing the right thing in the first place, not by covering your tracks in any way possible, especially at the expense of others, and by making anyone who points out any of your flaws look like the bad guy.  That just makes you look even worse to people.  It may take some people longer than others to see them, but your true colors will always come shining through eventually.  You won’t need to toot your own horn to impress anyone either if you focus on having good character because you won’t have to try to make yourself look better than you really are.


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Having the Last Word      

This is definitely an issue in my house and I’m sure in a lot of homes.  For some people, getting the last word is so important … much more important than resolving an issue, admitting they were wrong, apologizing, maintaining a good relationship, and so on. It’s a power or control thing.

In my experience, people who always need to be right or in control aren’t really all that interested in resolving issues, making improvements, or doing things that involve accommodating others.  All they want to do is blame everyone else for their behavior and attitude and have no interest in backing down or admitting they are part of the problem.  That makes for a very challenging relationship with people like this who don’t ever want to be accountable for their actions.

I definitely see a connection between people who don’t like to listen and those who like to always have the last word.  It’s like they can’t get out of their own head long enough to listen to anyone else or try to see things from someone else’s perspective. They have it all figured out, so there’s no point in trying to put themselves in someone else’s shoes or give them the benefit of the doubt.

I sometimes get accused of going on and on about an issue that is being discussed, and along with that sometimes comes a comment about me needing the last word.  That is not at all why I might continue a “discussion”.  It is either because I don’t feel like I have been heard for a variety of reasons so I may need to repeat a main point, perhaps I thought of another point I’d like to make, or often the person with whom I am having a “discussion” will throw out some ridiculous statement I disagree with as they are walking away that I feel I need to address.  I am definitely NOT trying to have the last word.  It would be nice if everyone else in my house wasn’t always trying to do so though so I didn’t have to have the debate in my head as to whether I should just walk away and end things or go ahead and address the ridiculous comment.

It would also be nice if there were more concern with actually trying to resolve an issue and end a “discussion” on a more positive note than just getting the last word in no matter what that ends up being.  Like I said at the end of my last post, one of the best ways to get the last word in a discussion is to apologize, or at least say something positive instead of something punitive.

last word 2

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Apologies seem to be difficult for a lot of people, but they are so very important.  For many people that I know, it seems like even admitting they are wrong about something is challenging.  (I have addressed this issue in a previous post titled “Owning Your Mistakes”.)  For them to go the extra step of actually apologizing is something not likely to happen.  Or if they do, it’s probably not sincere.  A sincere apology is definitely not asking someone, ”So are we good?”  It should definitely sound like you understand your part in whatever situation and how it negatively impacted the other person, even if it was something that you did or said that was perceived as being wrong.  Even if you don’t think you are wrong, it never hurts to apologize for giving the other person the impression you had ill intents.  (For more thoughts on the importance of sincerity and what I think a sincere apology SHOULD sound like, see my previous post titled “Sincerity“.)

An apology shows that not only are you willing to admit that you were wrong about something (if you were) but also that you have remorse for doing so and that you care enough about the other person to make things right.  Often without an apology, it doesn’t ever feel like an issue really got resolved or that it won’t happen again.

That’s the other piece of the puzzle – trying not to make the same mistake again.  If you are truly sorry, then you will make that effort because it doesn’t matter how many times you apologize, the words won’t mean anything if you don’t do things differently moving forward.  In other words, your actions always speak louder than your words.  If you don’t make any changes, it becomes clear to the other person that you really aren’t sorry and don’t care that you hurt their feelings, caused them stress and frustration or extra work, betrayed their trust, or whatever the case may be.  Of course, if you don’t actually understand these things, then you probably don’t see why an apology is necessary. So it’s all interrelated.  If you can see the big picture and understand how your actions impact others, you probably already understand the importance of apologizing, even if it’s just to say you’re sorry that you don’t see eye to eye on a particular situation at the moment. If you don’t, then you probably have a number of things to work on, including how and when to apologize.  If anything, it’s a good way to wrap up a disagreement on a more positive note.


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Actions Speak Louder Than Words

Who hasn’t heard that phrase before?  It’s one of those things we hear over and over, but I’m not sure how many people actually internalize it.  I think the same can be said about the phrase, “Treat others the way you want to be treated.”  Sometimes the two go hand in hand.

A parent who scolds their child for lying yet clearly tells lies in front of them doesn’t understand that actions speak louder than words.  They are teaching their child by example that lying is acceptable.  Parents who park in handicapped spaces teach their kids by example that you don’t need to abide by the rules, even though they may be telling their children otherwise.  The same can be true for remembering your manners, swearing, how to treat people, procrastinating, eating habits, showing appreciation, how to respond to people, how to handle various situations, and SOOOOO many other things.  Basically, what you say to your children has far less impact than what you do in front of them.  If you make empty promises or threats and don’t follow through with a consequence or even finish counting to three when that’s what you said you were going to do, the child learns pretty quickly that you don’t mean what you say.  That is a tough one to keep in the forefront of my mind because I want my kids to do the right thing and not have to give them a consequence, but in the long run, it sends the wrong message if I don’t follow through and makes things more challenging down the road.  This one I have learned the hard way.

I have a relative who seems to think that as long as he tells someone he loves them at the end of a phone conversation (if someone happens to call him) or as he is hugging someone goodbye on the rare occasion he sees them in person, that’s enough.  He doesn’t feel he needs to pick up a phone to call, spend much time with anyone face to face, or do anything else that would let that person know they are important to him. They should just know that he loves them because he tells them once in a while.  My husband sort of has the same attitude (hmmm…I wonder how much of a coincidence that is), although I would say the way he has treated me is even worse.  He doesn’t understand that you can’t tell someone you love them and at the same time not only put forth very little effort to show that person how much they mean to you but also completely disrespect them every chance you get, and yet still expect that person will still think so highly of you and love and respect you in return.  His actions speak volumes more than his words.

So not only should you choose your words carefully, but you should be even more conscious of your choice of actions.  And most importantly, the two should go hand in hand as much as possible.  In other words, your actions need to back up your words.  I find myself sometimes even explaining my actions to my kids so they will understand why I reacted a certain way for example, and hopefully they won’t get the impression that my actions and words are saying two different things.  I feel at their age they still need a little help with interpreting things, but hopefully as they grow to be adults and on their own, they won’t need that guidance anymore.  I wish I didn’t have so many examples of poor choices of behavior being set for them that I feel I need to address and that they could just learn by positive example.  Hopefully, they are getting the message somehow that actions will always trump words.

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