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Some thoughts on relationship rules

The main post office for the Tampa Bay area is near my office; I tend to have to go there fairly often. Attached to the post office is a United States Passport Office as well. Might not seem like that has anything to do with relationships, but I'm getting there, I promise...

The Passport Office is a single tiny room, about eight feet by twelve feet, and there's a desk and about four or five chairs in it. Whenever I go to the post office, on any given day there are about 25 or 30 people waiting to get passports.

Now, I've never had to get a passport, but even assuming the people who work in the passport office are phenomenally efficient for bureaucrats (which I doubt) and can process each person in about two minutes (which I doubt), that means those 30 people are waiting there for an hour or so.

There's no room in the passport office for thirty people, so every time I go to the post office I see a lot of people waiting in the tiny concrete courtyard just outside the passport office. The courtyard is ringed by a low concrete wall, about three feet high.

The wall is plastered with signs that say "Do Not Sit on Wall." It seems clear what's happened here--people go to the passport office, they end up waiting for an hour (or, likely, a lot longer), there's no room in the office for them, and there's no place to sit. So, they sit on the wall, somebody somewhere didn't like people sitting on the wall, a rule was made, signs were printed and stuck to the wall.

What's interesting is that it seems the bureaucrats did not think about why people were sitting on the wall. People were sitting on the wall because there's no place else to sit, and because standing on concrete for an hour or more is no picnic. Had the bureaucrats actually wanted to solve the problem, there was no need to pass a "no sitting on the wall" rule; all they really needed to do was put some benches out in the courtyard, and let people sit on those.

I've been in relationships with similar rules. It seems like a very human impulse to say "I don't like people doing X, so the way to address people doing X is to tell them not to do X;" it's much more difficult to say "I don't like people doing X. Why are these people doing X? Why don't I like people doing X? Is there some change i can make in my environment such that people won't do X any more, or some change i can make in myself such that when someone does X, it doesn't bother me?"

In the past several years, I've tried to make a conscious effort, whenever I'm thinking about or talking about relationship rules, to identify the "whys" behind my behavior, the behaviors of my partners, and the things about those behaviors that are significant to me or to them, and then put chairs in the courtyard rather than putting signs on the wall. The results, both in terms of the way my relationship structures look and in terms of my own personal happiness, have been nothing short of amazing.

Sometimes, a little change in worldview makes all the difference.

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Comments

( 19 comments — Leave a comment )
dawnd
Jun. 2nd, 2005 03:45 pm (UTC)
Brilliant, as usual.
dawnd
Jun. 2nd, 2005 04:14 pm (UTC)
So brilliant, I linked to it, in fact. Hope you don't mind (figured it was OK since this was public, and you've always said yes before :^): http://www.livejournal.com/users/dawnd/166581.html. I can change it if it's a problem.

I think this is a great non-relationship illustration of the principal that needs WILL get met, one way or another. Signs on the wall can work temporarily, while you figure out if you need chairs inside or benches outside, or maybe an appointment system instead. But as you have noted, sooner or later, people end up sitting on the wall if there are no alternatives, whether or not there are signs there.

Mind if we use this example in our coaching and teaching? Your website already appears in several of our resource lists. :^)
tacit
Jun. 2nd, 2005 04:39 pm (UTC)
Not at all! Feel free to link to any public entry you like. :) I'm quite flattered, in fact. If oyu want to use this example, by all means, please do so.
dawnd
Jun. 2nd, 2005 09:35 pm (UTC)
Credit where credit is due, sir. Your insights are often keen, and you have a clear way of speaking/writing.

In fact, this morning Akien and I did that affirmation ritual for me that we had been planning to do yesterday. And already in the course of that, we have said "install chairs!" several times. This is obviously going to be a catch phrase for us. :^)
skitten
Jun. 2nd, 2005 03:49 pm (UTC)
I've been in relationships with similar rules. It seems like a very human impulse to say "I don't like people doing X, so the way to address people doing X is to tell them not to do X;" it's much more difficult to say "I don't like people doing X. Why are these people doing X? Why don't I like people doing X? Is there some change i can make in my environment such that people won't do X any more, or some change i can make in myself such that when someone does X, it doesn't bother me?"

I think most of us are too busy trying to stay in our comort zones to figure out why we bring things we don't enjoy into our lives...
It's way too easy to just avoid that issue isn't it?
But now you've got me thinking about it...
hmmmm
joelzero
Jun. 2nd, 2005 04:50 pm (UTC)
This is a very NVC concept. As the inventor of NVC said, "We already know how to do this, we just often forget to."
dandyloo
Jun. 2nd, 2005 07:37 pm (UTC)
Wow, thanks for the link to the NVC site! I just bookmarked it. It will be good to have something to look at now that we are done with classes.
sarahmichigan
Jun. 2nd, 2005 05:32 pm (UTC)
Great insight. Thanks.
dandyloo
Jun. 2nd, 2005 07:38 pm (UTC)
Thanks to dawnd, I was privileged to read that. Thank you for it. It will be one of my favorites.
violet_tigress1
Jun. 2nd, 2005 08:45 pm (UTC)
and then put chairs in the courtyard rather than putting signs on the wall.

That would make far to much sense
wolfieboy
Jun. 2nd, 2005 11:37 pm (UTC)
Re: whys
That's an excellent example and I really like the change in viewpoint that you offer. Thanks!
papertygre
Jun. 3rd, 2005 03:13 am (UTC)
Hear hear!
papertygre
Jun. 3rd, 2005 03:31 am (UTC)
I think this advice goes for parents and their relationship with children, too.
tacit
Jun. 3rd, 2005 05:04 pm (UTC)
Good point.

Everythig I know about raising children would fit in the white space of a postage stamp, but I bet you're absolutely right.
datan0de
Jun. 3rd, 2005 06:29 pm (UTC)
FYI, raising children is no different than raising any other kind of zombie. You just don't need as much goat blood.
tacit
Jun. 3rd, 2005 09:21 pm (UTC)
NOW he tells me...AFTER my vasectomy and about $450 a month in goat's blood...
vvvexation
Jun. 10th, 2005 02:18 am (UTC)
Oh, absolutely. This post reminded me uncomfortably of my stepmom, to whom it would never have occurred to put in benches because seeing to her own comfort wasn't her job, dammit.
komradebob
May. 24th, 2007 08:28 pm (UTC)
Advice for life
Heck, I think it applies to most of life...
katrinahawke
Jun. 3rd, 2005 09:15 pm (UTC)
Greetings!

Brilliantly said! Worldview and the willingness/ability to change it are some of my recurring themes also. Asking also for permission to use... if EZBoard ever restores our board, Menagerie, I'd like to post it there, if that's ok.

Thnx!
-K
( 19 comments — Leave a comment )