I am going to say something that may inspire feelings of rage inside of you. Ready? Here goes: The Star Wars prequels need to be revisited. Meaning, I think we need to watch them again and pay attention.
Please lower your baseball bats, torches, and large sticks while I explain. Yes, I am aware Jar-Jar Binks happened. Yes, I know THIS happened. I know THIS happened, as well as THIS. Yes, I am accepting of the fact that the three prequel films pale in comparison to the originals. All that aside, Lucas did one thing right: He created a villain that every guy today can relate to. No, not Darth Vader. I am talking about Emperor Palpatine.
Palpatine was driven by a quest for power, and his primary means to grab it were manipulation, passive-aggression, and deception. Ol’ Palpy played both sides of every fence, telling everyone what they wanted to hear, while maintaining loyalty to no one. He never took a stand on anything, but rather relied on opportunism. He made oaths he didn’t intend to keep. He rarely engaged in direct conflict. He allowed others to do the work, take the risks, while he just benefitted from their efforts. In the end his success was short-lived and short-sighted.
I know what you are thinking: How do guys today have anything in common with the evil galactic Emperor? Here’s how: to a large extent, our generation has embraced a passive approach to fulfilling our needs in life. Many of us have become pleasers, politicians, and indirect communicators in dealing with conflict, relationships, business, and even spirituality. We all desire power, but for many of us our approach to getting it actually leaves us powerless in the end.
What type of behavior am I referring to, specifically? Here are some examples:
*Your neighbor starts building a fence, waking you up every day for a week at six AM. Instead of confronting him about it face-to-face you write an email to the homeowner’s association.
*You disagree with your pastor’s decision making. Instead of asking him to meet with you to discuss it, you rally a posse to your cause without his knowledge to “confront him” at the next elder meeting.
*You give a friend a ride to the airport, expecting payback in the near future. You don’t tell him about the expectation, and when he doesn’t offer any payback on his own, you become resentful.
*A long-time friend offends you by cancelling a hang session. Instead of telling him how you feel, you just don’t contact him for months.
*A family member brings up a topic of conversation you don’t wish to discuss. You look away and act awkward, making the other person feel comfortable, in order to reinforce the fact that such topics should not be referred to in your presence again.
*You meet a person who is particular position of influence in your industry. In order to gain potential opportunities you pursue a friendship with the guy, who thinks you just enjoy hanging out with him. When he gives you a good “lead” that you cash in on, you start spending less time with him.
I realized recently we have fallen into this mentality for a number of very specific reasons. Cell phones and the internet have created a disconnected culture of texting and emailing. Most of us are not great communicators to begin with, and the outlet of digital connection allows us to choose laziness and avoidance. Also, many of us have parental wounds from dysfunctional families which taught us that our feelings do not matter. And when your feelings don’t matter, you subconsciously resort to indirect means to get your needs met, because a straight line will not help you acquire what you desire. “Guy code” also dictates that we don’t share our feelings, because that would expose us to potential rejection and shame-the two greatest evils to males. In the wake of this, the deceptive/pleasing/avoidant approach is the only alternative in our minds. Besides, who doesn’t want to be well-liked? Who wants to be the confrontational bad-guy?
On the surface, avoidance and non-confrontational manipulation has its merits. It helps you to escape from being at odds with people. By playing the “pleaser” you can garner reciprocal “back-scratching” from coworkers and people you are networking with. In relationships, it will help you get what you want without needing to have painful conversations. But what is the cost?
When you look a little deeper, It turns out the “Ol’ Palpy” approach to life is expensive. Much more expensive than the payoffs, or the alternative, in fact. First, avoiding conflict never extinguishes conflict. It only delays it. And in being avoidant you actually inflame the issue at hand, so that when it comes to the surface, the situation becomes more dramatic than it needs to be. Second, “pleasing” always breeds resentment. The yes-man always feels ripped off because his true feelings are never heard. And the people being manipulated always feel cheated because they feel like they never have a choice in the matter at hand. Third, passive/avoidant types usually have bad tempers. This is because a) their feelings are always bottled up, and b) they become trapped in situations they can’t get out of because they don’t want to step on any toes. Fourth, this type of guy usually ends up feeling isolated. When your goal is to avoid conflict you can hardly ever connect to anyone deeply-because that would require a level of vulnerability that is uncomfortable and risky. Also, “nice guys” tend to be anxious, because they spend so much energy on trying to make everyone around them happy.
The ultimate casualties in the equation are our courage, and ultimately, our character. The guy who avoids conflict and resorts to manipulation to get what he wants is afraid he can’t get it any other way. It’s impossible not to become a deceiver when you live this way, and in dishonesty there cannot reside respect or integrity. The net effect is a new breed of men who have no inherent power outside of the shadows.
Fellas, it’s time we learn to take our power back, and in the process restore our lost courage, confidence, and character.
1. Reprogram your thinking about conflict. Conflict is hard. It is scary. But it almost always produces lasting fruit. Be the type of guy that is willing to get in the mud and engage those around you with honesty, and you will find a new courage you never thought you had.
2. Practice assertiveness. This doesn’t mean flip/flop from the pleaser to the jerk. It means asking for what you want with kindness and tact. It also means saying no sometimes when saying yes might be easier. It means setting healthy boundaries with people who may have taken advantage of your generosity and kindness in the past. Even if it’s someone you have known for years, if you are assertive and stick to your guns without being coarse, harsh, or vindictive, they will respect you more than they did before.
3. Let your yes, be yes, and your no, no. This is straight from the Bible, guys. If you make a promise, stick to it. If you don’t intend to keep your word, then don’t promise it, even if it may sound good to the listener. Show up on time to meetings, and don’t make excuses if you are late. Don’t be a flake. I can’t tell you how much drama can be avoided if you become a person of your word.
4. Sacrifice short-term discomfort for long-term gain. Treat your relationships like savings accounts. With deposits of honesty you will become empowered, and before you know it, your confidence will have grown.
5. Realize people are not commodities, but humans with feelings. This is for all you networkers out there who scratch backs so you can reap something you want in return. Be up front about expectations and intentions in business, church, and social situations. Using people to get ahead while pretending you are their friend is the most surefire way to lose your ability have real friends. Take the slow-burn approach, and forge genuine relationships based upon mutual trust, not the “what-you-can-do-for-me” philosophy.
6. Take responsibility for your own needs. This is a tough one that requires repetition. If you want something to change in your relationships, talk to the person about it. If you feel like a friend is blowing you off, speak to them openly about it. If you want more affection or steak dinners from your wife, ask her for these things. You may not get everything you want from people, but you will get more this way, and without the attached resentment. You will also grow closer to the person in the process.
7. Embrace the fact you can’t please everyone. Stop relying upon the approval of others to make you feel self-assured. When you get approval from people that is based on projecting what they want to hear it’s a lie, anyways. This way, the people who do approve of you will be praising the real you, not an invented persona. And you will lose the stress attached to inevitable high-wire act that comes with trying to make everyone happy at once.
The result? Men become true leaders, instead of passive participants on the sidelines of life. Guys trade spurious power for real power. Used car salesmen become game-changing difference-makers. It takes practice, consistency, and commitment, but it is absolutely vital we change our thinking if we want to find courage, peace, and connection in this life. In the end, we will get more of what we want if we live in a direct manner-respect, friendship, loyalty, and influence.
Find the sand to grab your inner Emperor and toss him down an exhaust shaft. For the sake of all that is good in the galaxy.