My morning reading, titled It’s in Your Self-Interest, began with a quote from Seneca that Holiday and Hanselman explain with a question.

Is there a less effective technique to persuading people to do something than haranguing them?

I knew the answer. But I couldn’t believe this message dropped, along with my jaw, today. It’s the guidance I asked for during a restless night. It’s the clarity I craved when I woke.

In the next paragraph, the lesson I needed goes on.

If you find yourself trying to persuade someone to change or to do something differently, remember what an effective lever self-interest is. It’s not that: this or that is bad, it’s that: it is in their best interest to do it a different way. And show them—don’t moralize.

Show Them

It’s hard—isn’t it?—watching a loved one do something that will not turn out well.

My head is full of all the reasons that their choice or behavior is not in their self-interest. My heart is full of love and compassion for their self-interest. The head and heart are, for once, in sync.

But if I enter with megaphones and pronouncements, they’ll stop listening. If I hammer them with all my good reasons and concerns, I’ll pound them away and further into the behavior or situation that in the end will be unsatisfying if not outright disastrous for the very life and happiness they yearn to secure.

A daughter making a questionable career choice? Your friend choosing escape through substance over sobriety? The son squandering his money? My loved one marrying an incompatible partner out of pressure or fear of loneliness? In these situations, it’s hard to step back and reach only for the compassion and love of the heart while all the logic and reasons burn holes through the head.

The path through this? Surrender my reasoned thoughts like swords on a battle field. Seek peace of heart even if they make choices that jeopardize their happiness.

Your Self-Interest Is Outside of Me

How do I show them their self-interest is in peril? How do I help them without badgering them?

Showing is a challenging task because it’s quiet, kind, and painfully slow, when all I want to do is scream, shake their shoulders, and quickly (not slowly) knock some sense into them. This task requires that I reach beyond morality and judgment, beyond my opinion around their choices for job, sobriety, money, and love. Harder still is parsing out the words that should be shared.

In that balance of love and concern and holding space for loving them no matter what, another stoic lesson helps me: your self-interest is outside of me, outside of my control. 

I’m still sorting out the answers to the questions posed here. I salute all of you familiar with or in the middle of this struggle, especially those who achieved the patience to show and not harangue, the strength to allow the loved one their agency, and the faith in letting go of control. Thanks for the times you’ve shown me how to manage this struggle.

©Pennie Nichols. All Rights Reserved. 2023.