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Thursday, February 16, 2012

A Lesson Learned

Tom Smith
Professor Gary Pullman
English 98
29 September 2011

A Lesson Learned

It is difficult to see oneself as others do. Men and women tend to rationalize their behavior, providing excuses as to why they did or did not perform some action. They often give themselves the benefit of the doubt when they suspect that they may have acted in their own, rather than in another person’s, best interests. They sometimes believe that they act according to motives other than the true ones which inspire their behavior. Such individuals are sometimes dishonest, about both their intentions and their conduct, but, other times, they may simply be mistaken--no one knows him- or herself completely; everyone is capable, at times, of surprising him- or herself. Likewise, people may lack the knowledge or the experience that they need to make objective, realistic, and accurate evaluations of their actions or those of the others with whom they interact. However, some people are simply more selfish than others and do whatever they please, whenever they like. A few are unaware that their actions do not match their inclinations. Occasionally, someone acts as he or she does simply because he or she has no reason or, more commonly, no incentive, to change his or her behavior, even though it may be offensive or annoying to another person. Tom Smith is such an individual. He changed only when his obnoxious behavior became as painful to him as it was to his someone about whom he cared. Once, Tom was stubborn, but after he lost a girlfriend because of his inflexible behavior, he became more open-minded.

Tom always insisted upon having his own way. When his girlfriend, Brenda Lewis, suggested that they drive up the Coastal Highway, from San Diego, so that they could enjoy the ocean scenery, as they passed through the beach cities on their way to Los Angeles, Tom wouldn’t hear of it. He said that he was the driver, not her, and that, as the driver, he would decide which route they drove. They’d made the same trip many times, and he always drove the same route, he told her, for a reason: going by Interstate 5 was quicker than traveling by the Coastal Highway, because the interstate bypassed the very beach cities that Brenda found quaint and charming. Although it was an inland highway that did not offer a view of the ocean, it was more direct and provided only limited access to traffic. What was important, he maintained, was not the view of the terrain through which they traveled but getting to their destination by the most direct and quickest route. Tom also insisted upon doing what he wanted to do. He decided where he and Brenda would eat, what movies they would see, whether and where they would go dancing, and how many friends--and which ones--to invite to the occasional parties he wanted to have. He might appear to listen to her suggestions, but, when the time came to plan their outings or gatherings, he always saw to it that they did things his way. Tom was obstinate about his opinions as well. Others had a right to their views, he admitted, but so did he, and he refused to change his mind about the issues of the day. Whether the topic was relatively unimportant, such as which football team was likeliest to win the Super Bowl or whether to have peanuts, popcorn, pretzels, or all three snack items during the Super Bowl party he hosted every year, or the issue was more significant, such as whether a political candidate’s views were racist, sexist, or unbiased or a job possibility offered benefits and other incentives beyond the wage or salary it paid to make it worth his--or Brenda’s--while, he always maintained that his judgments were sound and need not be changed.

Finally, tired of Tom’s stubbornness, Brenda broke up with him. She had told him on many previous occasions how annoying she found his obstinacy concerning all matters great and small. She had tried to get him to be more open to her suggestions. She had proposed that they compromise. They could travel part of the way from San Diego to Los Angeles on the Coastal Highway and the rest of the way on Interstate 5. He had refused. She had suggested that they each make a list of places that they enjoyed frequenting and of friends whom they liked to invite to their parties, alternating between destinations and each inviting those friends on their respective lists to attend their parties. Again, he had declined. She had invited him to attend lectures on the political topics that various candidates held, so that he could hear both sides of issues and make up his mind as to where he stood on the basis of more complete information. He had rejected her offers. She had suggested that he should decide which jobs he wanted to seek and let her find the ones that appealed to her, but, once more, Tom had demurred. When it became obvious to Brenda that Tom would never change his stubborn ways, she had broken off their relationship.

Although he was a stubborn man, Tom cared for Brenda, and her ending of their relationship affected him enough for him to become more flexible. He does not assume that he knows what is best for everyone else, and he is more willing to listen and to compromise. He has adopted Brenda’s suggestions, and he works hard at being more open-minded, more flexible, and more tolerant of other people and their views. Others find that it is easier for them to get along with him, and, although Tom is not exactly what one might call easygoing, he is nevertheless more cooperative, accommodating, and forbearing. He considers other people’s interests, desires, and needs, and he no longer thinks that everything must go his way or that everyone should think and feel as he does. He has demonstrated considerable growth since Brenda broke up with him.

Tom’s newfound flexibility may have come too late to save his relationship with Brenda, but their separation, although painful, has helped him to understand that obduracy is a severe handicap to human affairs, whether one’s dealings with others are intimate and personal or formal and impersonal. As a result, he has become more adaptable in his dealings with others, and his behavior is no longer annoying. Brenda did him a favor by breaking up with Tom, because he had to confront an unpleasant truth about himself. As a result, he discovered how truly stubborn he had been, and his conduct toward others has become much more open and engaging. Brenda has noticed the change in his behavior, and there is a good chance, she has confided in her best friend, Sally Johnson, of her dating the new-and-improved, much-less-stubborn Tom. Good results can come from needed changes in one’s behavior.

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