I am a hammer. I know this. It is one of my greatest assets in the business world, yet one of my biggest challenges. Put me to a bunch of nails and I’ll get those suckers popped in like nobody’s business. But that same passion for getting things done, or driving results forward, also causes me to mistake my thumb (or someone else’s) for a nail on occasion. Ouch.
In these situations, it’s easy to fall into rationalization, the sacred pastime of homo sapiens everywhere. Here’s mine:
Hammer: I’m a hammer. I was just hammering. It’s what I’m good at. It’s not my fault.
Real Me: Yes, but you’re also human. And so is that thumb you just bruised.
Hammer: But people are counting on me to hammer these nails. They’re important.
Real Me: So is a thumb.
Generally when this happens, it’s because the subject is meaningful to me. Because of this, I may also jump from rationalization to defensiveness, picking apart inconsistencies in order to advocate for my position (none of you have ever done that, right?).
This push and pull between attack/defend goes back millennia, to our core survival instincts. History is littered with leaders who crafted great military strategies to gain offensive or defensive advantage. It’s equally littered with the bodies they left in their wake to attain that endgame. We may not fight on those battlefields anymore, but instead the front has shifted to our partners, families, friends, co-workers and other people we care about.
I recently disappointed someone who came to me with an apology. She had been stressed and snapped at me during a conversation. I’m sure that calling me to say she was wrong took a lot of courage. With the best of intentions, I seized her call as an opportunity to address additional frustrations. My mind told me it was a great way to clear the air and get back to a good place with her. You can fast forward and guess what happened.
What she needed was a hug, and I brought the hammer.
I’m sure you don’t have to think back very far to find a time that this has happened to you. Self-righteousness is an easy weapon to swing when you feel wronged. In an article on www.tinybuddha.com, author Sara Bensman discusses our natural inclination to favor being right over being compassionate. She relates this rationale with our sense of self, saying that we tell ourselves:
That last sentence really stuck with me, because it’s the hard question many of us push aside. What would happen if I didn’t advocate for myself? Would I disappear? Or would I find the opposite to be true? That by giving up my position and choosing compassion, I’d gain more meaning and connection to those around me?
I am a hammer. I know this. But sometimes a hammer isn’t the right tool to help the human being in front of you. Plus, you can’t truly put yourself in someone else’s shoes if you’re hell-bent on wearing your own.
As Bensman advises:
Or to put it another way:
Hugs over hammers.