A mother tries to get her young child to eat broccoli. “No! I don’t like it!” shrieks the child. “How do you know you don’t like it? You’ve never tried it!” pleads the mother. “No, I hate it!” Case closed. Tater tots it is.

The child has his mind made up. Maybe it’s because of the smell, or the green color. Maybe it’s the texture that the child imagines it will have. Maybe it’s something about the sound of the syllables of “broc-co-li.” Maybe the child saw his friends react with disgust to the sight of broccoli and that was all it took to lock in the negative impression.

“That’s the policy”

Whatever the origin of the opinion, somehow the child has reached a decision that broccoli is bad. In a sense, the child has developed a policy on broccoli—a no broccoli policy. Like many policies, once they are established, they can become fixed and non-negotiable. In a business negotiation, the last thing we want to hear is “I’m sorry, that’s the policy. There’s nothing I can do about it. I wish I could help you but my hands are tied.”

If you’re on the receiving end of “the policy,” running into it is like hitting a brick wall, a dead end. There’s nothing you can do unless someone were to change the policy, which takes conscious effort. If you’re the person implementing the policy, one advantage you have is that you don’t have to think very much. “No refunds after thirty days. Period.” Once you decide which policy to enact, there’s really no need to listen, consider or discuss any further.

The policy of hatred

Sometimes we hear ourselves say that we hate things. How innocuous it would be if hating things like broccoli were the extent of it. Unfortunately, it goes much further than that. We hate things that people say and do. We hate things that people think and believe. Then we take the giant leap to hating the people themselves, for what they say, do, think and believe. We hate people for what they look like, what they value, whom they pray to and whom they vote for.

A curious thing is that when we think of the things or people we hate—or dislike, or reject—we often have the sense that that’s just the way it is. We tend to accept it, too readily, as an indisputable truth, a fact of life. “I just hate broccoli. I can’t help it.” Maybe our hatred is not so much a fact of life, for which we bear no responsibility, but effectively a policy which we somehow created or adopted and which we continue to uphold and enact without really thinking about it.

If you work long enough at a business that has a “No refund after thirty days” policy, you might unconsciously begin to believe that there’s something inherently true and obviously sound about such a policy. You may forget that if you are the owner of the business, you have the option to change the policy if you want to.

Similarly, if we, and people in our circle, effectively have a policy of not liking people who look, think or believe differently than we do, we don’t have to continue to blindly follow that policy. We have the option to look more closely, listen more openly, consider more genuinely when dealing with those who are not just like us.

Art Frenz, Ph.D.

Image courtesy of Prawny / morguefile.com

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Psychological Fitness

“Psychological Fitness” is my monthly column featured in the Binghamton, NY Press & Sun Bulletin since 2004. This page highlights articles, or adaptations thereof, from that column.