Looking the Other Way

Throughout the course of our lives, we must build into our calculations the need to accommodate for the weaknesses of others. After all, if we hope that they will flex around our shortcomings, we must extend the same courtesy. This business of acclimatizing to annoying or maladaptive behavior plays a critical role in our ability to proceed through life peacefully. We are all imperfect and what for one person seems like an acceptable thing to do may drive another nuts. So, it isn’t as though all behaviors are equally objectionable according to all people.


That being said, when you interact with a person on a regular basis, this challenge to accommodate becomes much more immediate, doesn’t it? Not only is it likely that we’ve hit a saturation point, but the inability to seek refuge from the behavior while maintaining the relationship exponentially intensifies our irritation or distress. If we proceed from the assumption that they are not going to alter their behavior, it is up to us to change our reaction. Ok, that’s all well and good, but what happens when looking the other way—despite your best intentions of keeping the peace—only enables the behaviors to worsen?


Right now, the former Governor of Virginia and his wife are being tried for criminal corruption, charged with accepting over $170,000 in gifts and loans from a businessman who hoped the Governor would use the prestige of his office to promote the product. The defense relies heavily on the former Governor’s contention that his wife of 38 years was a materialistic, mentally unstable harpy and that their marriage had devolved to such a point that he could not bear to go home and face her. According to reports, he testified that he looked the other way since had to “pick and choose” what they discussed because she was just that awful. Poor Governor! What else could His Excellency possibly do?


Now, it’s likely that most us will not find ourselves approached by “friends” who want to loan us significant chunks of money and pay for our children’s wedding receptions, but we can easily envision situations where people in our lives have the power to make things highly unpleasant for us if we don’t go along with, well, with whatever it is they do. How about an alcoholic spouse? Or one who is emotionally absent? Do we look the other way for the sake of keeping our marriage intact? How about an aging relative who refuses to acknowledge their abilities are in decline? Or there’s always the abusive boss fortified by senior management that pretends not to notice as long as the business keeps rolling in? And then there’s that parent who chooses to be a “friend” to their wild child and not a disciplinarian? Remember, passivity approximates consent. How do you think any of these situations turn out? In the end, is the outcome so peaceful, so happy?


Who do you know who looks the other way? What are they avoiding? How’s that working out for them?


I recognize that none of the immediate decisions involved in scenarios listed above are easy. I acknowledge, too, that these things often creep up on us slowly, so that we don’t fully notice until it’s late in the game. And, of course, dodging unpleasant or awkward conversations drives our choices much of the time. I’ve been there, I’ve looked the other way, and I sympathize! But, what I’ve also learned is that, after a certain point, looking the other way keeps nothing worth saving intact. Sure, you may have the empty shell of what once existed still standing, but the substance is gone. So what, exactly, are you holding on to? And what toll is looking the other way taking on you?


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