One of the reasons that Sheila married Roger was that she admired the strength of his determination. He pushed back against obstacles and didn’t give up easily. This gave her a sense of security and dependability.
One aspect she hadn’t counted on, however, was that this also sometimes made him stubborn. Once he had his mind made up, it was hard to change. He could be inflexible. This maddened her at times.
Welcome to the “flipside”. Every coin has two sides on it and the same is true of people. With people, our strengths are also invariably reflected in our weaknesses. They come together as a package. The sensitive person can also be touchy. The generous person sometimes has a hard time saying “no”. The laid-back person may also be passive. Remember in the Bible, that Peter could be both bold and impetuous. Learning to anticipate and deal with this flipside, both in ourselves, and in others, is a useful social and spiritual skill. This leads to our first question:
Why does it help to understand the flipside in others?
1. Understanding their flipside allows me to be realistic about them
Certain traits come bundled with others. While I’m not suggesting that this gives them license for sin (“I can’t help it, I am who I am”), or even that all flipside traits are always sin (they might be well-intended weaknesses), it does allow us to be more understanding about their weak side. We can’t have it all. The hard-charging man you admire, will simply not be as sensitive as some men are. The passionate wife you adore will also get more upset at times than a laid-back, calmer wife. To expect differently is unrealistic and often unfair.
2. Understanding their flipside helps me work with them more skillfully
We have a better sense of what to expect from them, both good and bad. This allows us to adjust our approach to them. Coach Red Auerbach was a genius at this. He knew, for example, that he could yell at player Bill Russell and it would go right over his head, while yelling at certain players would crush their confidence. So he varied his approach. With some people we can be blunt (they actually respect that) while with others we’re best to be more diplomatic. Some folks are great at spontaneity, while others need more time to think and plan. My wife has learned, for example, that I bristle if I feel bossed by her, but that I can hardly say “no” if she asks sweetly.
3. Understanding their flipside helps me to be less judgmental about others
Most of us have, at least in our subconscious, an idealized view of what a good person, or Christian should be like. But we all have a flipside; a weaker or darker part of ourselves. The flipsides we encounter are not all equal. People do often mature. An opinionated person, for example, may learn, through effort, to become more open-minded. But all of us, no matter how impressive, have at least some weak flipside characteristics. Accept this, as much as you can (sometimes it has to be addressed), and try not to be too harsh on others. No one has it all together.
How can I best deal with the flipside in others?
I’ve already implied some of these, but let me spell them out more specifically.
1. I deal best with the flipside by expecting it
If you marry a hard-charging businessman, know that he’ll be tempted to work too much. If you’re friends with a personal who strong integrity, know that they will sometimes be too judgmental.
2. I deal best with the flipside by recognizing my own
If you sometimes have to put up with their flipside, remember that they also have to put up with yours. I’m a serious person, task-oriented person who has a hard time just relaxing and having fun. I don’t laugh enough, and take myself too seriously. I wish it weren’t so, have worked on growing, but others (especially my wife), cut me slack in this area. I appreciate that. Which leads to the next suggestion:
3. I deal best with the flipside by trying to keep a light touch
Humor, well-employed, can help everyone take things less seriously. I don’t necessarily mean telling jokes, though you might. Sometimes, just a silly exaggeration, or a wry smile lowers the tension in the situation. Self-deprecating humor is especially useful, since you’re coming alongside them by making fun of yourself. It’s not the end of the world when we fall short. It’s part of being human. Lightening up helps keep everyone more open and relaxed. This is a skill to be developed, though, since there’s a fine line between being seen as a smart-aleck and as humorous. Some people can get by with more than others in this area due to their personality.
4. I deal best with the flipside by accepting the whole person
By “accepting”, I don’t mean agreeing with all they do, or even letting it go, but just loving them anyway as they are. Where they can change, that’s great, but even where they can’t or won’t, I can still accept them as a person and value them. Ironically, when I’m able to do this, it relaxes the situation, and they’re more likely to grow or change than if I reject them.
5. I deal best with the flipside by seeing the strength behind the weakness
There’s an irony here. A strong-willed child, for instance, can be a challenge to raise. They resist, argue, disobey, etc. But recognize that behind that strong will is also the gift of determination. If channeled correctly, it often turns out to become an asset as they mature. The critical person may have a gift of discernment, the angry person a strong sense of justice, the timid person a gentle spirit. When I see weaknesses in others, I also seek to find the strength behind the weakness, and to encourage and emphasize it. Often, they haven’t realized the strength behind their weakness and been encouraged to build on it.
6. I deal best with the flipside by being challenging it where appropriate
The weak flipside, whether an immaturity, or a sin, is still a liability. If we’ve built a constructive relationship with the other person, and they’re willing, let’s work with them on shrinking the weakness side of the coin while expanding its strong counterpart. If they’re hard-charging, help them grow in patience. If they’re laid-back, help them also to grow in discipline, if they’re funny, help them to use their humor to build up, not tear down. On occasion, if the flipside is too hurtful or destructive, our help may have to come by setting limits or imposing consequences (significant abuse, for instance, should not be tolerated).
7. I deal best with the flipside by being patient
Change is hard. A lot of our personality comes pre-wired, or is developed by our upbringing. So quite a bit of the flipside isn’t deliberate; it’s instinctive. A conscious, long-term effort to change may be required. Praise every advance. Be quick to appreciate each effort they make, even when it falls short. Forgive them when they fail. Stick with them.