Rereading How to Be An Adult (2007-05-10/13)

The art in assertiveness is to ask strongly for what you want and then to let go of it if the answer is No. You tread the fine line between consistent perseverance and the stubborn persistence that can feel to others like abuse. Passive people do not ask for what they want. Aggressive people demand (openly) or manipulate (secretly) to get what they want. Assertive people simply ask, without inhibition of themselves or pressure on others.
--David Richo, How to be An Adult

A copy David Richo's How to be An Adult: A Handbook on Psychological and Spiritual Integration (borrowed a decade ago from someone I no longer know) comes off my bookshelf every few years for my reading. The forward notes, "This book is written in a highly condensed way," and this density provides me greater understanding each read. David Richo frequently quotes thinkers such as Joseph Campbell, Teilhard de Chardin, Émile Durkheim, Meister Eckhart, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Jung, Alice Miller, Virginia Satir, and Shakespeare (Hamlet, Romeo and Juliet, The Tempest, etc.).

There are three parts to How to be An Adult: "Personal Work," "Relationship Issues," and "Integration". Within Part 1 is Chapter 2, "Assertiveness Skills". An earlier post quoted this book in a discussion of definitions of emotional and personal maturity. I think the "Helpful Principles" in Chapter 2; and the definitions (above) of assertiveness, passivity, and aggressiveness; are useful as well.

The first "Helpful Principle" is as follows:
Early in life, you may have learned that it is not legitimate to:
  • Show your real feelings
  • Give and receive openly
  • Ask for things directly
  • Tell your opinions
  • Take care of your own interests
  • Say No to what you do not want
  • Act as if you deserved abundance
These are injunctions against having power, and to the extent that we have internalized them, we have disabled ourselves and limited our adult capacities. Our journey to wholeness begins from just such a wounded place.
Since I want abundance, this is a good place to begin. Other principles strike me as useful:
  • "Check out your feelings, suspicions, or doubts with the people involved."
  • "Trying without doing is wishing rather than choosing."
  • "You can be informed by others' behavior rather than affected by it."
Finally, David Richo lists "Basic Rights of the Assertive Person". Some of these stand out to me:
  • "To say No or Maybe without pressure to decide in accord with someone else's timing."
  • "To be illogical in making decisions."
  • "To be free to explain your choices or not (includes not having to make excuses or give reasons when you say No)."
These stand out because I sometimes feel hurt when others exercise these rights. Perhaps--as is often the case--I don't really believe I have a right to delay, or make illogical or unexplained decisions, so insist others must be comprehensible. In most relationships, however, I try to practice assertion:
  1. Be clear about your feelings, choices, and agenda
  2. Ask for what you want
  3. Take responsibility for your feelings and behavior
I think these skills are essential to mature adulthood.


Anonymous said...

Ahh...so this explains your behavior with me....

Ryan Nolan Kolomona said...

I donʻt really have to guess who wrote the last comment, huh?

As for myself, Iʻd say that these too are very hard things for me to handle, and certainly to apply in my adult life. I feel that people often hide behind the society-afflicted niceties (donʻt ask for what you want, say yes even if you mean no). This seems to stand counterpoint to the idea of community, where people help each other out.

I can honestly say, however, that my upbringing in Hawaii has done a lot to confuse me. Community and family is of the utmost importance, and individuality is tantamount to self-excommunication. And the same time, youʻre expected to talk behind peopleʻs backs, instead of confronting them about certain issues. And some problems never see the light of day.

Anyway, Iʻm glad you can help me grow up as you yourself grow. I believe that this book has certainly done its part in shaping you:)

Max Kingsbury said...

I don't think I learned those lessons as well as most people have. Most of my relationship problems stem from me speaking my mind and asking for things that I want. I should probably try to practice 'asking assertively and not asking again if the answer is no.'

William said...


As I imply in later discussion of this book, I know many older people who didn't learn those lessons, either. I hope to keep learning, like those I admire.

I LOVE YOU said...
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