Ancient Greek philosophers were onto something when they coined the term “the golden mean,” which posits that at one extreme lies excess, at the other deficiency, and in the middle—the only desirable option—the golden mean.
Think about it. If we regularly eat too little or too much, our health suffers. If we never exercise, or do so excessively, our bodies become burdened. If we work too hard, at the expense of play, our joy may slip away. Yet if we play too hard, at the expense of work, our resources may disappear. In the middle—where we eat, exercise, work, and play in a balanced way—we strike gold.
This concept applies to interpersonal interactions, as well. On the deficient extreme lies non-assertive behavior, which is self-denying, leads to feelings of hurt and anxiety, and allows others to get their needs met at the expense of our own.
At the excessive extreme lies aggressive behavior, which also produces poor outcomes, as it demands respect for one’s own self at the expense of respect for others, is often experienced as controlling, hurtful, and humiliating, and can be expressed either overtly—as in threatening, oppositional communication—or indirectly—such as becoming sneaky, sly, or retaliatory.
Because both extremes produce a winner (the respected party) and a loser (the disrespected party), neither approach is capable of generating sustainable, balanced, healthy relational dynamics. Ultimately, then, even the winner loses.
If we really want to win, we need to go for the gold…. assertiveness!
Assertive behavior is:
• Respectful of the rights of others
• Direct and firm
• Equalizing, benefitting both parties in a relationship
• Both verbal (including the content of the message) and nonverbal (including the style of the message)
• Positive (expressing affection, praise, appreciation) at times and negative (expressing limits, anger, criticism) at times
• Appropriate for the person and situation, not universal
• Socially responsible
• Both inborn (elements of temperament) and learned (styles of behavior)
• As persistent as is necessary to achieves one’s goals without violating the above points” (Alberti & Emmons, 2017)
We strike relational gold when we communicate with others in a way that is respectful to both sender and receiver. We strike gold when we honor our own wants, needs, rights, and values not at the expense of another, but in tandem with those of another. We hit even more gold when we express our feelings—whatever they may be—authentically and comfortably.
Whether focusing on the dimensions of health, relationships, or otherwise, avoiding the extremes of “too much” and “not enough,” in favor of the middle path, is more likely to produce sustainable, win-win outcomes. So, if you want to strike it rich in life, think like the Greeks of old and make the golden mean your goal.
Article By: Erin J. Buggy
Alberti, R. & Emmons, M. (2017). Your perfect right: Assertiveness and equality in your life and relationships (10th Ed.). Impact Publishers.
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