Willfulness and willingness

I'm right and you're wrong. I want what I want and I want it now. I'm not giving in - no matter what!

Sound familiar? Willfulness is bent on having its way - my way.

Willful children test their parents.

As a youngster, I loved

orange soda. My parents didn't allow us to drink sugary, carbonated drinks except when we visited relatives.

Mother knew how much I loved orange soda and that, given the opportunity, I would drink as much as I could. On one occasion, we were driving to my Aunt Marsha's house for Sunday dinner when my mother said, "Don't you ask for orange soda." Clearly, my mother was imposing her will on me.

"We'll see about that," I thought to my 6-year-old-self. I was a determined daughter developing a strong will of my own.

Upon arriving at Aunt Marsha's house, it didn't take long for the boring adult talk to make me feel restless. With my legs swinging back and forth against the edge of the sofa, the words willfully arose and spilled out of my mouth, "I sure do like orange soda."

With an endearing smile, Aunt Marsha got up and headed to the kitchen with words trailing behind, "Well, let me get you one, dear Ruthie." My mother gave me a look from across the room that I still remember.

Will to will, mother and I were clashing in silence. She glared and I grinned. Cleverly, my will had won over hers. I knew that I had not "asked" for orange soda but had simply made a comment, "I sure do like orange soda." Willful tactics are learned very early on in life.

Willfulness wears several masks: self-interest, self-righteousness and entitlement.

They all spring from the desire to control, to have one's way, feel good about it and somehow deserving as well.

The problem with willfulness is that it's generally a response to a "no."

No, I don't agree with you. No, I won't cooperate with you. And, no, I don't like what you're doing.

That includes the battle between mother and child, disputes between spouses, rifts between friends and firings in the workplace.

Even our health suffers from willfulness. We won't give in. We won't allow ourselves to examine our beliefs and welcome new perspectives. We refuse to make ourselves vulnerable, to admit our errors and prejudices. Instead we take a position and maintain it at all costs, and sometimes that costs us a great deal. Emotions flare-up, angry words spew out, blood pressure rises and broken hearts occur all because of willfulness.

Let me introduce willingness. The tingling sound of "ing" seems to speak to a softer, gentler way of being, don't you think?

Try it out: Willingness to negotiate. Willingness to learn. Willingness to adapt. Willingness to refrain. End results? Relationships built on cooperation, open-mindedness, loving-kindness and togetherness.

Think about it. How often do you bump up against someone's willfulness only to find the same thing arising within you? Willfulness begets willfulness. It's all about ego. We huff and we puff, determined to blow down someone else's house just to show how strong our will can be. The bravado reduces us to acting like 4-year-olds.

Begin by noticing your heels digging in. That's a clue that you're taking a willful position. Notice your stress level climbing. Ask yourself, on a scale of one to 10 - one being not attached to your position and 10 being very attached - where does your willfulness land on that scale? Willingness to change your position deflates that inflated ego.

Experiment. Let go. Ask yourself, what difference does it really make? Keep your mouth shut and listen to what goes on inside your head when you move into a state of willingness. Feel the relief as your ego takes a backseat to awareness.

Choose willingness and whole new worlds open to you. People almost magically become friendlier. Relationships improve. Your life has more joy and less stress. Willingness has a cousin named patience. Introduce patience to any situation and you afford yourself more time - time to slow down, to be more fully present, to explore alternatives. Invite feedback. Seek advice. Meditate.

Willingness means you surrender a small part of yourself - that stuck, stubborn, heel-digging willfulness. With a dash of patience, that big growling, grumpy bear inside of you can be gently tamed. Teddy bears, after all, are far more happy and more fun to have around. Be well. Be happy. Be willing.

Ruth Marcus has a private counseling practice in Sequim. Visit for more information.

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