Aiden and Maya had been having problems. They visited a relationship counselor to try and work through their issues. At the end of an hour long session, Aiden’s chief complaint was that he was always the one to compromise. Weirdly enough, Maya had the exact same complaint. How could this be the case? Well, one possible explanation is that compromise is subjective. Another possible explanation is that Aiden and Maya have communication problems, and thus they are never on the same page. These are the usual explanations that people come up with when this type of situation occurs. Meanwhile, the real culprit stays hidden. The real culprit is the fact that we are all trained to cooperate mindlessly, and not mindfully. 

Think back to the last time you felt miserable about putting up with someone. The last time I felt that way was only about a month ago. It was with a friend. This friend would always advise me about how to live my life. Every time it happened, I told myself that getting along with people without judging them was the decent thing to do. Yet, I still felt hateful about it. I still felt disgusted by it. I wondered why it was so hard for me to just let it go. The thought kept me awake for many nights in a row. One day, I made a decision. I decided that I’d be mindful regarding every moment that I put up with this friend.

Next time I was with this friend, the first five minutes involved me telling them not to advise me on anything. But, by the time the next one hour was over, I could see this person wanting to give advice. So, then I entertained some advice for about five minutes, at the end of which I told them to stop. But they didn’t want to stop. They didn’t think that the advice had made the intended impact. So, they kept going. Longer than the five minutes that I’d planned. At that point, I decided that this friend of mine cannot go longer than an hour without attempting to “correct” someone. With that reason in mind, I put up with them until they had their fill.

As it turned out, it had been about twenty minutes by the time they were done. At the end of those twenty minutes, I told them that I’d consider their advice. Not necessarily obey it, but seriously consider it. They were happy to hear that, and then our time together went in a different direction again. That night, I was feeling less hateful and stressed when I thought about this friend. Why? Because I recognized the need to get along with them, but I did so mindfully, not mindlessly. I did so knowing exactly why, how much and how long I was putting up with them, on a moment-to-moment basis.

Schools teach us to obey teachers without question. Most parents teach us the same thing. Then there are rules that we have to follow about acceptable and unacceptable behavior, and we can’t ask questions about those either. What happens in the end? We become people who cooperate with others mindlessly, despite feeling stress or hate. So, psychologists will tell you that the problem is in communication, or that the problem is in differences of opinion. But, the real problem is in putting up with someone without knowing why.

Since that day of insight, everytime I hang out with my friend, I make sure that I know exactly why I’m putting up with those twenty minutes of advice. I also consider that there may be merit in the advice. The point is that the whole “putting up with them” experience is very mindful. The result is that I no longer feel taken advantage of in the compromise department.

As a matter of mental health, it is imperative for children to learn mindful cooperation rather than mindless cooperation. Mindless cooperation may be good for smooth operation in business settings. But since school doesn’t differentiate between business and personal, you end up practicing mindless cooperation even in personal settings as an adult. The result of such mindless cooperation is feeling like you’re putting up for no good reason, and then blowing up relationships with generally loving people because you define the relationship in terms of “unexplained” stress.