Fragile Objections

Suppose you’re sitting in a Toastmasters meeting where members are practicing their speaking skills. Suppose there are about 20 members in the room, which would be pretty typical for a Toastmasters club.

Now suppose you hear a fellow member give a speech that you find objectionable, and it bothers you to hear such words spoken within your club. The topic is permitted within the club though.

What do you do?

Do you stay quiet and keep your thoughts and feelings to yourself?

Do you voice your objections to the speaker privately?

Do you privately share your concerns with some other members about the speech or the speaker?

Do you stand up during the meeting and voice your objections in front of all the members, including the speaker?

Do you sign up to give a speech, so you can disagree with the first speech?

Do you call for a vote to kick the member out?

Do you switch to a different Toastmasters club?

Do you quit Toastmasters altogether?

How you handle this depends on your personality and how you frame the situation. Your response depends on the meaning you assign.

Some assignments of meaning will cause you to have a more fragile relationship with your club, with its members, or with Toastmasters. Other meanings will give you enough resilience to maintain a long-term connection to your club or the organization.

Here’s a very fragile assignment of meaning:

What that speaker shared is totally out of line and should never be heard in this or any other Toastmasters club. If I stay in this club (or in Toastmasters), it means I’m personally condoning what this speaker said. I cannot stomach that.

That framing is pretty inflexible. It frames you into a corner, giving you few options. This sort of framing is incongruent with a long-term membership in Toastmasters.

Here’s a more resilient and flexible assignment of meaning:

A Toastmasters meeting is a growth-oriented practice space. Toastmasters is where members go to learn and build their skills. We don’t expect perfection there. We expect and even encourage mistakes. It’s expected that some members will share disagreeable ideas. It can even be good to have our viewpoints challenged sometimes. Variety can be nice.

If you’re in Toastmasters long enough, there’s a good chance you’ll encounter an objectionable speech or speaker. If you want a more resilient relationship with Toastmasters, it’s important to take these situations in stride. If you get worked up over them, you’ll have a more fragile relationship with Toastmasters, and sooner or later you’ll find a reason to ring the bell and quit.

From the outside looking in, the difference between these frames is pretty striking. You may look at the first frame and think that of course it’s not going to work long-term if someone adopts that frame. The second frame provides way more flexibility.

Here’s a key point: You always have a choice of framing. You can lean towards resilient frames, or you can choose fragile frames. By choosing a fragile frame, you increase the likelihood that you’re going to have to ring the bell and quit eventually. With the first framing above, quitting Toastmasters becomes pretty much inevitable; it’s just a matter of time.

So consider that by adopting such a fragile frame, you’re really choosing ring the bell and quit as well. Using a fragile frame is a way of inviting the final straw moment to present itself, often before you can identify a viable final straw event.

Why do this fragility dance then? Why pick a fragile meaning when it leads to such a predictable outcome?

One reason is that people often prefer a final straw objection. It provides a neat and tidy justification for a sometimes complex decision.

Like any growth-oriented space, Toastmasters is uncomfortable at times. You invite some risk when you show up. You may feel anxious at a meeting. You may face embarrassment. Now and then you may leave a meeting not feeling good about how you did. You may feel envious of peers who seem to be progressing faster than you.

It’s hard to keep showing up and facing that discomfort. It’s also hard to say that you’re leaving because you no longer want to deal with that discomfort.

Truthfully there are lots of reasons that people may choose a fragile frame. A common reason is to speed up the arrival of a final straw moment, so quitting can be justified without having to offer up a reason like, “It’s too uncomfortable” or “I felt too anxious” or even “My heart is calling me in a different direction.”

The downside of using fragile objections is that other people often won’t buy into them. While you may feel they’re solid enough reasons to explain your bell ringing, it’s fairly easy for many people to see them as self-created justifications, just as easily as you can spot the fragility of the first frame above. People will generally let you off the hook when you produce your fragile objection, but they’ll also likely conclude that it wasn’t your real reason for ringing the bell.

Ultimately fragile objections are a crutch. This crutch begins with the adoption of a fragile frame. A key personal growth challenge is to graduate from needing to use fragile frames that inevitably lead to fragile objections. If you’re going to ring the bell, can you learn to do that without needing to engineer any justification for it.

In any area of life, you can ring the bell and quit without having to explain or justify your actions. You can quit Toastmasters at any time and for any reason, for instance. You can quit your job today just because you decide it’s time.

I think another reason people use fragile objections is that it’s a less scary way to transition. Some decisions involve a lot of uncertainty, and it isn’t perfectly clear which way to go. To decide without a fragile objection, you need to trust reality or your intuition a lot more. You also have to accept that a big decision involves risk. If it feels like you have little or no choice in the matter, it takes some of the pressure off and makes you feel less responsible for the choice and its outcome.

So one solution I’ll provide is this: Be willing to be wrong. Be willing to make mistakes. Be willing to sit in the muck of bad outcomes that resulted from your decisions.

Consider that this life is much like a Toastmasters meeting. It’s a growth-oriented space where you learn by doing. You will make mistakes. You will make some decisions that leave you shaking your head afterwards. And that’s okay. It’s part of the reason you’re here.

You do not need to engineer fragile objections to ease the burden of those decisions by artificially narrowing your options. You can choose flexible frames that give you lots of options, and you can still make decisions even when facing a minefield of risk. Now and then you’ll choose wrong. Celebrate that you’re free to do that because that is an incredible gift.

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Steve Pavlina

Steve Pavlina is an American self-help author, motivational speaker and entrepreneur. He is the author of the web site and the book Personal Development for Smart People.

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