When I talk about this negative versatility trait, the image of a mule comes to mind. Mules are not very versatile animals. They may be good for some things, but they're not good at adapting their behavior to fit the circumstances. The mule has come to symbolize stubborn resistance. It seems they can't help it. Any suggestion that doesn't meet with their approval is strongly resisted.
Do you find yourself using resistance when suggestions come from others? One of my favorite jokes — you might have heard a version of it because it's been around for a while — has a great moral about resistance. One day, there were flood warnings out in this small town, and the sheriff went around telling everyone to get to higher ground before the river overflowed its banks. One man heard the sheriff riding by his house with the warning coming over a loudspeaker and said to him, "I'm going to be okay here. I put my faith in the Lord."
The next day, the town was flooded, and the water had reached the second floor of the man's house. A rescuer came by in a boat and said to him, "Come on. Get in the boat. The water's going to go higher." The man refused saying, "I'm staying here. I'll be all right. I put my faith in the Lord. He'll save me."
The third day, the water was still rising, and the man was on his roof. A rescue helicopter came by and saw the man, and the pilot shouted down. "I'll drop a rope so you can pull yourself up." "Don't bother," said the man, "I'll be fine. The Lord will take care of me." A little while later, the man drowned. He walked up to the pearly gates of heaven, and he was angry. When he saw St. Peter he said, “What happened? I put my trust in the Lord to save me, and I drowned!" St Peter said to him, "We sent you the sheriff, a boat and a helicopter. How come you refused all three?"
This man would have fared better if he had made one shift in his mindset — he needed to shift from thinking either/or to both/and. In his mind, he either took the advice of the rescuers, or he trusted in the Lord, to use his terms. He resisted because he saw no way to connect the two. What if he had thought both/and? Both the rescuer arrived and his faith was being vindicated.
One of the most constructive and challenging activities our human minds are capable of is reconciling two seemingly opposite ideas. Rather than using resistance and seeing things as either this or that, great minds are often capable of figuring out both/and. Someone once thought: I want a dessert that's both hot and cold, and the hot fudge sundae was born. Or maybe it was baked Alaska. I want to send you a letter, and I don't want to have to go to the mailbox. Voila! The fax machine. Assuming you have one too. I like to eat a lot of fruits and vegetables, AND I don't want to ingest a lot of pesticides. What's happened? You can find in most towns today the organic produce store.
You may say, "Well, it's relatively easy to figure out solutions to those kinds of problems — ones that don't involve people and their feelings." I think it's very possible to take the both/and mindset into any difficult interpersonal situation. Despite your resistance, others can be right in terms of their experience, and you can be right in terms of yours. You can say to them, "I can see why you feel the way you do. It's entirely reasonable in terms of the experiences you've had. But my experience has been different." You can acknowledge another person's suggestion, or point of view, without agreeing to it or accepting it. That creates an atmosphere in which both your view and the other person's can peacefully co-exist.
Letting go of resistance as an automatic response to other people's suggestions or viewpoints doesn't mean you automatically agree with everyone. No one expects you to do that. What makes resistance such an unattractive and nonversatile trait is that it's a knee-jerk, unthinking reaction. The mule reaction. You can still say "no" or disagree. But you do it by acknowledging that the other person's thought or feeling can exist alongside yours.
Then you can proceed to discuss the two and you might decide to use a phrase like, "Let me tell you how it looks from my angle…" Or, "What you may not have considered is…" That's not knee-jerk resistance; it's a considered difference of opinion. Having the ability to think both/and gives you great versatility in your relations with others. And remember the man on his roof and the helicopter. Things don't always come to us in the ways we expect them to.