I’ve always thought of stubbornness as a fault. An annoying, narrow-minded short-sighted fault. Stains and screws that won’t come out are stubborn, stubbornness is the strength of the weak and the dictionary defines stubborn as grim and implacable. (N.B we exclude donkeys and mules from any of these definitions because they have their own agenda).
Last week Gilly gave me food for thought when she said “I was thinking what is obstinacy, it is not just a negative state it is also being able to look after and respect one’s boundaries.”
I had to ponder that for a while.
We draw a line in the sand with our heel and mark our border. One side is safe, the other is not and we are unwilling to cross the line. Is that stubbornness or self-preservation? A few years ago I was at a horse show, watching a woman try to load her horse into a trailer. The horse was well-mannered and amiable and approached the trailer happily, but for no visible reason stopped abruptly, about six feet away from the bottom of the ramp. Cajoling, berating and tempting wouldn’t budge him. He wasn’t agitated and things didn’t escalate until ropes were used behind him and he began to kick. His owner was wise enough to stop. It seemed the invisible line was the problem, not the trailer, and a bystander suggested she reverse the trailer back over the ‘line’. Her horse watched with interest, and as soon as the ramp came down he walked straight in. Only the horse knows why he couldn’t cross that line, and he’d probably forgotten by the time he got home.
If we feel our lives run more smoothly with a routine, especially as we get older, are we obstinately clinging to order or simply preserving energy? Just like the reactive “sorry?” providing another few seconds to compose an answer when someone asks us a question, routine gives us space to think in-between actions. Have you ever considered chores like methodically folding laundry are actually a space to re-boot our minds; maybe our mothers knew more than we thought!
Does refusal to wear a cycle or riding helmet despite evidence showing the risk, count as stubbornness or free-expression? The opportunity for free-expression is definitely waning as we straddle nanny laws and peer judgement, but at what cost to ourselves and others.
Do we build boundaries to keep people out or keep ourselves in? Wrapping ourselves tightly in swaddling clothes for a feeling of security, safe within our limits because we’ll never explore what lies beyond. To us, the grass is never greener on the other side. Are we truly content where we’ve placed ourselves, or have we managed to cull confidence along with adventure. Could altering our perspective be a way of opening up the boundary?
Crossing a boundary, whether self-inflicted or imposed by others, is truly frightening. I prefer to think of it as going through a gate that swings lightly on its hinges and has an easy-to-open catch so we can return as quickly as we arrived. But remember we are not trespassing, we have our own permission to cross our own limits.
Other people might disagree but I don’t consider myself stubborn in the stain-like sense. Dogged and determined yes, but I hope I’m open to new ideas whatever they involve. However, my cancer is stubborn and in order to survive I’ve often had to respond in like. I have been very obstinate about dying; it’s not that I won’t die, I’d just prefer do it on my terms and not have a disease bamboozle me into submission. I also stubbornly refuse to become a victim, although on my off-days I’ve been known to help them out! I like boundaries because they stop drama and I’m happy to say no if too much is asked of me. I don’t have to save everyone, and my ego doesn’t crave stoking by other people’s gratitude. I’ll dip a toe in anything, because I count not trying as failure.
The opposite of obstinacy is compliance, and that could also be a negative trait. No-one knows where they stand when a person bends every-which-way to remain agreeable, and heaven only knows how that person behaves towards themselves. Does the ultimate compliant behaviour become stoicism, and instead of being restrained by boundaries, the compliant person restrains themselves by keeping everything inside until they implode?
Of course we can swing whichever way we want to navigate life. We know a balance twixt the two extremes serves us best, but it’s a see-saw ride and we’re not always aware if we’re on the see or saw. Luckily there’s a third alternative, No-Mans-Land, which the Cambridge dictionary defines as ‘an area of activity where there are no rules, or that no one understands or controls because it belongs neither to one type nor another’. It might be a good place to hang out for a while. See you there?