How can impartiality improve relationships?
What if I told you the best way to achieve your goals is to drop them? This story defines the concept of Impartiality and shows how it can improve your connection with other people.
My mother tongue is Russian. I grew up reading Russian books and watching Russian movies. However, now I live in the US, my wife is American, we speak English at home, and the kids attend an American school.
When fully immersed in an English-speaking environment, the Russian part of my personality hibernates. I don't tell Russian jokes, and I don't use Russian idioms and cultural references. I tell people that I have Russian and American parts of my brain, and they don't talk to each other.
Nevertheless, I want my kids to understand me deeper, which is only possible when they speak my mother tongue. Only then will they understand cultural assumptions and idioms embedded in the language.
They learned some Russian at pre-school and kindergarten, but their level is decreasing yearly. This terrifies me. When I see them unable to speak simple sentences, I feel defeated. My dream of speaking with them in my mother tongue gets shattered.
That's why I used every opportunity to teach them Russian. I speak Russian to them even when it slows down our communication. I downloaded the Russian translations of kids' TV shows and blocked Netflix app on our smart TV. I drive my son to the Russian School of Austin on weekends.
More often than not, he resists because it's not obvious why he needs to learn Russian. English is enough. I nudge him to do the Russian class's homework and push him to attend the class on Sunday. I realize I'm doing this because I want him to study the language, not because he chose to do so.
Last week I decided to stop. I told my wife I would not pressure my son to attend class. She suggested asking him. That led us to an unexpected result.
My wife: Would you like to go to the Russian class?
My son: No
My wife: Do you want to study Russian?
My son: Yes!
My wife: Why?
My son: I want it to talk to the Russian side of the family and make my dad happy!
My wife: Would you go to the class then?
My son: Yes, now I want to go!
My heart melted...
I had assumed he wouldn't want to study Russian and that the only way for me to achieve my goal was to manipulate him with bribes, threats, and pressure. I had even gotten myself afraid to ask him what he thought. I treated him like an object that needed to be forced to behave a certain way. This was destructive to our relationship and harmed my goal of a deeper connection on a more fundamental level than knowing my mother tongue could ever restore.
By dropping the agenda, I discovered that people might behave the way we want them of their own volition.
What is impartiality?
A few weeks ago, I participated in the introductory course of Art of Accomplishment, a philosophy of spiritual growth created by Joe Hudson. The program aims to achieve a certain state of mind when you connect to people effortlessly, make conversations deep and productive, create less drama, loathe yourself less, and produce a more creative output.
Impartiality is one of the most important concepts of the Art of Accomplishment. However, it’s also the most difficult to understand.
Joe Hudson defines impartiality as the quality of the consciousness not trying to achieve a certain outcome.
Logically, partiality feels like micromanagement. We don’t trust another person to do the right thing and constantly nudge, lead, and manipulate them to improve their behavior. Partiality necessary includes judgment. We judge another person to be unideal and need to change.
For example, when you may ask your partner, "Why are you taking so long?" when they are late getting out of the door. This partial question includes a judgment about them being late and a micromanagement intent to change their behavior.
Emotionally, partiality is disconnection. We can’t be in empathy with another person and be impartial. We reject the person and force them to change. We disturb the person’s natural behavior and inner autonomy to do what we judge as “right.”
Joe Hudson uses the following metaphor for impartiality. The natural flow of events is a river with many twists and turns. You have a boat. You can choose to paddle and follow the river, or you can paddle against the current, which is difficult and unnatural.
Being impartial is like being spiritual. You need to believe deeply that everything will be alright, and it’s okay to let go of control and let people be themselves without nagging and nudging.
Can we even have goals?
Still, whenever I hear about impartiality, I have many questions: Why would you drop your agenda? Don't people always want something to happen? Isn't it good to have goals? Is it possible to become fully impartial?
It’s okay to have goals and preferences! The tricky part is what you do about them!
Judgment is destructive to relationships. It says that I know what’s best, I made this determination based on my past experience. I think I’m right, and another person is wrong. This limiting position doesn’t allow life to emerge in the moment and places little trust in another person’s ability to make their own decision.
Micromanagement is a manipulation. We are not making our true motives known, and we push people lightly to do what we think is best. By doing so, we objectify another person and rob them of their autonomy.
The root cause of this behavior is the blurry boundary between personal responsibility and the other person’s autonomy. As a result, we try to extend our influence to other people's actions that are ultimately outside of our control. That’s why we need hidden agendas and manipulation!
You can fix it by making your goals known and establishing clear external boundaries.
Share our agenda openly. If we share our goals and aspirations, there’s no manipulation. So we are still partial but in a non-toxic way. For example, when I told my son about my fear of never being able to speak in my mother tongue with him - he got it, and he’s doing what he can to learn Russian.
Create clear boundaries. Boundaries define concrete actions and consequences. For example, when you are in a hurry to leave for an important meeting, and your partner needs more time to get ready, you can say that if they can’t leave in 5 minutes, you will call an Uber. Partiality is here, but you are not judging another person - you are just taking personal responsibility to achieve your goals.
Inside the boundaries, you create a safe space for another person to be themselves. You can drop your goals and agenda and just enjoy interacting with people as they are.
It’s hard to mix goals and human relationships. Each person has their plans, desires, and goals. If we try managing every interaction - it breeds distrust, emptiness, and isolation.
Impartiality is a way to build relationships by prioritizing connection over a specific outcome. Impartiality allows you to tune in to another person's vibe, let them open up, and tell their own story.
You don't have to drop your goals and become a faceless observer. Instead, by recognizing our own partiality, sharing it openly, and creating boundaries, we create oases where relationships can flourish.
However, dropping your own agenda is not easy. It took me many months to realize that there are limits to my influence on my son. I can’t just enforce what I want without paying a heavy price in the relationship.
That’s why I’m embarking on the impartiality journey and will share more observations in my future essays.