When You Meet Resistance

Monday

Milton Erickson
Milton Erickson was an accomplished and well-respected psychiatrist who created innovative therapeutic techniques and was able to cure or significantly help many seriously mentally ill patients whose cases had stumped every other psychiatrist who had tried to help them before Erickson.

I once read something Erickson wrote that struck me as profound and important at the time, but it wasn't until many years later when I began trying to share what I was learning about Islam that what he wrote became personally relevant. He said in psychiatric literature, they talk a lot about "resistant patients." This is a common phenomenon in psychiatry: Patients often put up psychological barriers to change. Frequently, the mental illness causes intense suffering for the patient, yet patients will often resist change. From the point of view of the psychiatric literature, the resistance originates in the patient.

Erickson's point of view was entirely different. And I believe his different point of view led to his many innovations in the field and allowed him to successfully treat patients who were unreachable by other competent psychiatrists:

Erickson considered a resistant patient to be an indication of his own lack of skill. 

In other words, if he was skilled enough at dealing with a particular human psyche, there would be no resistance. If his rapport with the patient was strong enough, there would be no resistance. If he had the right approach, there would be no resistance. And in fact, many times Erickson was able to help "resistant" subjects nobody else could help because he would use their resistance. He would say things like, "I don't want you to change too quickly" and they would resist him by changing immediately.

I often think about this when I run into someone who "just won't listen." My first instinctive response is, "This person is too self-righteous and stubborn to listen." But then I remember Erickson's perspective, and I think maybe I'm just not skilled enough yet. And I wonder, "What might get through to this person?"

We've got a real problem here. If national policies are going to change, a significant percentage of non-Muslims will need to be acquainted with the basic jist of Islamic doctrine. And for this to happen, it is up to us. The media will not do it for us. Politicians won't do it. School teachers aren't going to do it. If it's going to happen, it will be we few who do it — those of us who are now acquainted with Islamic doctrine.

And of course, you've already discovered that a significant proportion of the general population resists learning about Islam. One way to interpret this is, "They are idiots. They won't listen to the facts." Another way to interpret it is, "I must not be skilled enough yet. I wonder what kind of approach might get through to this person? I wonder what new skill I could learn that would make it possible?"

I propose to you that we will accomplish our goal much faster with the second interpretation than we will with the first. And on this topic, speed is important. To see a good example of this approach in action, watch Freedom Writers, get inspired, and then get to work improving your abilities and coming up with new ways to approach the task. And as you discover ways that work, share them with us here: Talk About Islam Among Non-Muslims.

P.S. For efficiency's sake, it is important to focus first on the undecided.

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