top of page

Becoming a Unilateralist

What does it mean to be a unilateralist?

It means to make choices and decisions for yourself without considering it to be necessary or even helpful to consult with others (or to get agreement from them), even though those others may believe that you should consult with them or get their agreement for such decisions.

Sometimes it would be better if we were not acting as a universalist

Often we act as universalists when it would better if we didn't. I will review some of those circumstances later. 

But, there is a special set of choices and decisions where they are our business and our business only. To believe (or even act as if) we need to or should consult with others about whether to make these decisions is to forfeit, in some measure, our right to take care of ourselves and our right to make decisions which serve our happiness (which is your #1 job in life).

No one can think for you (you make the final assessment)

And you take full responsibility for that. Even if you decide that you will accept or support another's decision that affects you (like your doctor's, your lawyer's, the government's, or to be influenced by some anecdote or story), there is no way you can escape the fact (even though you may want to) that you are the ultimate decider. You will not accept another's assessment over you own unless you decide there is reason to believe that they know better than you do in what is best for you (and you're willing to take that risk). And you accept the fact that whatever assessment you go with, your own or another's, could turn out to be in error. There is always risk and cost in going with any decision, whatever it is and whether it aligns with others or not. And you fully embrace and accept that fact as necessary part of living a great life.

And even that includes the above assessment and stand that I am suggesting you make! 

The purpose of everyone's life is to be happy (which cannot be chosen or unchosen, it just a fact)

The only "choice" you have about this is to recognize it or not and to align your actions so that you're more likely to maximize happiness in your life. Here's the evidence to support that fact.

Your #1 job is to take care of yourself

Yes, others care for you. Yes, others have their ideas about what is best for you. Yes, others are also trying to take care of themselves the best they know how (although they may say they're just trying to do what's best for you). And very often, the best way to take care of yourself is to find ways to aligned your own self-interests (both long-term and short-term) with the self-interests of others.

Including all of the above, it's your #1 job to take care of yourself and no one else can take that responsibility away from you.

You are a adult and 100% responsible 

If you blame others or blame yourself, you are limiting your power, not only to take care of yourself, but also in your ability to care for others.

Whether or not you are empowered and/or happy is ultimately in your court

The most fundamentally important unilateral actionable fact to get clear about is that how others, the world, and even yourself (your own thoughts, beliefs, and interpretations) occur for you. How they occur for you will directly and fundamentally affect whether you are empowered and happy or disempowered and suffering. Becoming a masterful unilateralist about this possibility requires a playful and ongoing curiosity and intention.

An example with myself. Not more than two years ago (now is March, 2021), whenever my eyes would casually land on a disorganized corner of my exercise room, I felt a disquietude, stimulated by the thoughts, "When am I ever going to get that corner cleaned up? It doesn't seem that I can ever find the time."

Today, whenever my eyes land on the same disorganized corner, I feel gratitude and satisfaction, stimulated by the thought, "I am so blessed to have such a smorgasbord of interesting things I could do in life, regardless of whether or not I ever get to any particular one."

I was able to establish this relatively new automatic interpretation of the same circumstance by proactivity creating a more empowering and happy belief about this current disorganized corner. And also, much more powerfully, I transformed the occurrence of all similar circumstances by installing the more generalized believe and interpretation that my life is filled with unlimited possibilities of "things to do" that I get to choose from.

There is (usually) no need to be rough about it

I could even argue that if you're being rough about maintaining the boundaries with others or in making choices that you need to make in service to the above fundamentals, then you still have not fully accepted those fundamental choices.

Example. My friend Roger has asked to borrow some money from me. First, let's imagine I get a few more details about his request to ensure I am making the best choice for myself.  And then, after doing this, I decide that I would probably not be taking best care of myself and may not even be taking care of my relationship with Roger if I lent him the money. Then I would respond this way.

"Roger, a part of me would like to help you by lending you the money you asked for. But I'm not seeing how I could do that and still take care of myself. I hope you might be able to understand this, okay?"

Essentially, I am saying "no" to Roger. But I am doing it in a kinder and more respectful way than by giving him a blunt "no" or by avoiding giving him a clear or timely answer.

Examples of circumstances in which it could be much better not to act like a unilateralist

1) Instead of trying to decide unilaterally the best course of action regarding an issue with a current relationship, it could be much better for both of you for you to initiate a Partnership Conversation with that person to discover and decide upon a better approach.

2) Instead of unilaterally deciding what your position will be in a negotiation, it could serve you both if you revealed the more fundamental values and issues you're wanting to address in the negotiation, as well as inviting the other party to reveal their more fundamental values and issues. From this deeper mutual understanding, and with an attitude of partnership and creativity, it's likely you'll arrive at a negotiated settlement which serves you both better.

3) Instead of unilaterally imposing a consequence on someone else (even a child), it could serve both you and the relationship better (and also the beneficial effect of whatever consequence you may impose anyway), if you talk with that person with an attitude of respect, inviting them to consider what might be best for you to do regarding their behavior where you think a consequence might be appropriate.

If you look for them, you will start to discover many types of circumstances where your default way of thinking and acting unilaterally will likely not serve you as well as a more respectful and partnership approach would.

If you're like most, when you first begin to choose a non-unilateral approach in these situations, you will need to choose more courage. See the CCC toolkit.

bottom of page