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Is the Stubbornness a Sin?

Terry H. Schwadron

Jan. 4, 2019

Today’s homily is about stubbornness, particularly in our leaders. It’s an idea that bubbles up naturally out of this frustrating stand-off we’re seeing in Washington over border security on the Southern border.

Both President Trump — “We need a Wall!” — and Democratic congressional brass — “Not a dime for a Wall!” — are holding the nation’s government and 800,000 federal employees hostage over their insistence on being right. Curiously, the parties gathered on Wednesday in the White House Situation Room, allegedly to hear actual facts about the border, though it seemed in the end to prove just another place to stand on opposite sides of the room and sniff diffidently at one another.

Let’s agree that Americans like political leaders who show some political spine, who are willing to stand up for values in our public policies. The hope in our system is that good-meaning people who may disagree with one another about policy will find ways to persuade one another about the efficacy of one argument or the other — and point to compromise on behalf of a bigger issue at hand, like actual governance of the country.

Somehow, that’s gone off the rails. On the issue at hand, you could see people blaming either side — or both.

Actual fact and experience might prove useful, for example. If we already have nearly 700 miles of wall-fencing or other-named barrier, how is that working out? If Trump wants to claim a sudden surge in illegal immigration attempts, why are those 700 miles of barrier not working exactly in the way that he would have us believe is needed over a much longer, multi-faceted topography over much private land that would have to be taken by eminent domain? If, as the facts suggest, the vast majority of illegal immigrants overstay visas, how does a Wall prove an effective tool?

Nevertheless, It is too easy to fall back on the over-used campaign slogans. This is about emotion rather than facts.

Nevertheless, we should recognize that “Stubbornness is the ugly side of perseverance. Those who exhibit this attribute cling to the notion that they’re passionate, decisive, full of conviction, and able to stand their ground — all of which are admirable leadership characteristics,” according to a Harvard Business School study.

I’m tempted to send copies to the Washington actors.

Researchers were looking at stubbornness and leadership effectiveness, and offering advice to business leaders. Noting that being somewhat “stubborn isn’t always a bad thing,” the study goes on to say: “They’re hardheaded. They dig their heels in. You know the type — people who are way too stubborn for their own good. While it’s easy to point the finger at others who exhibit this behavior, it can be hard to recognize this trait in yourself.”

The study suggests that you (or, say, the President or remarkably resilient incoming Speaker) should examine their self positions to determine whether you keep at an idea or plan, or insist on making your point, even when you know you’re wrong; whether you are doing something you want to do even if no one else wants to do it; whether you visibly feel anger, frustration, and impatience when others try to persuade you of something with which you don’t agree.

Hmmm, sound familiar?

A spirituality magazine article notesthat “the overly stubborn individual is often the victim of Pyrrhic victory — while they get what they want, the damage they’ve done along the way negates any good that could have come out of it. Their advice: Seek to understand the other side, remain open to possibilities, admit when you might be wrong, and decide what circumstances you can accept. Of course, this is the everyday part of managing, whether a marriage, a business, interpersonal relationships or politics.

“At the root of all stubbornness is the fear of letting go of your own ideas, convictions, decisions and at times, identity. But as renowned author James Baldwin eloquently stated, “Any real change implies the breakup of the world as one has always known it… Yet, it is only when a man is able, without bitterness or self-pity, to surrender a dream he has long cherished or a privilege he has long possessed that he is set free… for higher dreams, for greater privileges.” Sometimes, letting go of an overly staunch position can result in greater value than you originally expected.

We should recognize that restating facts often does not work to dissuade the stubborn person. As we are seeing daily from the White House, stubborn people invent “alternative facts” to support their predisposed position.

Rather, we should recognize that stubbornness is essentially an entrenched resistance to change. And given that life is all about change, stubbornness is effectively a resistance to life itself. The person with stubbornness is driven by a fundamental resistance to being forced to do anything or experience anything against his will. The basic stance is, “No, I won’t, and you can’t make me.”

The personality with stubbornness is over-sensitive to the possibility of having sudden or unwanted change imposed upon itself, and sees the threat of it everywhere, say those who write academically about stubborness. Anything new or different or involving change is perceived (subconsciously at least) as a direct threat.

Democrats dealing with stubborn Trump should recognize already falling into this trap. They’re not going to win the 2020 presidential elections by convincing Trump supporters that they were wrong to vote for him last November or that they’re responsible for his failures in office. Instead, as author and psychology professor Robert Cialdini explains, Democrats must offer Trump supporters a way to get out of their prior commitment while saving face: “Well, of course you were in a position to make that decision in November because no one knew about X.”

As newly minted Sen. Mitt Romney, R-UT, noted in his public criticisms of the president this week, the parties need to remember that politics is about providing the foe with appearing to win just as much as you.

That’s my opinion, and I’m sticking with it.


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