There are two ways to (attempt to) teach someone a lesson.
The “I told you so” approach is a common and easy one. Someone fails and then you amplify their shame in hopes that they will take your counsel next time with eager ears.
Some people crave this moment. It’s as if they enjoy seeing someone who was at the top of their confidence completely melt into their own demise. It’s probably not the first time they’ve said this, either.
Why would anyone do this? I think it has to do with control.
In some area of this person’s life, they lack control or authority. I can take a fair guess that they probably don’t like their job, either. So when a ripe moment to feel superior, smart, and confident in their own abilities presents itself, the I-told-you-so approach can reinvigorate their sense of self and alleviate any insecurities for the moment.
The translation is simple: “You should have listened to me, idiot, because I know better when it comes to topics like these.” Sometimes the person does learn a lesson, but the aftertaste is bitter and they’re conditioned to believe that feeling shame is how you learn a lesson.
The second (read: better) way to teach someone a lesson takes the emotional labor of patience, empathy, and kindness. It’s about creating a space for this person to reflect on their mistakes or shortcomings and it’s about you acting as a mirror for them to cultivate self-awareness. The best way to help your friend is to create that space so they can have their ah-ha moment.
Don’t steal their revelation.
Left to our own devices, we may spin in circles in our own self-doubt and negative thinking, which is why we need a friend who is less emotionally attached to help us gain clarity and make better decisions.
As Anne Lamott said in Small Victories,
The worst possible thing you can do when you’re down in the dumps, tweaking, vaporous with victimized self-righteousness, or bored, is to take a walk with dying friends. They will ruin everything for you.”
The space to learn and reflect is created when you give your friend the reassurance that you see them, hear them, and are there to support them. This space begins to widen when you ask questions like:
•What story are you telling yourself?
•How do you want to feel?
•What does success look like?
•Where’s the fear and tension? Why?
•What do you think is the best thing you can be doing for yourself right now?
•What did you learn from this?
The crevices of daily life are opportunities to fill with lessons worth learning so that we may become whole. Why wag your finger when you can lend your whole hand?