You Don’t Have to Feel Small

Brother Hoss in His New Prius Prime

One reason I drove my Honda for 235,000 miles:  I didn’t want to endure the process of buying a car, even if it was The Kindest Choice.

In the past, I have felt manipulated and taken advantage of by salesmen.   Car buying has always felt like a win/lose situation.  I was once mocked by a salesman for wanting a green car when he only had red.  It wasn’t about me, but it still hurt my feelings.

I’ve responded to car-haggling with belligerence.  Then I manage to feel guilty no matter what – guilty for spending too much; guilty for being snarky; and guilty for spending too little and ruining the salesman’s day.

All in all, buying a car was a no-win situation that made me feel small….


This time, even though I worked with an alleged haggle-free program I thought a haggle or two might sneak into the exchange.  If it did, I was determined to turn my no-win into our win-win.

At our Center, we work with a principle called the Third Force.  The basic premise is two opposing forces exist in many interactions.  Rather than dig into one side or another, we can hold the dynamic tension of the two forces and patiently wait for the reconciling force – the third – to create something entirely new.  This new thing is beyond compromise.  It is a win/win for both parties.

So I entered the car purchase situation with an awareness of the two forces: I knew that the salesman’s force would silently bellow “spend money,” and my force would plead “save money.”

I acknowledged these opposing truths and held space for  a greater unknown.  It was clear that spaciousness and the room for something new, would arise through the practice of mindful kindness.

Kindness disarmed my angst and defensiveness.  Kindness was the Third Force.

I got to know Brad, my salesman, during the test drive.  I learned about his family.  I unguarded my heart as I moved from defensiveness into admiration.  He wasn’t against me.  He wasn’t trying to take something from me.  He was just a guy yearning to be a good provider for his wife and kids.  I sincerely wanted to support his noble intentions.

When Brad and his manager presented me with a list of costly ad-ons, I responded with a phrase that seemed to puzzle them.  Perhaps it has never been uttered in a car dealership: “I will take these numbers home and meditate on them.”  They couldn’t argue with that.

At home, I did the math, then presented them with a respectful email containing an excel spreadsheet that indicated my desires compared to theirs.  I gently stated, “I would love to be able to purchase all the features you’re offering, but here’s what I feel is a responsible choice for me.”  Again, no arguing, only an opening for agreement.

I think we all did well; I think we all left the exchange happy and satisfied.

What was the “something new” created by the Third Force?  The best part for me was feeling like I transcended old patterns.  I had been fair and kind.  Everyone was respectful.  And I wondered where else I can move from default defensiveness to kindness?

How about you?  Have you had success in situations like this; or is there a place where you can apply these principles and see what win/win unfolds?   

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10 Responses to You Don’t Have to Feel Small

  1. Christine Voth says:

    Wonderful blog! Very helpful example for me to apply in my life. Thank you!


  2. Gail Munri says:

    Wonderful example! Proud of you and plan on applying it in my life.


  3. Bill and Annie says:

    With all the miles u put on a car it was wise of u to get a plug-in. Mother will be happy with your choice of transports.



  4. I had a wonderful experience with the Third Force just recently, Bonnie. Though I didn’t know to call it that at the time. I’ve been experimenting with kindness (as you know) and I have been trying to really show up in situations where my impulse is unkind. Recently a student sent an angry, somewhat manipulative email in response to a grade she didn’t like. She’d never gotten such a grade, she wanted me to know. She wanted to know how to drop the class. I said she could come meet with me and we could go over her assignment together. I was dreading this meeting. When she showed up, she was angry. I told her I was happy to talk with her but I wanted to feel that she was able to hear what I had to say. I told her I felt her email was somewhat manipulative and I would not have that kind of conversation with her, but that I did want to see her do better in the class. I did want to see her succeed. And to help.

    She apologized for the email and we spent about half an hour in a total deadlock–her explaining to me how she’d done exactly what I’d asked on the assignment; me explaining to her how she hadn’t. We couldn’t hear each other. Finally she said, “no one will help me. I’m out here in the ocean trying to swim, but I am dying.” And I realized how defensive I was being–how I was trying to prove to her that I’d given her a fair grade. Because she is a graduate student–not an undergrad like the rest of the class–I felt especially guarded, eager to prove to her that my work was valuable even to someone with her experience and skills. We decided to try again two days later.

    She came in and I was ready to listen. She explained to me how she had arrived at the points she made in her paper and I began to understand that she hadn’t understood the assignment. But that she did have some interesting things to say about the text. The next day, I emailed her to check in. I told her I didn’t want her to feel like she was drowning. She wrote a brief thank you in response and said she was okay.

    The next week she came back again. She had rewritten the assignment and wanted to discuss it. She also wanted to tell me how much she had enjoyed all the texts we’d read in the course. “All of them are just…” she made a gesture of punching herself in the gut. “So good. I can’t stop thinking about them,” she said. I told her how happy this made me. Really, it’s exactly what I hope to hear students say about literature. We talked about her writing, the readings, her upcoming travel schedule, our final exam. I asked how she was feeling about her work in our class and she said, “I just needed you to hear my ideas about the poem.” It was a nice conversation. She left, and I felt better about things with us.

    About ten minutes later, I heard her in the hall. “Mandy?” she said, “I just wanted to give you a hug.” She came in and we shared an awkward but totally heart warming hug. And she left again.

    It was so much work for me to make this third force. It wasn’t natural for me, despite my ongoing efforts at practicing kindness. I think I’ve identified a very defensive person inside me. She’s good at being kind when it’s easy and she is content. Not so much otherwise. But finding this third space, where I could both set boundaries for myself and offer kindness to someone else, it was new for me. It was so exciting really.

    I love you blog posts, Bonnie. I know I often say this. But it is true.


    • Bonnie says:

      Wow, Mandy-it took me a while to get to this, but it is so beautiful and affirming. Thank you for the reminder about practicing the Third especially when it is challenging. You are not alone in that -LOL – miss you, love you, can’t wait to hear more about what you are up to. Love, Bonnie


  5. Linda Dye says:

    Wonderful! And I’m looking forward to seeing your car. The color is gorgeous!


  6. Hunter Purdy says:

    I use this in my coaching practice often. We hold both ends of the continuum and feel into what wants to come through the middle from infinite possibility. We move from “or” to “and”.


  7. Pingback: P.R.A.Y. | Daily Beloved

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