Tom sits on the couch looking at me. He has described his disgust at his girlfriend for not calling him when she said she would last night, and I have just asked whether his anger might be partly based in feeling abandoned by her.
“No, that’s not it. Why would I feel abandoned? I had my own plans, after all. I’m not even angry at her. But I don’t respect people who don’t do what they say they will do.”
There is nothing inherently unreasonable about Tom’s response. However, I am aware that he responded almost immediately to my question. By responding without taking time to think, he seemed to reject my query without giving it any consideration.
It is easy to perceive Tom’s apparent lack of deliberation as dismissal. The implied message seems to be, “If that’s what you believe, prove it!”
As with all human interactions, there are two people involved. There is the possibility that Tom hasn’t rejected my question without considering it. I may be mistaken in my perception. After all, I can’t read Tom’s mind. The most skillful thing for me to do at this point may be to just share my perception with Tom and ask him if it is correct. If I am skilled in emotional communication I would probably also let him know that it hurt a bit when he seemed to not take my question seriously.
On the other hand, my perception may be correct. Many of us operate at times in “Prove it!” mode. In this mode, we require evidence for why we should consider someone else’s point of view. This is a defensive stance. It feels like you are a guard standing at the top of the castle wall, calling down to the farmer standing outside the gate, “Prove that those sheep of yours are fit to come into the castle!”
“Prove it!” mode is adept at bringing out defensiveness in others. The person saying, “Prove it!” seems to be questioning whether the other person has ideas that are worthy of consideration. That can appear condescending or downright insulting.
The person on the receiving end of “Prove it!” is usually not the only one losing out. The person demanding proof may be depriving themselves of an opportunity.
When you demand proof that you should consider another person’s perspective, it is like going to a clothing shop, seeing an interesting piece of clothing that is unlike any you have seen before, and demanding proof that it will fit you before trying it on. If you walk out of the shop because the salesperson can’t give you a persuasive argument for why it will fit you, then you will have deprived yourself of the potential for discovering something new. Trying the item on is really the only way to find out if it fits and provides something desirable.
There are risks inherent in trying on others’ perceptions or ideas without first demanding proof of their worthiness. You might find out that they see something more clearly than you do. You might find out that you are wrong about something, or that your perspective is incomplete. You might find out that people who aren’t good at offering proof still have valid perspectives.
Since proving something is true is much harder than finding reasons to question its validity, requiring proof is a very effective way of keeping out new ideas and perspectives. Only you can decide whether you value your current perspective more than you value seeing more completely.
If you value expanding your view, try taking “Prove it!” out of your vocabulary – whether spoken or unspoken. Your relationships will benefit as much as your personal growth.