We Teach What We Allow

by Nancy Zwiers | 23 Jun 2022

The Bloom Report

We Teach What We Allow

By Nancy Zwiers


I recently heard a funny story from a friend. 


Married for 40 years, my friend told me how her husband kept forgetting her birthday, even though it was the day before his.  As additional context, she shared that she disproportionately took on homemaking responsibilities though out their marriage (even though both spouses worked), and now in their mutual retirement. 

  • My friend was finally fed up with not being acknowledged on her special day. She wanted to send a message to her husband after yet another missed birthday. The next day on his own birthday, he woke up to a gift—a round plastic “I Can’t Believe it’s Not Butter” container with a festive ribbon tied around it.  He opened it to discover a pile of warm steaming dog sh*t.  Ouch—message received! 


I laughed at the story and repeated a phrase I had heard years ago:  We Teach What We Allow.


Hmmm…we teach what we allow.  Let’s face it: we are all motivated to often overlook irritations, infractions, and injustices in the interest of keeping the peace.  But, at what cost?  Is it indeed better to let negative behaviors pile up?


I was first introduced to this concept as a parent, but since then, I’ve seen how it applies to many different domains of life.  We can all envision examples on a personal level…

  • Work:
    • Letting oneself be interrupted in a meeting
    • Accepting demands that regularly require sacrificing precious family time
    • Allowing a co-worker to gossip about a colleague with you
    • Allowing a boss to speak to you in a belittling fashion
  • Family:
    • Letting family members leave dirty dishes in the sink
    • Allowing family members to use their phones at dinnertime (It can be exhausting fighting this fight)
    • Not enforcing reasonable limits on [fill in blank]
  • Relationships/Friendships:
    • Overlooking a habit of last-minute cancellations


The concept of “We Teach What We Allow” forces us to confront our own complicity in the matter at hand.  So, how do we push back without jeopardizing important relationships?


Some wisdom can be found in the long-time bestselling book that I believe everyone should read, Crucial Conversations: Tools for Talking when Stakes are High.  The four authors defy the conventional wisdom that it is best to keep quiet to avoid rocking the boat…put up and shut up.  It’s true that most people mistakenly believe that they must choose between being honest and keeping the friendship.  The authors instead contend that we only have two choices: “Talk it out…or act it out.”  If we don’t find a way to constructively confront the issue at hand, we will likely find ourselves acting out resentment in a way that harms the very relationship we are trying to protect with our silence.  This research-based book shares clearcut and proven advice on how to be honest in a way that deepens and sustains relationships.


Let’s consider contemplating our inadvertent complicity in the face of our current relationship challenges, as well as society’s challenges at large.  Regarding the latter:

  • Are we teaching name-calling and online bullying?
  • Are we teaching it is ok to lie to get ahead?
  • Are we teaching we can get away with breaking the law if we are powerful?
  • Are we teaching vigilantism?
  • Are we teaching mass shootings?


Let’s resolve to get better at calling out/pushing back on bad behaviors in our personal lives and in our larger society.  Or we can always deliver a warm pile of pooh to make our point.






#crucial conversations #we teach what we allow #relationships

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