Around 10 or 11 months, parents start watching for their babies to take their first steps. Dad will call home from work, “Did he walk yet?” and Mom will say, “I thought he was going to, he pulled himself up on the table and he looked, for a long time, at the couch, but he changed his mind and crawled. Maybe later.” When the child finally takes his first steps, it’s celebrated as a joyous event. There is clapping and praises and phone calls to Grandma. Parents tell neighbors, friends, and strangers at the bus stop. “He walked yesterday!” It’s a grand occaision.
However, let’s critique that first walk. Like, how far did they really get? Are you telling me they got from the coffee table to the couch? Three whole feet? I’m supposed to get excited about a 3-foot walk? And, then, what did they do once they got there? Fall? Drool on the couch? Bite the dog? Poop their pants? This is what we’re celebrating? So you’re telling me we’re getting all excited about someone taking 5 wobbly steps between pieces of furnature for no goal whatsoever other than to harass the family pet? And why are we celebrating this again?
What if someone would criticize a baby’s first steps in that way? We would find them to be a total monster. To put down and minimize a baby’s first steps in that way is terrible behavior that almost no one would tolerate. I think we can all easily agree that a baby’s first steps are, indeed, a big deal and that they’re supposed to be wobbly and they might only make it from one piece of furnature to another, and that’s totally okay. They are the FIRST steps the baby will take, not the ONLY or the LAST.
Fast-forward 40 years and let’s look at a husband and wife. Let’s say the husband is totally fed up with his wife’s spending habits. It seems she goes out with her girlfriend every Saturday and they have a nice lunch, then they get their nails done, then they go shopping. She generally comes home with a new outfit or two and a pair of shoes. He has begged and pleaded with her to cut down on her spending and she swears she will try. One Saturday she comes home and excitedly announces that she is so proud of herself. She announces that after lunch with her girlfriend and after having her hair and nails done, instead of going shopping, the two of them took a walk around the park. The husband looks at the credit card receipts and sees that she spent $22 on lunch and $45 at the salon and says to her, “You spent almost 70 bucks today and I’m supposed to congratulate you? Gimme a break!”
Now, what do you think that will do to her spending habits? How about her mood or her morale? It will, of course, crush her. She’ll feel punished and sad or angry. She is more likely to spend even more money next week to retaliate against him for his rude comment. What she did was to take a BABY STEP. She made one small adjustment in the direction he was asking. When someone makes a concession for you, it will almost never be enough right away, just like when a baby first walks. If you do not acknowledge that progress when it occurs, it is not likely to happen again.
So, be sure to celebrate everyone’s baby steps towards improvement, especially your own!