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  • Writer's pictureJonathan Gibbons

Preference & Demand

What’s the difference between a preference and a demand? And what do they have to do with acceptance?

Both preferences and demands are concerned with our wanting or desiring something. Wanting something to be different—or the same. To change—or not to change. Wanting to get something—or not get it. Wanting to lose something—or not lose it.

So what’s the big difference?

Obviously a demand is stronger than a preference. It’s the difference between “I insist that you pay me the money you owe me before the end of the week” and “I’d rather you paid me the money you owe me before the end of the week.”

Okay. But why is the distinction important?

Because when we demand that something is a certain way, we stop allowing life to be the way it is. We tighten up—mentally and physically—and refuse to accept that life can be any different from what we insist on. And that’s completely unreasonable, simply because so many aspects of any given situation are beyond our control. If I demand something, I’m quite possibly asking for the impossible. Which will clearly lead to frustration.

If we think about the example of you owing me money, we don’t have to analyze it very deeply to see that my demand may be unreasonable for a variety of reasons. You may not have any money. Or you may have no intention of ever paying me back. There may be a good reason—that I don’t know about—why you can’t or won’t pay me. Or something may happen before the end of the week to make it impossible for you to return my money.

On the other hand, if I merely prefer that you pay me back, that leaves me open to the possibility that you won’t. I’d rather she paid me back, but if she can’t or won’t, it won’t kill me. It leaves me accepting of what happens when it happens. Or what doesn’t happen when it doesn’t happen. I still prefer things to be one way rather than the other, but there’s a whole lot less tension around my feeling toward the situation. And that lack of tension makes all the difference. To me. Because I no longer have to resist reality.

A demand is always unreasonable. We can’t just insist that life is a certain way. To do so is absurd. “Little Me” demanding that the world is different from the way it actually is. How can I possibly expect what’s happening to always perfectly fit my ideas of what should be happening? If I demand that life is a certain way, I’ll be constantly disappointed and frustrated because the flow of life is so much stronger than any demands that I might have about it.

Life will always win.


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