Me and My Stiff-necked Cronies: Is being stubborn an asset or a failing?


I come from a stiff-necked family. That means each of us usually feels we’re right, and we’re obstinate about expressing and sticking to our opinions. One woman has friends discarded over the years who have done her wrong in some way, and she refuses to see, talk, or Facebook them. A man marches into work to confront a disliked boss, even if he knows he may be fired. All of us take positions on political candidates and won’t budge come hell or high water or verifiable proof of wrong-doing, such as fishy business practices or shaky sponsorships.

I’m no different. I currently have a collection of groups with which I’m feuding. They don’t know it, but I am. Several nonprofits whose operations I question will have neither support nor cooperative ventures nor future referrals from me. I even have a relative I’ve written off my Christmas card list and regular phone calls because of his don’t-give-a-damn attitude. I don’t have to be personally acquainted with individuals to make a value judgement and stiffen my neck. If I hear about friends of friends opting to spend their money on expensive trinkets or trips, my teeth start grinding on their own because they’re not sacrificing for a social cause.

This topic came up when several of my siblings and I did a group call, and I afterwards proudly noted that we hadn’t fought. The way I remember childhood, the entire family had been at loggerheads (whatever those are) constantly. One sibling was truly puzzled, having no recollection of rabid quarrels, shouting matches, or verbal tussles. I started wondering about the possible value of stubbornness. Maybe I’d simply been too cowardly in my youth. Loud voices don’t necessarily equal belligerence, and, as the sibling said later, “It’s not necessarily an argument to give a differing view.”

Being stiff-necked, aka stubborn, obstinate, pig-headed, determined, tenacious, mulish, can be an asset. It helps us set goals and meet them, triumph over adversity, dig out new opportunities. But, it also can harm us. We can lose not only an argument but also a friend when we can’t be swayed by facts, emotion, or the truth.

Before analyzing reasons for or against being stiff-necked, consider the impact of the trait on people. What I call stubbornness, you might label strength of convictions. This certainly affects relationships among individuals. You might fail to repair a relationship of benefit to both of you because of your mulishness.

At what point should you surrender your position? Take out the rod running up your backbone and bend? Isn’t peace worth giving in? Isn’t interpersonal harmony of greater value than being right?

Maybe not. In a rush to make peace, nuances may be so subtle, you can’t predict what you might lose until you’ve welcomed an unknown enemy inside the city walls. Countries have found to their eternal regret they’ve achieved accord only to lose their sovereignty. Certainly this danger exists between individuals, too. I placate you, and you bully me.

Then comes the perverseness of a certain type of personality. What you label as obstinacy, another may think is simply intellectual fun. My husband can rabidly argue on one side of a question, then switch positions and equally fervently support the opposite. Is this being stiff-necked? Or as that all-knowing genius, Anonymous, says, “I’m not arguing, I’m simply explaining why I’m right.”