Act vs React

Action, reaction … schmreaction. Pft. Who cares?

Actually, I do. Why? Not because I think there’s a thing you *ahem* should or should not be doing, but because I actually care about your personal happiness. I know, sounds weird, right? I mean, wouldn’t the logical assumption be that I’m blogging all this because I like reading myself think? Actually, no, not at all. Believe me, I wouldn’t pay a site to host a blog just for that purpose! So why do I care about your personal happiness? Simple! The happier you are, the happier the people around you will be. The happier they are, the happier the people around them will be … and so on and so forth, until one day this big ol’ world is full of happy people! Ok, yeah, it’s a long-term goal, but it means the same thing — I do care about your personal happiness. As always, if something I can offer up can help you achieve your own personal happiness? Yay!

Per our quote above, we’re given the opinion that sometimes, actual action is more difficult than reaction. That’s one of the first things I want to point out; yes, action usually is more difficult: less satisfying; more complex: less sure; than simple reaction. Why is that? Hopefully, that’s what we’ll discover in this next bit of blatherings!

So, to begin — hey! No definitions today! Instead, you’re going to get Isende-speak for what I mean by “Action” and “Reaction.”

Reaction: Allowing a person, situation, event, or other external stimulus to dictate how you behave

Action: Owning responsibility for our behavior, regardless of a person, situation, event, or other external stimulus

Right there, I think you’ll see what I consider the primary difference between the two; in action, we assume responsibility for what we do. We don’t fob it off on someone else — “See what you made me do?” We don’t try to tell ourselves, or others, that we “had no choice.” We step up to the plate, consider our options, then choose one that seems to have the best ability to meet the needs on-hand. That’s it. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. Someone who’s stuck in “react” mode, however, will blame others. They will refuse to accept culpability for their responses. They will, also, repeat the behavior over and over and over … because until you decide to own your behavior, you are stuck in a bad cycle, and bad cycles repeat until we overcome them. Period.

To give this personal meaning, I’m going to fall back on what I did with the Choices posts; I’m going to offer up some scenarios, then deconstruct them. Here goes!

Scenarios: Action vs. Reaction

I thought about using fake scenarios again, but you know what they say — sometimes life is stranger than fiction! So today, we use my life experiences.

First one: I was 17 and living with a friend, just before I married my first husband. My friend had her sister living with us; Sister was about five months pregnant at the time. We were all young, all smoked. Sister also drank nothing but coffee all day, and she especially chain-smoked. One day, my friend decided that Sister needed exercise, and the only way she could convince Sister to get exercise was to refuse to go buy her cigarettes. The store was in walking distance, and my friend thought that if Sister had to go to the store at least once a day, she’d get some exercise, and be less likely to lose her baby. I mean, this girl literally sat in the middle of the couch, chain-smoking and drinking coffee all day. Not good.

Sister ran out of smokes. Asked my friend to run to the store. My friend refused. An argument ensued, and quickly escalated to physical violence. In short, Sister was attempting to beat the crap outta my friend, and my friend was afraid to fight back. I mean, pregnant lady, right? I looked, observed, thought, then decided. I also didn’t want to hurt her or the baby, but I needed this to deescalate. So, I stuck my arm between them, grabbed Sister by her hair and backed her against a wall. The intention was to hold her there until she calmed down; however. Arm in front of face = something to bite. Yep, to this day, I have a lovely circular bite mark on my forearm.

Right then and there, what do you think I wanted to do? I actually had visions of slamming her head back into the wall a couple of times. I mean, it HURT! But … pregnant lady. Baby. So I kept her teeth in my arm and slowly pushed her down until she was kneeling on the floor, where I held her. She eventually let go of my arm, then calmed down. Discussion ensued, blah blah blah, and I had to go into the hospital to get the bite seen about.

Why is this a good scenario to share? Because Sister lost the baby a couple of weeks later. I know, now, absolutely, that I did nothing to contribute to the loss. I know that for a fact. I can live with that. If I’d reacted; if I’d slammed her head back into the wall; if I’d done any of the seemingly-satisfying things I wanted to do, I’d have had to live with wondering, for the rest of my life, if I’d caused the miscarriage.

Second scenario: My now-husband, we’ll call him Beloved, used to be notoriously bad about managing money. When we met, he was in the habit of regularly taking cash advances, through his bank, against future paychecks. This allowed him to live as though he had more money than he had, but it didn’t really accommodate emergencies, savings, or any of the other little things I find very important. After he got us completely upside-down one month — not enough money in the paycheck to cover the advances; advance-fees piling up; bills due; electricity cut off — I had a choice to act or react. Reaction with me would have had me demanding that he never do this again, or berating him for being so poor with money management, or anything along those lines. But rather than deal with it immediately (once he got the electricity turned back on) I chose to think about it. To begin, what was my gut-level, visceral response to this?

Anger. Pure and simple, I was angry. He wanted me to commit to a life with him, but he wasn’t able to manage money, and having been homeless twice, money-management was very important to me. Then, I had to think about the anger. Was the anger justified? I felt it was, yes. Was expression of my anger justified? Within reason, I felt. What, then, actions should I take to express my anger, but not completely destroy the relationship? I mean, eight years later, I’m exceedingly glad I didn’t just react, but back then, I had no idea how wonderful our life together would become. Honestly, throwing in the towel and removing myself from the situation was high up on my priority list. But! I persevered! I thought it through, and decided to have a talk with him. I explained to him that money management was a verybigdeal to me, and that I needed to be able to rely on him. I asked him to promise me he would never again take an advance without discussing it with me. He gave me his word.

Which he then broke, three times, to be exact. We were even worse upside-down than we had been previously. I’d just had surgery to replace my ankle, and I was sitting down figuring out how we’d pay off our doctor’s bills … when he dropped the bombshell that we had no money to pay the bills, because he’d … um … taken advances again and um … well, we didn’t have money.

I was livid. Heck, livid doesn’t even begin to explain it. I remember distinctly popping up off the couch (one foot still in the cast, lol!), grabbing my bag & the car keys and leaving the house. I was terrified if I didn’t words would roll off my tongue and across my lips that I’d regret. I left the house for a while, and got things sorted out in my mind. Interestingly, this time, I was more angry about the broken promise than I was about the money!

Once I got myself under control, I came back, we sat down again, and talked again. I had decided there was only one course of action available to me, and that was to offer him some options. I could create a spreadsheet/budget, and teach him to use it so this wouldn’t happen again. I could even do the budget with him. Or I could manage all the money myself (which I didn’t want to do, considering the debacle brought about in my second marriage). Or, and this was the painful one, I could leave, and he could live his life however he wanted. The one condition I made absolutely clear was that, under no circumstances, would I tolerate his ever again breaking his word to me.

That situation ended up (obviously!) working out; he worked with me to learn the budget, then he began using it every Saturday morning to balance monies, so we both always know exactly where we stand (still broke, but at least not upside down!). Now, it’s just a routine part of his Saturday mornings, and I have learned to be able to rely on him to know where our money is, when we can spend, when we can’t, and how we’re looking months in advance. But think of how it could have ended up! If I’d simply reacted, the first time, to what he’d done, I’d have chewed him out, undermined his sense of self, and probably left the relationship. If I’d simply reacted the second time this happened, same results. We, as we exist now, wouldn’t exist.

Now, I’ll admit this. At the time, all I really wanted to do was tear him a new arse-hole. It would have been gloriously satisfying to give vent to my anger, fear, frustration. It would have been brilliant, for all of about two minutes, to lay into him with everything I had and completely demolish him. I won’t ever deny that. You see, that’s the lure of reacting. It allows us, momentarily, to disregard the fear, the frustration, the angst of actually dealing with the situation. It allows us to blame the other person, wholly and completely, for anything that happens from this point forward. You didn’t want to manage the money, so we’re broke? Fine. I’m going to gripe and nag and berate you for all the things I can’t do because you suck. Additionally, it allows us to feel powerful, for that moment. We’re the wronged party, they’re the jerk who wronged us! Now, they have to listen to us rant and rave because they’re the one(s) who screwed up! Yes, for that brief time, we can feel very powerful.

The experience of looking back, eight or so years later, and understanding all that I would have lost if I’d taken that route gives me a strong belief that, regardless of what we’re feeling at the moment, it is almost always better to think before we act.

Caveat here — cuz ya know, we can’t have a discussion without that! There are absolutely times when it is best to react, rather than stop and think about it. First responders know this. Emergency personnel know this. Soldiers know this. Trauma survivors know this. The times I’ve been physically attacked, I’ve had to respond immediately without the benefit of sitting back, weighing options, and choosing the best course of action. Please understand that I fully separate these types of situations from the normal, day-to-day interaction that is currently rife with reaction as opposed to action.

Soooooo … what’s it all mean?

Simple. If we react, we are giving power of ourselves, over ourselves, to someone else. When Sister bit me, if I’d reacted as I had wanted to, I’d have been behaving as she expected me to. I don’t honestly know what was going through her mind, but I don’t think you start throwing swings at someone unless you expect them to swing back. I could be wrong.

If I’d reacted, if I’d bashed her head into the wall behind her, I would have been dancing to her tune, not to my own. Regardless of the consequences, at that moment, I’d have been living by a script she was writing, not one that I was writing.

Sit back and think about this, folk. This is actually a huge deal. Every time someone glares at us, cusses us, hurts us — whatever it is — and we respond as they expect, we’ve given them the ability to control us. I personally find that absolutely abhorrent.

Someone tells me I’m fat: I can laugh at them, thank them, ignore them, or get hurt about it.

Someone fires me from a job I love because I disagreed with them: I can find a gun and kill everyone on the site, or I can go find a different, better job with a different better boss; I can go back to school, change careers; I can choose to farm; I can decide to travel.

Someone wrecks my car, severely injuring me: I can sink down into depression, possibly even commit suicide; I can give in to the pain and discomfort; I can work my arse off to overcome the injuries; I can relearn what life is like post-severe-injury.

We can’t stop the initial gut-level, emotional response. At all; nor do I believe we should attempt to stop it. I think, rather, we should give ourselves time, and do some self-talk.

“Ok, this happened. How do you feel?”

“How do you think I feel? I’m bloody pissed!”

“Right, that’s good, you’re pissed. What else?”

“I’m terrified! How’m I gonna pay bills now?”

“Right, right, on the right track now! So, we need to find a new way to pay bills …”

See where I’m going with this? Yes, it falls back on the Choices thing, but with a little twist; that twist being the part about giving over control of yourself to someone else. With the Choices blogs, I mainly wanted you to become familiar with the concept that we have way more choices than we’re taught to believe we have. With this one, I want to emphasize that letting others dictate what you do, how you respond, diminishes you. I know this, I remember being this person. Yep, I had to learn & muddle my way through it, same as you!

One sidenote here. It’s always so amusing to me when I don’t respond how people expect me to. “You’re a bitch.” “Ok.” “No, seriously, you’re a total bitch.” “Ok, and? What’s your point?” Brooks Gibbs, a motivational speaker, gave the following speech at a Ted Talks, and I found it applicable here. Ostensibly, the speech is about bullying, and how to deal with it. But watch him, watch this, and hopefully you’ll see what I mean about giving power to others, and what it looks like when you keep it for yourself.

Be courageous, and choose how you will act. Step outside the mold. Give yourself permission to see what good can come from being abnormal, especially in a society that prides itself on its caustic behavior toward others.

There are actually benefits to living this way; in my case? I have the most amazing marriage to the most amazing man on the face of the earth because I accepted that I could affect a positive change in both our lives by simply offering solutions, rather than beating him about the head with a blunt object. I can live without fearing that I caused a miscarriage. So very many things I can do, without regret, because I learned to act instead of react.

 

“Should”

Let me begin by apologizing for not having written sooner! Between business and health issues, I’ve been slow, but now it’s time to rectify that. Additionally, this is a difficult concept for me to express, and I’ve struggled with how to get it across and make sense. So, if the following fails, blame me wholly. It just means I didn’t quite find the right way of putting words together to get my views across.

As usual, I’m beginning by delving in to the literal meaning of the word “Should,” which follows:

Definition of Should 

past tense of SHALL

1used in auxiliary function to express condition
if he should leave his father, his father would die

2used in auxiliary function to express obligation, propriety, or expediency
’tis commanded I should do so
this is as it should be
you should brush your teeth after each meal

3used in auxiliary function to express futurity from a point of view in the past
realized that she should have to do most of her farm work before sunrise

4used in auxiliary function to express what is probable or expected
with an early start, they should be here by noon

5used in auxiliary function to express a request in a polite manner or to soften direct statement
should suggest that a guide … is the first essential

Ok, that’s all a lot of hoopla that shows the technical manner in which “should” should be used … see what I did there?

What I focus on however is more of how it actually is used. In our vernacular, today, the word “should” is used to convey an expectation that at times is outside of reality. Examples are things like “You really should stop eating so much” or “I should have been stronger/faster/smarter” or “What should happen is blah blah blah …”

In other words, we’re applying a measurable expectation to a situation that defies measurement. Saying “You really should stop eating so much” is as much a judgement as it is a piece of advice. In other words, your problem (whatever it is) would be alleviated if you just didn’t eat so much. “I should have been stronger/faster/smarter” is a way that we flog ourselves, after the fact, for failure. Theoretically it can be seen as an attempt to improve a future scenario where the same situation would apply; realistically it is all-too-often a measurement of our inadequacy that can hold us back from moving past a mistake. And “What should happen is blah blah blah …”? Please. Tell me how often stating our government “should” be working for the common welfare actually brings that in to being? Or how often stating doctors should be more compassionate actually brings out the compassion in docs … you get the picture, right?

In my pea-brain, many decades ago, I pondered guilt. Was guilt imposed externally, or internally? What was the difference? Why did that difference matter? I decided that guilt can be imposed externally, say from a mother telling you your actions have caused her hurt. “I can’t believe you did that. What will the neighbors think? How will I ever hold my head up again?” That kind of guilt, believe it or not, we can choose to accept, or not accept. We can turn that statement around and respond with something along the lines of “Maybe you can tell everyone to mind their own business?” or it can simply be ignored. This comes under the issue of choices, in our two previous posts.

Guilt can also be imposed internally. “Oh, wow, I stepped all over your toes, I’m so sorry!” would be an example of this. We did something, we recognize that our something directly harmed someone else (little or lot, doesn’t matter, harm was caused), and we apologize for it. In theory, once we’ve apologized and the other person has accepted the apology our guilt will be assuaged. However, we can — as mentioned above — then fall into the trap of castigating ourselves for whatever it was we did.

This pondering led to the concept of doing things out of a sense of guilt, duty, or obligation. For my purposes here, today, I’m going to exclude the sense of duty that is internally motivated, and focus on the externally-driven sense of duty; my father taught me that it’s my duty to do this. My country demands this duty from me. Anyway, the outcome of all these maunderings was that I decided I would not do anything, anymore, out of a misdirected sense of guilt, duty, or obligation. In other words, I would do things because it’s what I wanted to do, or what I couldn’t live with myself if I didn’t do. And all of this eventually wound its way down to this simple word …

Should

Should can be a good motivator. “Hrm. I really should get my arse outta bed now, and get to work, so I have money to continue paying for a roof over said bed.” It can be a way of focusing our intentions. From this perspective, I have no problem with this little six-letter word. It’s when it becomes a statement of judgement or an indicator of personal failing that I begin to have issues with it.

I spent literally years thinking I should be Superwoman. You know, full-time employee. Wife. Mother. Church member. Sunday-school teacher. I should be able to handle this entire load, just like every other woman I knew, without breaking down. I should be able to raise my daughters to be happy, sane adults when I was myself anything but happy or sane. I should be able to secure a decent job, without school or training, to supplement our household income. My inability to actually pull any of these off became goads to drive further my sense of inadequacy. Because there was this idealization that was not realistic I held myself to a higher standard than I held others to. In short, I could accept deficiencies and failure in everyone around me … except myself.

Then let’s enter the ex-husbands. Ex-husband #1 I married when I was 17 and he was 21. In some senses, we kinda grew up as adults together; he got the short end of the stick, though, because I was severely broken, and he’d had a relatively normal upbringing. He didn’t know how to deal with me, so he attempted to impose his own sense of what I should be on me. For instance, in dealing with my bulimia, he told me multiple times he couldn’t understand why I sought therapy for it. “I mean, if you don’t want to eat, just don’t eat! Don’t you realize how much money you’re wasting? If you don’t want to do something, you should be able to just make yourself not do it!” There were more examples of this type, but I think this is strong enough on its own to illustrate my point. Ex #2? Whoof. He is a Narcissist, and proud of it. Further, he’s also a self-described “Sexual Sadist” and proud of that as well. His list of “shoulds” was more underhanded, less direct. The first two years of our 10-year marriage were great, but then things began to deteriorate, as they will. Things that were once praise-worthy (“Wow, you’re really good at keeping a budget, will you manage mine, too?”) became things worthy of contempt (“Ok, you’re too controlling with the money. It’s my money, you should just let me decide how to spend it”).

In the case of #1, his view didn’t jive with my reality. If you have never fought with a compulsion, then you absolutely cannot understand it. It’s not called a desire, but a compulsion, for a reason, and that reason is that you cannot resist it. For instance, I’m OCD. I’ve learned to redirect my OCD so it’s not as onerous as it could be, but I’m still OCD and when it’s bad, I must wash my hands. They start feeling covered with gunk, gringy, icky, and while I can put off the hand-washing, there comes a point where I have to give myself permission to do so. For someone who’s struggling with a compulsive behavior (in the above case, the compulsive eating), saying “You should be able to …” implies “Hey, I can choose not to, so if I can, then anyone can.” It is simply setting aside reality (I couldn’t not eat, when the compulsion hit) and imposing your own sense of what’s right or wrong on another person. Further, there’s no way the person hearing the comment can believe anything other than they’re found lacking, in your opinion; they’re not as strong as you. They’re not as determined, disciplined, whatever, as you are. Judgement, in other words. And that is hurtful.

In the case of #2, he took something that he once praised as valorous, and destroyed it, applying a condition that at that time was unmeetable. You see, to manage our household budget I’d created a spreadsheet which I reproduced yearly. Once a year I’d sit down, plot out incomes, plot out expenses, set aside savings, and I ran the household by that budget. Yes, it had to be modified on occasion, but the setup and the modifications were done with both of us present. Giving him the ability to manage his own money, himself, would have meant his/our accounts being overdrawn regularly, as they ended up being when, in frustration, I asked him to just manage everything for us. In a couple of short months we lost my car, our home, and any savings I’d built up. His statement was again a disregard of reality (he couldn’t manage money) and a statement of failure on my part (I wasn’t letting him spend what he wanted, so I was a Femi-nazi).

By the end of the second marriage I was thoroughly fed up with this whole imposed concept of “Should.” So what’s the alternative, then? I mean, we also use “Should” to denote things we’re focused on achieving, right? When is it ok for me to use that word, and when not? I’ll spare you the long years of debate and internal debate, and just let you hear what I came to that works for me.

“Today I am going to …” instead of “I should do …”

“I am going to focus my efforts on …” instead of “I should focus on …”

“When do you want to get together?” instead of “We should get together sometime”

These are simple examples but they’re really good ones. The gist of it is this: Rather than use language that imposes, I’m using language that is more direct, more to the point. I’m avoiding something that’s open-ended, and which implies I can choose not to do it. I think that’s another part of this whole “Should” thing — using that word gives us an out, but that out is such that we regret it later, abuse ourselves later for the failure to have done it.

This language works as well with others as it does with ourselves, and honestly, it’s really our selves that I want to focus on next. You see, one of the other downfalls of “Should” is the opportunity for self-castigation.

“I should have been a better mother”

“I should have been a better wife”

“I should have been a better employee”

“I should have been smarter”

“I should have known better”

How many times have these words, or words very like them, run through your mind? How many times have you beaten yourself up over your perceived failure in a situation that, sometimes, occurred years or more ago? How many more times do you want to do this to yourself? This is where I fall back on the belief that “Should” is an imposition of an idea on reality. You see, the reality is that I wasn’t a better mother, or a better wife. I was, in fact, the absolute best mother and wife I could be, but I wasn’t better. I was the best employee I could be, but I wasn’t, in fact, better. And by the way — better than what? Better than another employee? Another wife, mother, whatever? Pft.

By continuing to use these “failures” against ourselves, we keep ourselves trapped in that moment, in that failure. Let’s completely disregard the fact that failure ain’t actually bad, but rather that it’s a learning process. Let’s just look at our mindset when we use “Should” against ourselves.

First of all, you cannot go forward if you remain facing backward. Simple physics will tell you that! Ok, yes, you could step “backwards,” but do you really wanna move toward something without being able to see it? So let’s just go with the simple analogy … you cannot move forward if you remain facing backward. This then begs the question — is the past somewhere you wish to be? Is it a good place for you to be? In my ever-so-humble opinion, not if it keeps you believing in your own inadequacy.

Second, you cannot learn how to accept, and move on from, failure if you won’t learn from it. And I’m sorry, but this idea of “Should” absolutely gets in the way of learning from failure. Example: I want to run a 1k. I begin training. I push my training to the point I believe I may actually have an opportunity to cross the finish line … and then I don’t. So my choices now are to castigate myself for failing, or to set my eyes on the next 1k, and ask myself “What do I need to do so next time, I’ll cross the line?” If I keep my mind set on my failure, without regard to what I’ve learned from it, I may never even try to run another 1k. However, if I immediately begin a plan and a program for increasing my physical stamina and ability, then I may very well cross that line next time; and if not? Then I’ve got a new baseline to work from, and I can try yet again.

Further. When we tell others what they should or should not be doing, we’re actually trying to convince the other person to do what we think we would do. Example: Let’s say my friend Isabella comes over, and she’s complaining about her boyfriend treating her like crap. If I say “You should just dump him,” I’m giving her the insight of what I think I would do, without regard to all the nuances of which she is aware, and I am not. For instance, is this a one-time crap-like treatment? Did he just have a bad day? Is there other information I’m missing, like, did Isabella have a bad day and antagonize him? There are so many variables, and I don’t have all the information, even if I listen to everything Isabella says. So for me to blithely comment “You should just dump him,” I’m not really listening to my friend, rather I’m listening-to-rebut. I’ll get into that on another blog, but it’s important here. Sometimes, maybe, Isabella just wants to come hang out, vent, and have someone who cares about her listen. When I butt in with my big mouth and my imposition of what I think I would do, I’m not really giving her that; rather, I’m imposing a judgement, and that judgement says “I’m smart enough to realize he’s a jerk, but you’re not.”

Some other possible responses in the above case would be:

“Hm. I’m sorry, sounds like you’re having a bad day. What can I do?”

“Oh, wow, he said that? That doesn’t sound like him, is he having a bad day or what?”

“How can I help?”

In other words, there’s nothing about “I” in those statements, it’s all about Isabella, and there’s absolutely no judgement. Now, if she asks me what I think she “should” do? I might respond by pointing out that I’m not her, living her life, but if I understand the situation right, I might do such-and-such. Again, no “You should,” but rather “I might.” It leaves Isabella with the understanding that I’m trying to answer her question without imposing my own self on her, or her actions.

Did I mention that this is a very hard topic for me to write about? I know what I want to say, but it sounds so distracted and scattered to me! It’s a completely different way of thinking than what we’re accustomed to. I have to wonder how much of that is because we’ve become so accustomed to being told what we should do. I mean, how about “Eat a low-fat diet,” ya’ll? Or “Go to college and get a great job!” or “Get into computers, it’s the next big thing, you’ll make tons of money!” … until the outscourcing starts. Or until we realize that the low-fat diet is actually making us fat. Or until we learn that our over-blown, super-costly college education is good for making student loan companies money … and not much else.

But we keep listening to what we “Should” do. “Should” want to be. “Should” model ourselves after. People (all 15 of you now?), if you get nothing else I say, please get this.

Let go of “Should.” Let go of the concept altogether. Learn how to speak and think in a manner that is not judgmental — of yourself, or of others. Learn how to function within the reality that is, not the reality you wish existed. I mean, that I know of, we haven’t yet learned how to switch realities, so this is all we got right now. Disregarding it, while comfortable for a brief time, is not the answer to surviving reality, and “Should” is about the biggest lie that disregards reality I know, personally.

Yes, I’m aware I’m an odd one. That’s ok, though. I can’t say I’m completely free of the tyranny of should, but I can say that every time that dirty word pops in my head, I redirect it so that it both honors reality, and honors me and the person/people I’m dealing with. I can’t say it’s made my life perfect, but I will absolutely state that it’s made my life, and hopefully the lives of my friends, much more bearable.

 

Fear

Know who Will Smith is? Honestly, if you don’t, then you’re either super young, super old, or you’ve avoided television and media for the last … 20? 25? 30 years?

The above quote came from George W. Addair, Founder of Omega Vector. It relates to Will Smith because he speaks about his experiences with sky-diving in this video. He paraphrases it somewhat by saying “God placed the best things in life on the other side of terror.”

Now, we’re not all super-masters who’ve established something intended to help other people develop themselves as completely as possible. Nor are we well well-known American celebrities and philanthropists like Will Smith. That does not, however, negate our ability to learn how to move past fear. Hopefully, something I say in the oncoming blatherings can help you firmly set your feet on the path to finding the best things in life!

Our good friends at Merriam-Webster define fear in the following way:

Fear
1  a an unpleasant often strong emotion caused by anticipation or awareness of danger
    b (1) an instance of this emotion (2) a state marked by this emotion
2 anxious concern solicitude
3 profound reverence and awe especially toward God
4 reason for alarm danger

So; fear is an emotion, or it is an event (#4).

I’ve given a great deal of consideration to fear over the years. I mean, there’s the common everyday fears — does my butt look big in these jeans? Will Joe Cool think I’m pretty or ugly? Will my boss decide he doesn’t like me today, or that I’m his buddy? Will my spouse/partner/etc still love me if they know this about me …

By saying “common, everyday fears,” I do not mean to make light of them. But when you contemplate them alongside paradoxical fear? Well, they just don’t seem that big and bad. Paradoxical fear, if you’re not familiar with the term, is fear big enough or bad enough to trigger an enhanced sympathetic response — fight or flight. This one’s beyond our ability to control. Arguably emotions are beyond our ability to control, but we can usually find a way to reason our way through them. Paradoxical fear, however, is the fear that causes your bowels to let go, urine to creep down your leg. Let’s see if I can give a succinct example.

I’m driving in my car, and someone cuts over in front of me, nearly hitting me. My adrenaline kicks in, enhancing my reflexes so I can slam on the brakes after checking my rearview mirror to make sure no one behind me can plow in to me. Once I know I’m safe, I have to wait for the adrenaline to work itself through my system so I can get my heartrate back down, stop shaking, and stop cursing the other driver in my head.

That’s a sympathetic response, but it’s not quite paradoxical fear. Paradoxical fear occurs when the sympathic response has prepared our bodies for fight or flight; the adrenaline’s been released, our digestion process has taken a break, our breathing quickens, our heart rate increases … in other words, our bodies are physically readjusting themselves to assist in our need to either flee, or fight. But what happens when fleeing, or fighting, aren’t options; are, in fact, impossible? This is when you see paradoxical fear. Essentially, the body does all the above, but it also voids the bowels and/or bladder — and theories abound about why this happens. Google it, if you’re interested!

I make the distinction between “common” and “paradoxical” fear because many of us live with constant fear, and it comes to rule our lives. It can also be called anxiety. For those who live with this constant fear, with anxiety, hearing someone refer to them as “common” or “everyday” may seem insulting, and that is absolutely not my intent. I have lived with anxiety for many years, and to this date there are still nights I wake up and have to walk through my house, checking every closet, every shower, every little cubbyhole to make sure someone hasn’t snuck in my house and is waiting to cause harm to me or mine. Ridiculous, I know, but it’s difficult to argue with fear when it arises.

So what’s the point of this post, then?

I’d have to say that objective #1 is to point out how very debilitating living with fear can be, and objective #2 is to attempt to offer ways to overcome these fears. Most of these will be references, as obviously I’m still fighting with mine.

The American Journal of Managed Care (AJMC) lists out some of the physiological effects of living with chronic fear. They include, but aren’t limited to:

  • Immune system dysfunction
  • Endocrine system dysfunction
  • Autonomic nervous system alterations
  • Sleep/wake cycle disruption
  • Eating disorders
  • Alterations in hypothalamus-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis

What’s all that mean? Let’s take it from the top:

  • You get sick easier, and stay sick longer
  • Your body becomes unable to create and feed your system with the hormones needed for daily life, which can create cascading issues with your health
  • The autonomic nervous system is (roughly) the brain, spinal cord, and nerves; this system regulates the parasympathetic and sympathetic responses, meaning that disorders in this system can enhance the fight-or-flight response, or negatively curtail it
  • Can’t sleep well, can’t function well mentally or physically
  • Comfort eating? Starving ourselves? Anything in between? How can our bodies successfully function without adequate nutrition?
  • Since the HPA axis drives our central response system, if it ain’t workin’ right? We can over- or under-react to stimuli

In short, living in a constant state of fear/anxiety absolutely negatively impacts our physical bodies. However, it also creates a self-perpetuating cycle, as the systems in place to help us manage situations and appropriate responses have become degraded. Being constantly afraid helps perpetuate the state of fear, and it becomes a cycle that builds and becomes amazingly difficult to tame, suppress … change.

What none of the above addresses is the mental effects of living with constant fear. Social fear — what if I make a fool of myself? What if people don’t like me? What if they make fun of me? Fear of environment — what if I’m hit by lightning when I walk out the door? Or what if someone tries to kidnap me while I’m taking a walk? These examples I’ve offered up seem minor to those who don’t live with these fears; laughable even.

Don’t laugh, though. Seriously. For someone who lives with fear or anxiety as their constant, boon companion, these are some of the things that become overwhelming and cut us off from contact with those around us. These are the things that make us socially awkward, with improper responses. These are the things that keep us running for cover, for a hiding place. Honestly, anyone who lives with these seemingly irrational fears racing through their minds lives under a cloud that is damned near impossible to imagine will ever dissipate. In short, not only do sufferers live with their fears; they live with the belief that there can be no relief from these fears. Just really sink your teeth in to that concept for a moment. Can you even begin to imagine being this afraid, this terrified, every single day, and yet still trying to function in society? The ones who force themselves to go to the store, to go to school; wherever they force themselves to go, they do it constantly believing the worst thing that can happen to them will and, further, they believe they’re powerless to make it end.

I know this. I’ve lived it. Until you have, try to have a little patience, care, and compassion for those struggling with fear/anxiety — you might be the one person who gives them a reason to try to change their life. Gonna take a second here and point out that if you know someone who lives with anxiety, or constant fear, telling them to “Just get over it,” or “Just face it” isn’t helpful and in fact can be harmful. Fear/anxiety, much like depression, takes over and absolutely rules your life, until you find within yourself the ability to overcome it — even if only a little bit.

The first step to overcoming fear and anxiety is, actually, the most difficult. It requires you to step out on faith, trusting and hoping desperately that this won’t be one more screw-up in a long list of screw-ups. You see, there’s another factor here that’s ugly, but needs to be addressed, and that is simply “Change is frightening.” Any change. Why? Because change means the unknown, and the unknown is this big, scary thing waiting to happen, even though we don’t know what that thing will be. If you’re someone who’s already living under a constant cloud of fear, why on earth would you want to add to it? So, it may be intellectually “simple” for me to say “I’m tired of being afraid all the time,” and that’s an important recognition to make. But going from that admission of the problem to finding a solution is an ongoing process that can take years.

So let’s assume you’ve made that decision. You say, first, quietly and only to yourself, “I’m tired of being afraid all the time.” Eventually, that thought moves from inside your mind to escape out of your mouth, and you say out loud (still to yourself) “I’m tired of being afraid all the time.”

Whoa. You admitted it! Ok, so look around, and realize the world didn’t crash around your ears when you said this aloud. No one broke down your door to punish you for having the temerity to utter these words. Eventually, you find the courage to say this to someone else, but you have to be careful whom you say it to. Say it to the wrong person, and they respond with something like “Ok, so get over it then.” And then you feel like you’ve just been judged, and you tuck your tail between your legs and go curl up somewhere. However, if you say it to the right person, they listen. They may say “Ok, that’s important. How can I help?” Or they may say “Ok, good. How do you achieve this?”

It might not seem like much, but there’s a world of difference between the first response and the second & third. The first one belittles the courage it took to say those words to someone else, the other two offer support, and/or a sounding board.

Now, let’s talk about some of the options for overcoming fear/anxiety. I’m going to make a list that runs the gamut from currently-advocated Western Medical responses to anxiety, to not-so-advocated other options. The choice of which of these you wish to pursue must be your choice. I can tell you what’s helping me, but that doesn’t mean the same thing will help you.

  1. Therapy
    • Individual
    • Group
    • In-person
    • Texting/phone
      • For more on the therapeutic options available, and to try to find which might best help you, please click here
  2. Medications
    • Antidepressants
    • Benzodiazepines
    • Buspirone (Buspar)
    • Hydroxyzine
    • Beta-blockers
      • To pursue medication options, please find a psychiatrist or a therapist you can trust who works with a psychiatrist
      • Medications are intended to be temporary; they’re meant as a stop-gap to reduce your symptoms so that you can pursue the task of overcoming your fears
  3. Massage
    • Because massage can trigger a parasympathetic response (the opposite of fight or flight [click here for a brief explanation]) massage can be amazingly beneficial to people experiencing anxiety; not only the work itself is important, but knowing that someone else is willing to touch you in a caring manner can help bolster your sense of self-worth
  4. Reflexology
    • Reflexology is a system usually involving a degree of pressure in certain areas of the body that is used to relieve tension, stress, anxiety, and other ailments; similar to massage, another person is involved, and the knowledge that this other person wishes to work with you to help you overcome your fear/anxiety is an amazing boost to one’s self-worth
  5. Meditation
    • The practice of meditation allows one to learn how to listen to what’s going on in the mind, and then begin to redirect or change how we respond to “the voices” inside our heads
    • There are multiple forms of meditation; I recommend you do some research (Google is your friend!) and find a method that is compliant to your needs. And yes, there’s also moving meditation, which is the only kind I seem to be able to participate in!
  6. Reiki
    • Reiki is what’s considered energy work; in short, the “primary” chakras in our trunk (seven of them) are checked to see if they’re open & working correctly; then opened if necessary so that your body’s energy can flow without interruption to assist in achieving physical as well as mental healing and clarity
    • This is a therapy that also involves someone else (unless you’re a Reiki practitioner!), and again, having someone on your side throughout the process who genuinely cares about you is important!
  7. Float Therapy
    • This therapy is kinda the “new kid on the block” and can be enormously beneficial for helping relieve stress, anxiety, depression … so many things. For more information on float therapy for anxiety, read this. One caution, however! You don’t want to touch your face as the salts in the water are very irritating; for that reason, I have learned to take a rag into the pool with me, and lay it over my face (excluding my nose, another anxiety trigger for me), and press itchies and tickles on my face through the rag

There are several more alternative methods for assisting with anxiety; I strongly urge you to Google both “medical treatment for anxiety” and “non-medical treatment for anxiety.”

So, what’s worked for me? Keep in mind, again, that this whole “overcoming-anxiety” thing is still a newish process for me, so I’m not fully there yet. However! I’ve been having a lot of success with a couple of tricks & techniques. The first thing to understand is that I’ve spent pretty much most of my adulthood in and out of therapy, so I’ve been picking up tips & tricks all along the way. Further, it’s hella easier to write these things out than it has been to put them into practice. Again — large segments of my adult life have been spent in therapy! At 49 years old, you’re talking about close to 30 years of on-again/off-again therapy, so don’t expect that you’re gonna read this, then master it immediately. Maybe, though; maybe just commit to finding one thing on this list you think you might be able to commit to working toward, and go from there.

Before I begin this list, I’m going to make a point that is more important than just about anything else I can say.

Learn to give yourself small successes

I went through a major depressive episode that lasted about six years. Six years is a vast amount of time; during that time, I kept on trying to find a reason to get up, get out of bed, take a shower, take care of my kids … all the things that a good mom is supposed to do. But if you’ve experienced depression — the real thing, not a brief episode, but cold, hard depression — then you know that breaking out of it is nearly impossible.

I learned, though, to be proud of small things. I woke up in the morning, got outta bed? Yay, success! I got a shower? Hey, man, good job! I cooked dinner? Fantastic! Ok, so my response wasn’t that profound, but it was important to me that I gave myself credit for doing something I had absolutely no motivation to do. Over time, those small successes built up, so that I could dare strive for bigger ones … and then those built up, and here we are today. Once again, this isn’t something I’m saying is easy. It’s something you really have to decide for yourself you’re going to give to yourself. Or, another way of looking at it is that it’s something you’re willing to take for yourself.

On to the list. The biggest things that have helped me begin breaking the horrible cycle of fear and anxiety are:

  • Learning gratitude
    • Possibly the most important method for arming yourself against anxiety, fear, depression … so on and so forth. In short, I began seeking out those things I could be grateful for. Things like — it’s not raining today? Sweet! Thanks for the sunshine! My car started? Alright! I can go to work and not be afraid of getting fired today! Someone opened the door for me? Woohoo! Thanks, man!
    • The key behind this is the belief that you find what you seek, and when you begin to seek out things to be grateful for, your perspective of the world around you shifts. I actually started this journey by keeping a diary of things I’d ask for throughout the day — of the world, of people, of the universe … whatever it was. About once a week, I’d go back and check off the things that had been granted, and mindfully say a “Thank you” for each one. Eventually, it just became reality that I can find a bajillion things each day to be grateful for.
  • Learning to give myself space
    • Because I felt I constantly had to fight to prove I wasn’t crazy; I wasn’t lazy; I wasn’t stupid; I wasn’t incapable of managing myself … because of all these things, I was one of those people constantly going, doing, proving. Frankly, I was exhausted! On top of that, while most people didn’t see it, I was struggling constantly to overcome the fear that ate me alive. One day, I woke up and learned that I need to allow myself space to be alone, or to be afraid, or to be quiet, or whatever. Sometimes that space is in my bed propped on pillows and heating pads, sometimes it’s beside a stream. But it’s ok, and you have the right and the responsibility to take care of yourself! If you close your eyes and imagine yourself in the most calm, soothing place on earth (or off of it!), where would that be? Is it someplace you can get yourself to? Or is it someplace you can recreate in your home? Wherever it is, learn to allow yourself to enjoy Sanctuary.
  • Learning to trust myself
    • Most of my lifetime of fear and anxiety was the result of a horrible childhood, followed by two horrible marriages; both of which taught me that I’m crazy, and I need to do what others say because I can’t be trusted to do things my way, and be successful. I will say that learning to trust myself has meant absolutely rejecting all those hurtful things I believed, when other people said them; but to be able to absolutely reject these things, we first have to learn that we have the right to reject them. That’s the tricksy part!
  • Learning to argue with the negative voices
    • Simple as a statement, immeasurably more difficult in practice. I’ve basically had to teach myself to argue back when I have that voice in my head asking “Why are you doing this? You’re just going to fail,” or the one that says “Hey, you know, it’d be a lot easier to stay curled up in a ball than go out and face people.” Whatever it is those voices are whispering to you about your inability to deal with life? Start telling them to shut up. Honestly. It seems silly, but eventually you learn to do it without thinking about it. Another tactic is to list out why you can, or need to, do what it is you want to; list out the reasons in your head, or out loud, or on paper … whatever you have to do, learn to argue with those voices telling you you’re safer being afraid. Start small; but start, and keep doing it. Like the gratitude thing, it does get easier, and eventually you’ll find yourself able to do it without having to think about it.
    • Note: I still have those voices, telling me why I’ll fail. Why I should give up, why I should do any number of things that’ll keep me safe. I barely notice them, but am still aware of them. Probably why I still occasionally have to do my night-time house walkabout.
    • One of the key items in this topic, for me, has also been “Don’t tell me what you can’t do; show me what you can.” This was my personal challenge to myself to look beyond all the reasons that I allowed to limit me. What phrase, for you, might be your key?
  • Learning to see the world around me in a new way
    • Once upon a time, I knew that every man out there only wanted one thing from me, and every woman out there either wanted to be me, or wanted to claw my eyes out. I didn’t think this, I knew it, because it’s what I was taught. One day, I decided it was time to find out whether that was always true, so I started setting “traps” for people to fall in to. Not necessarily the best method, but for me, it allowed men to prove to me that they could be my friend, instead of my lover; they could be big brothers, little brothers, surrogate fathers, beloved uncles … and I also began to learn that there’s a sisterhood among women that is stronger than the petty jealousies we think are so prevalent. In short, I found that people are just people; some good, some bad, some in-between … and each one needed to be judged on their own merit, not on some pre-conceived notion that was the result of ill teaching. I can’t tell you what your method will, or should, be, but I can urge you to find it. Find some way to begin to prove to yourself that not all people you meet are inimical to you and that, in fact, there are some real gems out there.
  • Learning to be patient
    • Always the hardest, but I believe most important item on this list. Put bluntly, it absolutely amazed me when I sat down and realized that I could be unendingly patient — with anyone who wasn’t me. Now, again, putting this into practice requires constant dedication to putting it into practice! But I’m learning that, every time I get frustrated with myself, I can step back, take a nice deep breath or two or ten, and then talk to myself calmly. “Ok, that didn’t go so well, now did it? Hm. Where do I need to change something I’m doing … or better yet, should I just abandon this project?”
    • It seems counter-intuitive to abandon something we’ve been working toward, but sometimes the better part of life seems to be accepting when we’re not putting our energies into appropriate places. A quote I recently saw sums this up, quite well:

mistake

Now to close this beastly blog! Obviously, I had a lot to say on the topic of fear. If you watch the above video again, watch it to the end. I want you to see, again, the part where Will says “Forget security, live for experience.”

Your experience is your own; no one else resides in your mind, and no one else knows what you’re struggling with. You can change your experience. I know this, I’ve lived it. Changing this experience will put fear back to its proper place — as a protector, and a warning system. Find some way to take the power of fear away; it was never intended to rule our lives, but rather to assist us. As my husband has said when we’ve had this discussion:

“A life lived in fear is a life not lived.”

Wise man, that one. Maybe that’s why he married me? Anyway. Gonna close this mini-novella now and wish you well. Life ain’t always easy, but it is livable, and we can make it more livable.

Choices

In my most recent blog, I mentioned that this one would follow up on the thoughts I presented; specifically, I’d offer some insight on how we apply our choice-freedom in our daily lives.

To get your mind in the same general space mine’s operating in, I’ll highlight for you what I think are the most important factors in the last blog:

  1. Choices abound; there are always choices
  2. Often, we don’t like the choices presented to us
  3. Saying “You gave me no choice” or “I had no choice” is a fallacy and, further, an abdication of responsibility for our own lives

If you want to see more about my thoughts on those topics, please feel free to refer back to the previous post.

Going forward! I want to begin by pointing out the picture above; we’ve probably all seen it, or variations on it. If you don’t know who Zig Ziglar is, then click here for more information. Who knows, he may be something you need in your life right now! The point is that what’s written in this picture is the very essence of decision-making. Decisions can be driven by fear; we can give the fear control, or we can control our actions despite the fear.

Before I dive in to this, I want to offer up two definitions.

Freedom (Merriam-Webster)
  1. the quality or state of being free: such as
    the absence of necessity, coercion, or constraint in choice or action
    : liberation from slavery or restraint or from the power of another : independence
    the quality or state of being exempt or released usually from something onerous — 
    freedom from care
    unrestricted use — gave him the freedom of their home
    : ease; familiarity —  spoke the language with freedom
    the quality of being frank, open, or outspoken — answered with freedom
    improper familiarity
    boldness of conception or execution

Responsibility (Merriam-Webster)

  1. the quality or state of being responsible: such as
    a : moral, legal, or mental accountability
    b : reliability; trustworthiness
  2. something for which one is responsible : burden — has neglected his responsibilities

For today’s discussion, only definition 1 under Freedom pertains, with descriptions a and b being our focus; however, both definitions 1 and 2 pertain under Responsibility.

Now, on to the fun stuff! The first thing I wish to point out is what I touched on lightly in our previous discussion — when you begin to understand that you do, in fact, have choices or options, your horizons; your world; your entire life opens up, and you realize how much you’ve been limiting yourself. Under Freedom, if we look at the first two descriptions of “the quality or state of being free,” then you’ll start to see what I’m talking about.

Once you realize you have the power to make your own choices, you are removed from having to comply with an outside entity’s necessity, coercion, or constraint in choice or action. You further become liberated from slavery or restraint or from the power of another. How’s that, you ask? Simple, answer I! Let’s imagine another scenario or two!

Scenario 1 has us at work. Now, back up a second, because this is something most people don’t realize, and don’t think about. When you accept a job, or are accepted as an employee — cuz yeah, both happen at the same time! — a contract is entered into, largely verbal but portions are also written. In short, this contract between you and your employer ensures that 1) you receive fair wages for fair work and 2) your employer receives work done for wages paid. Vacation pay, all that other stuff — that’s just icing on the cake. The most important part of employment is realizing that these objectives are the underlying purpose to the employment agreement. I wanna be paid, so I’m agreeing to work for you; you want a task performed, so you’re agreeing to pay me to do it.

One day, you’re blithely going about your work/tasks/etc, doing your thing, when your boss walks in and demands something from you that’s outside your responsibilities. In short, you’re getting paid to do this, and your boss wants to add that to your workload, without increasing your pay. To really explain this, I need to spell out that I’m not saying an accountant is asked to help another accountant with their work; more along the lines of an accountant also being asked to perform in a supervisory role without gaining the title (pay, recognition of authority), or is also being asked to assume administrative roles without the position you’re currently working in being revised.

What are your choices here, and what will protect your freedom? Again, let’s list’em out:

  • Comply without question
  • Question the nature of what your boss wants done (information is never bad!)
  • Explain to your boss that you’re overwhelmed as it is, and ask for what you need to comply with their wishes
  • Refuse

Naturally the first thing that goes through our heads is the cold, hard reality that we really need this job, and we’re terrified of doing anything to jeopardize it. That must be recognized; we have to support ourselves. And/or we have to support and provide for our loved ones. It’s that whole Responsibility thing being tied up with choices … the option we choose to pursue will impact our, and possibly others’, lives. Losing or potentially jeopardizing our jobs, for most of us, automatically inspires fear of not complying; however, making a decision this important from a position of fear is, perhaps, not the most healthy way of operating.

Recognizing that fear is important (and I’ll discuss fear in another post, it’s on the list), because until you acknowledge your fear, you’re liable to react, rather than to act. Reaction would look something like this:

Boss: “Hey, Isende! You’re doing such an awesome job, I want you to take over doing X, also!”

Me: Blank look
Me: *stammering* “Oh, um, sure, if you think I can handle it …”

Boss: “Great! The first thing I need is blah blah blah …”

Have you made a choice here, or have you blindly followed along what appears to be the path of least resistance? Sit back and think about that for a moment, cuz it’s important!

Action, on the other hand, is taken after one has obtained as much information as possible and then chosen an option, and it might look something like this:

Boss: “Hey, Isende! You’re doing such an awesome job, I want you to take over doing X, also!”

Me: “What would that entail?”
Me: “How do you see me being able to do that, as well as what I already do?”
Me: “Which task has priority, in your opinion?”
Me: “Will I have a new title, more pay? This isn’t what I was hired to do, and it’s going to mean I have to juggle my responsibilities, just to make it happen.”

Regardless of how our boss answers, we now have the information we need in order to make a decision. Further, we’ve put our boss on notice — we’re not a pushover, and we’re not just gonna jump for the sake of jumping. Understand that with that first question, and any subsequent question, we’re letting our boss know we’re not just going to blindly accept these new tasks. That, already, will be affecting our boss’s view of our value as an employee. A stupid boss would get pissed. A good boss, who values their company as well as their employees, would respond positively. Period. Now, let’s ponder our list of choices again. How we view these outcomes has shifted, because we’ve filled in the blanks with information. Maybe the supervisory role is only for a day? Maybe the administrative responsibilities only mean that we’re being asked to copy more people on a report? In other words, maybe these new tasks won’t be onerous, and will enhance our value as an employee.

Again, I submit to you, we wouldn’t have known that without asking questions first. Further, blind compliance locks us on to paths that can be destructive. If we just said “Sure, whatcha need?” then we’ve established a pattern of blind compliance — obedience, in short, but obedience which can cost us. The supervisory role may be permanent, and we may be given an employee who makes us grind our teeth, pull our hair out, and go home screaming. The administrative tasks may include attending meetings that take time away from our ability to perform our agreed-upon tasks without having to work overtime (paid or unpaid, but usually unpaid!), or it may include responsibilities for which we don’t actually have authority — which is, trust me, its own headache. In short, our work life has just become less ideal, and more frustrating. This directly impacts our lives; socialization, satisfaction, self-worth. Aren’t these things worth your taking the time to ask questions, so that you can make a responsible, rational decision?

With careful, reasoned questions; adequate information; a clear direction of where we want our own path to go, we can make calm, reasoned decisions that will positively or negatively affect all other avenues of our lives. No longer must we do something because “It’s expected,” nor must we give over our own ordering of our lives to someone else. Seriously. You can be a good employee — an amazing employee! — and still choose what you will do in each situation.

Scenario 2 has us out with friends. Everyone’s hanging out, having a good time, when one of our friends pulls out a joint. Or K2. Or whatever floats your boat. Now, friendship has its own contract, its own expectations. To be succinct it could easily be said that I’ll respect you, you respect me, and we’ll do our best to support each other even if/when we disagree. So, we may well know our friend smokes weed. However, not only does said friend pull out a joint in a public place cuz, don’t forget, we’re hanging out; no, the friend takes it a step further and passes it around.

Choices?

  • Point out that we’re in public and maybe that can wait til later
  • Take a hit
  • Pass it on
  • Chew out our friend for being an idiot and insensitive lout
  • Leave

Notice, I don’t have questions on this list. I mean, this is a friend, right? Someone whom you know, and who knows you? Someone you like, respect; and who likes & respects you? So no, no need to ask questions, unless you just want to point out the friend’s idiocy by asking “What in bloody blazes do you think you’re doing? We’re out in public!

Again, however, each choice has a price/cost/consequence attached to it.

If we point out that we’re in public, we’re operating in a protective mode; protection first and foremost for ourselves, but also for our friends. This can be good or bad, depending on whether the friends you’re out with are really friends, or just acquaintances. Oh, did I forget to make that distinction? Well, it’s an important one, but we’ll talk about all that at another time, as well.

If we take a hit, have we complied in order to be cool, or to not make our friend uncomfortable?

If we pass it on, have we made ourselves complicit in getting busted if/when cops show up?

If we chew out our friend for being an idiot and insensitive lout, will we damage that friendship?

If we leave, will we damage our friendships with the entire group?

I want to take a moment to make another point. Any time we’re faced with a choice, we have to find for ourselves a path leading forward that will do two things: It’ll help bolster our sense of self-worth, and it’ll cause us the least amount of regret possible. Until our eyes are opened and we begin to see that we actually do have choices, options; that our lives truly are within our own ability to control and manage, we often find ourselves following the path of least resistance. Shit flows downhill, as the saying goes; every choice we make including inaction will impact us in some future time. Blind compliance or inaction now can, and often does, lead to future regret; how many regrets can we pile up before we’re lost under the mountainous weight of self-loathing?

Now let’s jump to responsibility. It may not seem like that’s an important topic, but it is, and possibly most important when we’re discussing choices. You see, making a knowledgeable choice also requires that we consider all the possible outcomes of our decisions. Whoa! That’s a lot of work! However, it’s the absolute truth, as well. If we lost our job because we couldn’t — or wouldn’t — comply with our boss’s demand, then we’d have to find another job at the least. If we blindly complied with the demand, we would open ourselves to more demands being made and making ourselves miserable. So on and so forth. So, yeah, it’s a lot of work, and sometimes it’s all-important that we ask “Can I have a little while to think about this?”

You see, just because someone else is making a demand of you does not mean you have to react to their urgency. In fact, I’d say that it violates your responsibility to yourself and to the people who depend on you to allow someone else’s urgency to infect you. Robert Carter, an author and very interesting person, coined the quote “Poor planning on your part does not necessitate an emergency on mine.” This quote has been a favorite of mine for decades, and it’s helped me when I’ve found myself in those situations that seem to require an immediate response. Taking the time, even just a second or two, to step back and engage our brains allows us to consider our choices and options from our own viewpoint, weighing the risks and benefits, and then to actively make a reasoned decision.

In my little pea-brain, our primary responsibility must be focused on ourselves. Why? That seems selfish, right? Well, more on that topic later too! But for now, I ask that you consider the following:

If you don’t consider your own benefit, then you’re also not considering the benefit of those whom you’re responsible for. For instance, when I accept my boss’s demand blindly, I’m not accepting that demand only on my behalf — I’m accepting it on the behalf of my husband, who’s going to have to listen to me gripe and whine about how unhappy I am with the new responsibilities. I’m also accepting it on behalf of my children — meaning I may leave them having to tiptoe around the house because “Mommy’s in a bad mood.” These are simplified examples, but they perfectly define the point I’m trying to make.

Further, we are the only ones who live inside our heads. Really, think about that. For the boss, his problem ends once he’s passed it on to someone else. He doesn’t have to stress while you stress about how you’re going to perform these additional tasks, keep your work up to par, and maintain your normally pleasant demeanor. His worries are over, but you’ve blindly accepted a commitment that is going to make you miserable. No, we are the only ones who have to live inside our heads, shoulder the day-to-day responsibilities that can make life meaningful or miserable, and accept the outcome of a poor decision. In other words, when we make poor decisions we — and those near and dear to us — have to live with the consequences.

How can we possibly disregard the importance of responsibility when we’re faced with choices?

Also, there’s the fact that constant failure because we’ve acquiesced to someone else’s decisions will weigh us down, drag us into the mud, and seldom, if ever, let us raise our heads up. Back to the boss example: I’ve blindly complied, and now I have a ton of work that I can’t do to my best ability. In addition, my normal tasks are falling by the wayside because I can’t do everything at once, and eventually my poor job performance as well as my job dissatisfaction cause me to be fired. Now, by this time, I’m probably grateful to be fired as I’ve come to absolutely despise that job! However, now I have to go find another job, and in the meantime the stress in my household, among my friends, and in my mind are going to cause my head to explode.

That could get really ugly.

In my pea-brain there is no way that freedom can be disconnected from responsibility. Further, if we don’t accept our own ability to make and live with decisions, then we’re abdicating responsibility for our own lives. Our own happiness. We’re putting that responsibility in someone else’s hands; someone who is constitutionally incapable of living inside our heads, and understanding our needs.

In short, it ain’t gonna work.

Wrapping this up, I’d like to make a final point. Life happens while you’re busy making plans. Ask any gamer about “wife agro” or “kitty agro” and you’ll see what I’m talking about; we’re immersed in our happy little fantasy world, working with friends to slay that final boss … and the cat jumps in our laps, onto our keyboard, or the dog lands in our laps, pushing the controller onto the floor …

In short, yes. There will be circumstances that absolutely demand an immediate reaction. I do not negate that. But when you’ve developed the habit of thinking through your options and you’ve come to terms with the demands you place on yourself for your own happiness, your decision will most likely be along the lines of what you can live with rather than opposed to what you can live with. Life is what it is, and it’ll throw curve-balls our way without notice. We have no control, for instance, over our car being hit from behind. We do have absolute control over our actions, though. When our cat jumps in our laps during that huge boss fight, we can throw the cat into the wall, or we can gently disengage the cat, restore ownership of our keyboard, then tell our friends “Sorry, man, kitty agro!” Yeah, the entire group has wiped, and your friends are definitely less-than-happy; but the kitty’s been removed, and is not too pissed, and you can after all refight the fight, right?

I wish you the best as you begin muddling your way through making your own choices, and I’m going to leave you with a video I hope you’ve seen before; if you haven’t? You’re welcome. This video portrays the subject of “Regret,” and each of the people who wrote on this chalkboard made a decision somewhere along the road that they’ve regretted. I found the nature of the predominance of these regrets to be fascinating.

What’s Your Biggest Regret?

Every day is, in fact, a clean slate. Hell, every moment, every decision, every single choice is a clean slate. Each that we can make from a position of consideration is an investment in a better next moment, or better tomorrow.

Peace out, friends.