Finding Your Way


Well, as luck or the cosmos would have it, November was certainly the month for things going oddly. The latest has been a series of automobile problems, from the simple – flat tire – to the complex. Dar’s car is a ’93 Mazda that seemed to need a belt replaced. At the end of the replacement, it became obvious we’d be replacing the car itself.

So, off we went to our friendly Nissan dealer. We thought we might save a few bucks by looking at used cars. We looked at several, and finally started to seriously consider a 2000 Toyota Echo with only 7000 km on it. Now here comes the point.

The sales guy says, “And it’s a Echo, which is still manufactured in Japan. Most of the Japanese cars are made in North America. There’s something just a little better about the Echo. The mechanics can’t put their finger on it. There’s just a bit more quality.”

I find that kind of thinking to be interesting and accurate. There seems, in Japan, to be an emphasis on the excellence of the product being an expression of the builder’s world-view.

In Western thinking, there is also a decided slant to popular thinking – life seems to be about cutting corners, complaining, blaming and doing just what is necessary. That it’s possible to see a slight difference in a Japanese car made in the U.S. or Canada, vs. a car made by the same manufacturer in Japan, says volumes.

I notice, in Western style corporations, a tendency to form “conspiracies of complaint.” You get little huddles of people committed to complaining. If they’re pro-company, they’ll be complaining about the people who are across the room, who are complaining about the company and the people who support it.

Yet, as we said last week, and hinted at above, the real goal, at work (and in life!) is to produce a quality product, not to sit around feeling hard done by.

This conspiracy of complaint also happens in relationships. Call me silly, but it would seem to me that the principal goal of a relationship is to build a deeper and deeper connection between the parties. Why, then, would I engage in activities or communication techniques that lead in the opposite direction?

There is, of course, an answer to my question.

I would choose to screw up my work, or my relationships, or my life, because to do differently would require that I actually take responsibility for my behaviour and choices. And in North America, given our deeply ingrained focus on the cult of the victim, it is the rare individual indeed that refuses to get sucked in to the drama. There are many rewards for being a victim – almost none, politically, for standing on one’s own two feet. (Unless, of course, you’re willing to accept another reward system – one that is outside of the norms of society.)

Victimology 101 teaches people to externalize their internal dramas.

  • Poor me! I had a rotten childhood – a difficult time in school – I’m just not “normal” in some way.
  • Poor me! Nobody loves me and I’m always being misunderstood. People always find a way to persecute and victimize me.
  • Poor me! Choosing differently is difficult – I might actually have to both think and engage my will and thereby do something different.

Much better to join conspiracies of complaint – to find someone to blame, to refuse to engage. God knows there’s a support group for just about anything.

I have a client whose boss is a wing-nut. As the boss is a Provincial employee, she has to be terminated or moved by the government – and of course they don’t want to get sued. So the process is glacial. Several of the employees have formed a “Our Boss is a Wing-nut Support Group” – wherein they meet and regale each other with their “can you top this?” stories. In no case have these sessions solved anything, nor do the members of the group feel “better” about themselves and work. I suggested that my client stop attending, do her job to the best of her ability, and pretend her boss is normal. Amazingly, and no doubt coincidentally, she’s felt better at work ever since.

I was talking with another client the other day, and she’s in a mess in her family of origin. Her approach has been to walk in the door after work angry and be belligerent, and blame everyone else for her despair and sadness and anger. She tells me, however, that her goal is to be comfortable in her house again.

I asked her how often her pulling a fit got her what she wants. “Never, but I keep trying harder.” she indicated. “Maybe you need to try another approach,” I suggested. She looked at me like I’d lost my mind, but suddenly she got it. “I am setting this thing up by my behaviour, aren’t I,” she mused. “It’s going to be hard, but I could do this differently.” I agreed to both points. It will be hard, and she could choose to go down a different road. Time will tell if she chooses to.

Another client was talking about turmoil at work. She indicated that she’d been approached by another member of the department, who indicated there was no way the department would bring me in as a consultant. “We’ve had a lot of consultants. They don’t help. The problem is we don’t like each other and aren’t team players.” I listen to that and wonder why people think that, just because something is a certain way, it always has to be that way.

An admirable life goal is to take responsibility for making good choices. Now, I know that this isn’t easy, and I know I’m on about this a lot. But it’s so important. To go back to Japanese autos. They’re good because the people making them place the perfection of their task above their egos. As soon as making a car, or making an elegant business decision, or deepening a relationship becomes more important than my ego’s need to be right, I have a chance at actually having a life.

Ultimately all disappointment, failure and conflict is totally self-inflicted. Our goal here at The Phoenix Centre, our goal as friends and comrades along the Way, is to encourage dialogue and choice. Anything else is spitting in the wind.

So, how do we make better choices? We find a mentor or therapist or trainer or intimate friend to talk to, and we begin to cop to our games. We make an agreement to listen, to be open to feedback, and to dialoguing about making better choices. Once we begin this project, we commit to the long haul. It’s not enough to haul in a consultant once every few months, or to see a therapist once a year. It’s not enough to make promises to change, to choose. It’s about being willing to stay put and work on issues through to their conclusion.

Life, in the end, is all about choice and very little about chance, victimhood or the past. There are precious few accidents, but plenty of warnings and opportunities to walk down a different path. Find a direction, and stick to it. Recognize you’ll screw up, and learn to be OK with that. Learn, most of all, to begin the process of accepting yourself for who you are, and moving on from there.

There’s no shortcut. No dispensation. No getting off the hook. It’s one thing to describe or teach this walk – decidedly another thing altogether to actually walk it. But walk it we must. Because the alternative is a life of “Poor me dramatics,” and from there, God and others are very far away.

Think about it. Have a breath. Then, choose.

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