Will Joel Friedman, Ph.D. is a seasoned clinician with experience working with adults, couples, families, adolescents and older children since 1976. His aim ...Read More
If you do what you’ve always done, you’re going to get what you’ve already got.
A very close-knit family, who enjoyed entering all kinds of contests, remarkably won an all-expense-paid, round-trip vacation to wherever they desired. Can you imagine? Where to go?
Hot debate ensued, with possibilities flying like hotcakes cooking far too slowly to meet the demands of ravenously hungry people clamoring to be fed. These family members weren’t simply strong-willed—they were planted like ancient giant redwood trees! After wrestling, bargaining and counter-offering yielded naught, nearly everyone were at their wit’s end to find the ever more elusive consensus. Yet, a decision was most pressing. Otherwise their coveted prize would be snatched away by the imposed deadline! Struggling until the last moment, the family finally found a destination that closely approximated their deepest heart’s desire: Barbados in the Caribbean.
Nothing would have been easier than to simply pick-up their precious tickets to paradise and take off. Sure, there was the minor inconvenience of having their tickets issued out of the nearest international airport to Hollywood, California, U.S.A.—Los Angeles International Airport. However, the family resided in Denver, Colorado. Surely there would be no problem in taking off from Denver International Airport. In high anticipation, the family members hurriedly prepared, packed and left for their local airport.
Unfortunately, their airline carrier was less than accommodating to this change of departure. In fact, the airline flatly refused to accept the family’s round-trip tickets from Denver! You can imagine the shock, upset and humiliation! Just when the family was most excited and eager to zoom to paradise, their plans were dashed. The family was fit to be tied. Riffed, miffed and jarred were just the beginning. If the airline thought this family would go quietly all the way to Los Angeles International Airport, “They had better think again!”, ornery Aunt Josephine bellowed.
Ready to tenaciously fight, the family dug in. Now they quickly came to a decision: another airport would certainly be more cooperative. In a huff and a puff, the family hurriedly travelled to the next nearest airport—Las Vegas International Airport. Las Vegas, Nevada, what better place to try their luck!
Stalwart, stubborn and unbending, the family bravely presented their tickets at the Las Vegas International Airport. All of this, of course, was for nothing. The airline at this airport briskly informed the family that their round-trip tickets could not be honored from Las Vegas, period.
Hair was ready to be pulled, maybe roots and scalps too! Several family members began to feel picked on and behave defensively. Some were so disgruntled and downhearted that they wondered out-loud if they would ever catch a flight, any flight at all, and reach their beloved paradise. There was one family member, wise old uncle Fernando, that occasionally mentioned what was necessary to give up and what was necessary to do, yet the deafening roar of the rest drowned his voice out.
So the family soon determined to travel to San Francisco. Yes, they went straight to the International Airport there. Once again, the patriarch and matriarch of the family recounted their entire harrowing experience with airlines and airports, duly presented their tickets to Barbados, and awaited a hopeful response.
This time the family members were firmly told that they were welcome to travel and present their tickets at every airport in the entire Western United States, and include the rest of America, Canada and Mexico too, and nowhere would their tickets be honored, except for the one place their tickets were scheduled from: Los Angeles International Airport. Even then, only at the specific time, gate and carrier marked on their round-trip tickets!
After much heated going-round-and-around argument and serious negotiation that netted exactly nothing except hoarse voices, tired minds and exasperated nerves, something happened. Beaten into submission by no other than themselves, the family began to face the truth that unflappable uncle Fernando had been communicating all along.
Chagrined and with growing humility, the family members willingly capitulated. The family took a direct route and presented themselves at Los Angeles International Airport. Fortunately there had been sufficient time to arrive at the specific time, gate and carrier marked on their tickets. Then, and only then, did they take flight to their paradise of Barbados.
Although they could have missed their flight, and almost did, they made it anyway. Although they could have kept fighting the truth of exactly where they needed to embark for their trip, they arrived for departure where necessity and life demanded. Although they might have felt cheated and fully justified in acting as victims, they felt humbled, elated and behaved like free agents. Although they could have had a miserable trip to Barbados, the family members made it into a tremendous once-in-a-lifetime transcendent journey. Bon voyage.
This comically absurd tale illustrates what happens when human beings set their minds on something and become attached to their means of operating. First you dig a rut, then you lie down in it and, thereafter, you become emotionally reactive and inflexible over being in the rut you dug…until you eventually dig your way out of it. This story underscores a little-appreciated lesson: before arriving anywhere, first begin somewhere life demands.
The impractical, misguided, even if well-intended, use of feelings is analogous to this story in four ways. First, in my experience people usually get stuck in a favored, habitual way of conducting themselves, even if it doesn’t work. This certainly applies to all the ways feelings and emotions are misused. Secondly, to work well with life, including our emotional lives, is to begin where the world demands, that is, to understand, know and honor life as you and I find it. Third, feeding emotional reactivity with feeling—intensifying thoughts most often defeats you. Lastly, when reality is squarely faced and adapted to, our lives return to working like tops.
[Originally published: Healing encounters: Tickets to paradise.
Mohave High Desert Magazine, June, 1991, 50-51.]