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
The Ever-Present Opportunity To Inhabit Clarity Reveals Direction
We must dare to think ‘unthinkable’ thoughts. We must learn to explore all the options and possibilities that confront us in a complex and rapidly changing world. We must learn to welcome and not to fear the voices of dissent.
—J. William Fulbright
People are funny. Most hone two or three coping skill sets and find that they effectively handle 80 to 90 percent of the troubles and challenges that arise. And this strategy makes sense both in the most practical terms of finding a limited set of capabilities and strategies for dealing with the challenges everyday life demand as well as in the larger evolutionary sweep of our species’ survival and adapting to changing circumstances and situations. Of course, this exact strategy also regularly backfires with the remaining 10 to 20 percent of the difficulties that seem to stubbornly resist our usual ways of handling the hardest stuff life presents. When people call, set an appointment, get through three doors, fill out paperwork and somehow arrive in my office, it is clear that it is this hardest stuff life presents that has so presented itself to him or her. Without any exception, each soul I’m privileged to welcome to open up their private lives, share their most intimate feelings, disclose the nature of their relationships and bare their naked hearts is stuck precisely at this crossroads. Many say, in one fashion or another, that “I just can’t live like this anymore.” How could any feeling person not have their heart go out to them?
Without any doubt or even question, one of the most rewarding benefits of entering into an effective, nurturing and proactively growing therapeutic relationship is to open up options that were heretofore not only unavailable, but almost entirely unknown. After a careful listening in presence with another human being and inquiring equally carefully and astutely to better understand the whole picture, background and key events, relationships and models for behavior, a larger more complete view can be generated that more accurately reveals the reality of “what is.” Further, inside of this clarity some possible and productive directions can begin to be evident to all parties. Without clarity, confusion and chaos reigns. I suggest this process is fundamentally no different for anyone in life who is facing any challenge imaginable. The crucial question to answer at these junctures is: What can I do? Inside of this query is the plaintive, evocative cry for options and alternatives from which to evaluate and choose. Addressing this cry for options and alternatives in any situation propelled the vision inspiring this paper.
So if “what can I do?” is the question, then what are the universal options and alternatives available to you in any situation? The following seven options and alternatives are proposed as ones that have universal applicability and offer a high probability of effective issue spotting, trouble-shooting, and problem-solving and conflict resolution. They’re useful to know when it is hard to see any direction at all.
YES (aka, you bet, sure enough, that’ll work, alright, that’s it, let’s give that a shot, I’m game, absolutely, without any doubt, sure, uh huh, and bull’s-eye!): This first option is to positively make a statement and be affirmative, whether that is in entering into an agreement, a contract or a commitment. In being as good as your word, you follow through in a thorough, competent and timely manner.
NO (aka, no way, ain’t gonna happen, setting limits, establishing boundaries, declining a proposal, cordially passing on an opportunity, forgetaboutit, you must be kidding, in your dreams!): This second option is to communicate in the negatory, again whether it addresses a direct request to enter into an agreement, a contract or a commitment. Often saying “No” and meaning it is a matter of setting necessary and appropriate limits while teaching another to give the respect called for to another that equally reflects the very same level of respect due themselves that they may well be quite unaware of. Saying no, even saying an affirmative no, is an essential option to have any real palpable sense of freedom, since all real freedom purely is born with structure and limits. Otherwise, such mislabeled and misapplied freedom is actually nothing more than license, permissiveness, laissez-faire, anything goes, bedlam and anarchy. Also saying “No” at the outset and later being able to say “Yes” pleases all around.
COUNTER-OFFER (aka, instead of that, how about this; that doesn’t work for me, how about we fashion something like this; not that, but this!): This option is easily the most overlooked and underused alternative, especially for the female of the species. Consider another’s pitch, request or offer and take the liberty to rework it so it really functions for you, and then propose it as a counter-offer. Often this counter-offer is met with another counter-counter-offer and so on until a beautiful common ground is found that is a win-win for everyone. This option preserves the freedom of each party to bow out at any time when either perceives the finding of a mutually rewarding agreement to not be possible.
POSTPONE BRIEFLY AND GATHER RELEVANT INFORMATION, POSSIBLY ENLIST ONE OR MORE CONSULTANTS (aka, I’d like to table this for now, I’m not ready to decide until I do further research, It’s best to address this later, I’ll do my homework first before deciding, I’ll find and counsel with a consultant, I’m not deciding right now!): There are many times in life when you simply have not sufficiently researched the issue at hand. Take the time to pause and to do your lifework in understanding the topic in question, the various views in on it and a manageable number of workable available alternatives. It is often savvy to consult with a person or two who happen to have knowledge, expertise and especially fine judgment in a given domain of life, such as financial matters, relationship dynamics or the in’s and out’s of purchasing an item. When the issue appears intractable and no options look advisable, this is precisely the time to call in the Calvary, that is, a professional consultant, for the specialized area of concern. Like you wouldn’t fix your own plumbing if you lacked a background of experience and talent, and bear the heightened risk of screwing your plumbing up far worse than it is, so it makes no sense to be your own medical doctor, accountant, therapist, attorney, carpenter, or roofer. Having a job competently accomplished so that it lasts and stays fixed is fully worth its weight in gold!
INTUITIVELY ATTUNE WITHIN (aka, in silence attune to a deeper impulse, listen to the indwelling divine, calm and quiet yourself to let the direction come bubbling to the surface, pause, watch and see!): Under the most life-threatening, dangerous and horrific conditions imaginable, you still have the option to choose your attitude, perception, intention and attention, with only a little slippage. Taking a few minutes to pause, breath deeply, and simply put the topic or issue on the table and quietly ask whether this direction is wise or if another is wiser still. By bringing the tumult of modern life to a full stop, a complete halt, long enough to sincerely and opening consult within to the immanent divine ever flowing through every one of us, is to be provided with whatever is necessary to see clearly.
BRAINSTORM ALONE, OR WITH ANOTHER, OPTIONS FOR WHAT YOU CAN DO AND WAYS YOU CAN DO IT (aka, Let’s throw the doors wide open and consider even the goofiest approaches without any judgment or pre-selection to address this challenge, Since you’re an out-of-the-box thinker, join me in brainstorming what can be done and how we can do it, what would I do if I simply couldn’t fail?, Possibilities?!): Opening the floodgates to all possibilities is a wonderful clearing to see the issue at hand from perspectives you never would have glimpsed before. When you are able to stand back and look at the topic from multiple perspectives, new awareness’s arise. Two heads can be more effective than one at generating creative alternatives hidden from our view when you are just too close to the issue to have any objectivity, are experiencing emotional upset, conflicting demands, inattention, mixed feeling, ambivalence, procrastination, are not present and simply having no idea what to do. At these times, it is a kindness for a close relative, friend or consultant to brainstorm with you what options are available to act upon and the astute strategies you can engage in that will yield the best short- and long-term outcomes, factoring in unintended consequences for each strategic alternative.
ACKNOWLEDGE NOT KNOWING OR NOT CARING, AND DO NOTHING (aka, Let it be; Knowing there is nothing to do, let’s do nothing right now; That is really not of interest; I know nothing about it and it is of no concern at this moment; That’s the past or the future, and neither exist; No thank you!): This option or alternative happens to be the least seeable one for a great majority of people in my experience. To illustrate, consider any meeting you are attending in grappling with some thorny issue. Many participants propose all sorts of interventions, great and small, complicated and even more complicated. Occasionally someone who has been listening attentively and saying nothing, proposes a remarkably simple and deft possibility, that tends to stop everyone in his or her tracks to seriously consider. Even more rarely, someone who has also been silently present quietly acknowledges not knowing or even having little concern at present given the highly volatile nature of the current situation and the lack of clarity in any direction really gelling, and proposes consciously and actively doing nothing at this present juncture. Everyone is floored and dumbfounded, yet oddly intrigued with it. There are many times when recognizing you don’t know and you don’t act is the height of wisdom.
Crisp examples and illustrations often can help concepts practically be understood and land inside of you. Perhaps you have a middle-of-the-night urge to indulge in chocolate, ice cream or tempting pastries at home. Instead of simply acting out and wearing the extra calories in the form of weight, you pause and consider your seven options. Even with a cursory inspection of the situation, you realize acting on these impulses would be amazingly foolish. So you wisely do nothing and return to sleep. Or take being divided in whether you want to spend a precious weekend evening going to a movie with a close friend you see all the time or spend some time catching up with a friend you used to be close to from a company you worked at years ago who happens to be visiting. While you would typically act impulsively by just going with comfortable movie option, and later bear regret over not connecting with the work friend from years ago, this time you stop yourself, generate the options, weigh how you would feel in following through with each, choose seeing the work associate from yesteryear and have a very enjoyable evening that surprisingly may open up some new career opportunities.
Ratcheting it up a notch, say you have a desire to do some home repairs and happen to not be the handiest person in doing fix-ups. This would be a fitting time to stop everything, consider your seven options and explore each. After doing some research over the internet and picking the brains of a professional handyman who also happens to be your neighbor, you decide to postpone moving forward until you get a solid, practical plan and bid it out to several reputable contractors you have recommended to you. Having done the necessary backup to have a vision and plan for exactly what you want, you enlist a contractor about six months latter. When completed after several months, you and your spouse are very satisfied with how the new floor plan practically works for meeting the needs of your family.
A much more intractable and challenging situation is a close relative getting up in age who has made a series of poor choices that are far more destructive than ever before, and you have no idea what is going on or what to do. It would be most timely to quickly and seriously go through your seven options, decide on a course of action and act upon it to help protect your relative from him- or herself. This journey turns out to be more challenging than you expected. After exploring the seven options, you, your spouse and a family member decide to consult several attorneys who specialize in situations like this to help protect your loved one. After exhaustive discussions, a full professional assessment and exploring options with many skilled consultants, conservatorship is chosen and successfully prevents further opportunistic exploitation of this relative. While keeping constant vigilance, you breathe a sigh of relief. Consciously seeing available options helps create clarity. To wisely explore alternatives, pick what serves all, and take essential actions makes for effective joyous living! What stops you now?