Power Plays, Part III

by Penrod

“The real game is the game you are in.”

Have you done your assignment? I asked you to ask yourself “How did I manage to make it this far?” and “What’s working?” Did you note what is working in your life as you function interpersonally? Did you spend some time reflecting on how it is that you have managed to make it this far? (After all, this life is often not easy. It takes a lot to keep going. We haven’t gotten this far totally by accident.)

In my experience most people don’t think of much in answer to these questions. It is hard to get going. Many people are, mostly unaware, thinking of the problems and how “I need to do better,” etc. “I mean get serious.” “Quit sitting around.” “Do something.” Many people think their situation is hopeless and can’t think of a thing that is working well for them. Nonetheless, I have found that simply posing the question seriously changes the game favorably. But one can do more.

It’s not hard to see that when this state of mind, this self criticism, predominates, one tends to throw up one’s hands and to scoff inwardly at the idea that there is something to practice or attend to that is worth doing. I know this from personal experience as well as from what other people have told me. It seems laughable to work on playing my position well.

So, clearly, we are talking about a discipline that requires getting in condition, real exercise, not merely thinking about the benefits of exercise. Thus, the assignment is ongoing. Get out a sheet of paper or set it up on your computer and make a list, review past challenges, note how you managed to make it through. Make another list of the things that you like about the way you are doing them. Review and modify these lists daily and you will begin to see things more clearly and be in better touch with reality. You will know the lay of the land better.

Moving on. Here’s a trick. Say you can’t decide between two courses of action, between two women, two men, whether you should quit your job or not, buy a car or not, whether you should get a divorce, etc., etc. You go from one side to the other like a pendulum, always feeling pressure to decide. It’s pretty miserable. Since you can’t decide between the alternatives, the only thing you can actively do to help yourself is to decide not to decide for a time certain since you can’t decide anyway. Give yourself, for example, 30 days not to decide. This allows the yeses and nos to ebb and flow and allows you to watch and learn and understand. Perhaps there are developments that must occur for the path to become clear.

In any event, the pressure to decide is gone. “But what happens if I still can’t decide 30 days from now?” Give yourself another 30. You probably aren’t going to get this far because you will have come to a decision, but if you do get this far, you can continue to stand on firm ground in the present. Got it?

Another trick. Attend to the dynamics.

Example: your friend is feeling depressed. She comes to you as her sister friend to talk. She challenges you to be of help but at the same time, everything is hopeless for her. She can’t see the bright side of anything. Not a single thing. It’s ridiculous. She is not thinking straight. You point out that “the sun is shining, that the flowers are pretty, that at least you have such and such.” How’s it going? Does she brighten up? Good. But again in my experience people don’t brighten up. That’s where one needs to reflect on and feel the dynamics that are in the

situation regardless of the personalities or the issues.

You are trying to pull your friend up. She is at the other end of the rope resisting. Each brightening observation or assurance you are making is another tug on the rope matched by resistance on the other end. It’s time for a different move. Let go of the rope. She already knows everything bright that you can say. Likely she is painfully aware of the reasons why she has no right to feel the way she does and it only makes her feel more guilty and unhappy. So, tell her that there are plenty of reasons to feel as she does. You don’t blame her for a second. It would be a surprise if she did not feel like that. In fact, you wonder that she does not feel even worse. In fact, you are amazed that she keeps going at all.

Now what? I’ve seen such a person begin to argue the other side. She begins to point out how things are not quite as bad. Whether that happens or not, the person now has the freedom to chose her own attitude and that removes the need for resistance. It eliminates or at least modifies the unfruitful dynamic. It is modified regardless by you making a different play.

The editors want to keep this column short. I’ve stretched their indulgence already so I will leave off. Continue or begin your workouts if you want to get in better shape and play better ball. My delight would be immense if one of you would send in a game situation that we can discuss here.

Peace, Penrod

Penrod says that, in thinking about him, one should think first of Booth Tarkington's Penrod, the boy writer, and then of the mighty pen of Martin Luther with its power like unto the rod of Aaron.

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