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Thursday, November 29, 2007

Spinning Your Wheels

Growing up in a small town offered plenty of back alleys and dirt roads. After a thunder- storm, some dirt roads would have a large pool of water at the bottom of a hill. It was always a thrill to drive through these “ponds” with my Dad’s ten year old 66 Chrysler. You could never be sure whether or not you were going to splash your way through the water, get stuck in the mud or flood out the engine.

At some point, everyone gets stuck. Then you get to learn the art of rocking your car back - n - forth to get unstuck. Life is a journey that offers moments of pleasure and times of feeling stuck. Like automobiles, there are tricks to getting unstuck in life.

Kenneth Halstead, Family Therapist and College Chaplain wrote a book on going from stuck to unstuck. He states that we must discern between “problems” and “difficulties.” Problems are solvable. They have a solution. Difficulties are something that people must live with and accept. Trying to solve a difficulty results in misdirected energy and increased frustration. Living with a problem that has a solution is tragic. Here are three ways we can get stuck and mired down.

  • "Oversimplifying" - When folk try to deny a problem exists they turn a “mountain into a molehill.” Usually there are warning signs of distress of being stuck but they are ignored. Action steps are needed but fail to be engaged.

  • "Isn’t It Terrible” - Trying to change a difficulty into a problem is in effect turning a “molehill into a mountain.” This level of “wheel spinning” results in taking action that is not necessary and makes life even more difficult.

  • “Unintended Results” - Addressing problems at the wrong entry point provides unintended results. It is a failure to distinguish at what level the situation needs to be addressed (molehill, mountain or mountain range). Usually, beginning with the simplest solution and explanation is the most effective. Assuming a problem has “deep dish” causes and taking action at a level of major intervention can paradoxically make the problem worse.

A friend shared with me how stuck he felt regarding conflicts that would occur with his wife while driving together. What would normally be disagreements at home would lead to intense and painful arguments in the car. He couldn’t understand why the polarization occurred only in the context of the automobile. The simplest solution provided lasting results. After a few simple observations regarding power dynamics and emotional safety, he concluded not to discuss issues that could lead to an argument while driving together. A simple agreement on when and where to handle disagreements practically eliminated highly charged arguments.

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