True story: Andrew is a carpenter and one night drives his pickup out into the country to a rough-and-tumble kind of bar that he likes. As he pulls into the graveled lot he can see that so many other pickups already there promise an evening of camaraderie. After tee-many-martoonies, however, Andrew becomes belligerent with the bartender, so much so that finally the owner and 3 husky patrons carry him outside and unceremoniously dump him into the gravel. This does not make Andrew happy; not at all. In fact he works himself into such a hurricane of rage that he goes to his truck, hauls out bags of carpenter’s nails and maniacally spews them all around the parking lot, possessed by evil delight at the thought of how many flat tires this action will result in for those who, from his point of view, so unjustly turned on him. Panting and out of nails, Andrew hung onto his truck trying to catch his breath. And then the thought came: His own truck was still in the lot! He spent the next hour picking up every nail that he could find, after which he and his truck gingerly made their slow way out of the lot.
Years later I heard Andrew say that such repeated anger-fueled rages had finally taught him that just because he has the best hammer does not mean that every problem is a nail; in other words, just because rage has always been his first reaction does not mean that it has to be his reaction!
Sounds simple, doesn’t it? And yet, how many of us continue to deal with whatever threatens us in the same old way that we always have, which way most often leaves us panting and dazed by the side of our own road. It has been said that the definition of insanity is to repeatedly do the same thing in the same way while each time expecting a different result. How many people have we cut out of our life simply because that is what we do when angered by them? Could there be another reaction? How many times have we come to the wrong conclusion simply because we felt that we had an opinion and that it needed to be blurted out? Could there be another way of expressing ourselves? How many relationships have we, unwittingly but deliberately, wrecked simply because we became panicked by the vulnerability of growing intimacy? Could there be another way to deal with fear?
In any profession in life we would say that there is something wrong if, 20 years on, the practitioner is still thinking and doing things the same way as on the first day on the job; so why don’t we bring that same critical observation to our own emotional reactions? I have heard people explain away their destructive reactions with, “Well, that’s the just the way that I am!”
Is that the right answer?