Choosing Your Battles

“Change has a considerable psychological impact on the human mind. To the fearful it is threatening because it means that things may get worse. To the hopeful it is encouraging because things may get better. To the confident it is inspiring because the challenge exists to make things better.”   – King Whitney Jr.

I was chatting with an old friend the other day, who is also a long-time resident manager in New York City, and he was relating to me the story of a relative of his who has kind of become THE person to avoid.

He used to be much more upbeat and fun to be with, but in recent years has become a habitual complainer. Nothing in the world is ever right for him anymore; he finds the negative implications in everything without effort.

Even more fascinating in a person with such a negative, dour attitude, to hear him speak it would appear he has the solution to all the world’s big problems.

But what’s most amazing is this: he also seems to have the answers to everyone else’s problems – large and small.

Everyone’s, that is, except his own.

“Whenever I dwell for any length of time on my own shortcomings, they gradually begin to seem mild, harmless, rather engaging little things, not at all like the staring defects in other people’s characters.” – Margaret Halsey

To be very kind, he has had severe relationship problems for a long time.

Finds the inherent potential for problems in everything. Is a true blue pessimist. And to top it all off, in his own personal life his words and actions show he truly believes that everything bad that happens to him (however he defines bad) is someone else’s fault – never a result of any mistake made by him. What are the chances of that in real life?

These are the kind of people who, if their energies are harnessed and channeled to work for good, can literally change their own little corner of the world, and by extension the greater world itself. And make no mistake about it, it is all about harnessing those energies in the right way. (“My impatience leads me to formulate solutions, not to bitch at the bureaucracy,” wrote one bright fellow lately on an internet forum I read.)

This is the kind of person who can spot a problem and immediately decide that this should not be so for one minute longer than absolutely necessary.

He will think long and hard about who or what is at fault, then goes on to decide what can and should be done to change it. If the rest of us are lucky they also have the ability to follow through; they will immediately set about to put in motion a step or series of steps designed to alter things for the better.

“They always say time changes things, but you actually have to change them yourself.”  -Andy Warhol

In thinking about the problems inherent in having the ability to find the negatives in whatever comes up and blaming someone (else) for everything dire and dreadful in one’s life, I also got to cogitating on the other, opposite kind of person.

You might know the kind. They go through life accepting everything exactly as it is, never questioning, never complaining, never solving problems or working to arrive at solutions to make life a little more palatable, a bit more livable, both for themselves and for those around them. Acceptance and the ability to deal with whatever life throws at them are the hallmarks of this type of individual.

This, to me, is an amazing thing to see, equally so as the preceding type of person. To deal with the crap that life throws at you all without bitterness or blame and without needing a change, this can be a huge asset. Just as great an asset as is the ability to work for years at solving a great, seemingly intractable problem that many have previously addressed at least half-heartedly, but for which none have yet arrived at a real solution.

Because if the problem exists, so must the solution also exist if we can find it, if one can have the fortitude and patience to keep on searching.

Patience has its limits. Take it too far, and it’s cowardice. – George Jackson

It is truly an amazing (and amazingly patient type of) personality who can fully accept all things that come at you in life, no matter how dark the future appears, no matter what happens, and deal with it just so, never questioning, never wavering, never complaining. Cato told his listeners several thousand years ago that “patience is the greatest virtue.”

So the true question for life seems to be: Where to draw the line? When is it most important to be patient and accepting of the situation(s) one finds oneself in, and when is it the right thing to work for change, either immediate or long term?

This, to me, is the great question for the ages. When do I “go with the flow” and accept things as they happen, both to me and to those around me I’m responsible for, and when is it the right time to dig in and say, “This is where it ends, beyond this point I cannot tolerate this condition.”

When indeed!

I imagine that for each of us who aspire to operate at peak capacity and efficiency in our lives, and try to find ways to make a positive difference in our own little corner of the world, we all have to find and define that point for ourselves in each new situation that comes before us. How badly or how well we make that happen defines not only who we are and who we are becoming, but also how the world is changed for better or worse in the long run.

“Every cloud has its silver lining but it is sometimes a little difficult to get it to the mint.” -Donald ‘Don’ Marquis

Think before you act. That is always good advice, so long as you don’t wait too long before making your decision.

Don’t be impatient to effect change, but do finally make a decision, because if you don’t, the decision will sooner or later be made for you. Either by circumstances, by others around you, or by default, but certainly, inexorably, things will be decided – and acted upon – with or without your input.

Gather all the facts available, weigh the facts on their merits, then act.

Make a decision. Don’t look back – much or often. Don’t painfully second-guess your decisions. Rely on your logical processes to make a decision, yet remain open to the possibility of error and need for change.

Make sense? It does to me, at least on paper – if not always in real life.

“The reward of one duty is the power to fulfill another.” -George Eliot

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