Don Paglia | Marriage and Family Counseling. Constellations Workshops


Tip #30:

“It has always been my private conviction that any man who pits his intelligence against a fish and loses has it coming.”

                                                   John Steinbeck

Being “against” anything or anyone is usually a poor way to operate. A better way to a high quality life is when we make sure our life is filled with high quality connections. Such connections come about when we posture ourselves in a cooperative spirit; not a combatant one.  

Essential ingredients for building high quality connections are:

  1. Respectful engagement. In other words, we bring into our relationships an active presence, honest attention, and genuine affirmation.
  1. Support for what the other person is up to. This is a “win-win” approach that does more toward fostering effective relationships than taking a combative stand can ever do.
  1. Trust; a belief that you can depend on this person in spite of his/her imperfection. This may call for some measured faith, meaning you know what someone is and/or isn’t capable of and you respect their capacities, and limitations as well.
  1. Humility. A fish has fish-ness. Humility is related to Respect, but also carries a realistic sense of ourselves. I am not better and not worse. We are simply different.
  1. The capacity for play. This is the capacity to create actual time and space to regularly goof off. Some call this wasting time in the best sense and doing so without any particular outcome needed.

Doing these things with others can often produce extraordinary results. The capacity to play makes does all the others easier and it warrants more explanation as to why it is so essential.

A little bit on brain theory:

Whenever we have a problem and then become anxious, we cause the hypothalamus (inside our brain) to fire off a chemical/electrical charge that literally locks us out of the cognating, creative, problem-solving portion of our brain (The Frontal Lobe). This discharge sends off the activation of the part of the brain primarily for fight or flight response (The Brain Stem). The Brain Stem is the oldest part of our brain and is what we humans have in common with reptiles. Reptiles only have the brain stem.

When we become anxious about some prevailing problem or difficulty we cause our brain to lock up the part we need in order to solve this problem, at the very time we need it. We aren’t able to access the part of our brain designed for solving problems.

 You could say, we now have two problems.

 This is why playfulness is so essential? Play has a way of getting us to calm down, to “cooling our jets!” and in doing so allows us to regain access to the greater capacities of our brains.  We need to relax in order to then be capable to look at our presenting problem with our mammalian capacities as a human being. This is instead of being a reptile.

 You might be thinking, “well, I do not ever get upset or anxious.” I would challenge you on this. Often we simply don’t realize or acknowledge our anxiousness. A lot of times we are going about with a chronic level of anxiousness. Chronic, meaning we are tolerating it. Sometimes we are even able to recognize other people’s anxiousness. It’s easy enough to recognize someone who gets overly talkative as anxious. It may be less obvious to see someone who gets extremely silent, or withdrawn, as also manifesting anxiousness.

But when it comes to recognizing our own anxiety the tell-tale sign of chronic anxiety is when we become serious.  Extreme seriousness is almost most always a sign of anxiousness. Some say we are being significant. Seriousness and Significance are a red flags for anxiousness.  And this is not a good place to be when it comes to solving problems.

You can be at a board of directors meeting with folks sitting around the conference table wearing expensive suits and outfits, with impressive leather brief cases, who might look calm (professional), yet are actually so anxious, maybe about “being found out,” that they are acting like a bunch of reptiles. They are not thinking and responding; they are reacting and in a “flight or fight, survival” mode.

I am not saying that “life is a joke” or that everything is a lark. Rather, we ought to NOT take ourselves too seriously. By creating emotional “distance” from our problems/issues, we’ll more likely produce better, effective, richer solutions. Humor and playfulness are essential for our health and well-being and can make a powerful difference.  It allows us to be more objective with whatever we might be facing.

I’m serious about the importance of humor and play! (JOKE)

Our family went on a camp-out where it rained so badly that we got totally drenched. Our sleeping bags and camping stuff got soaked. We were wet to the bone, and miserable. We ended up pulling up stakes, cutting our camp-out short, and throwing everything into our van to head home. We were feeling very sorry for ourselves.

 About a week later my wife and I were at a friend’s dinner party and we started telling about our recent camping mishap like it was the funniest thing that had ever happened to us. We laughed and had a delightful time in the telling this event.

 Here’s the point: If only we could have seen the humor in the midst of the leaking tent and flood and our overall demise, we might have been spared from becoming such reptiles in the midst of this event. It would not have stopped the rain, but who knows what we could have done regarding our situation while we were experiencing it. We certainly could have skipped suffering over it.

 Getting back to the above fish vs man quote, we know fish have very tiny brains. However, according to Culum Brown from Macquarie University, they are more intelligent than they appear. Fish are able to draw from their memory of negative capture experiences and therefore become less easy to catch.

 These observations need to be understood as instinctive patterns of behavior triggered by specific environmental events. Fish do not actually understand. Assigning human like characteristics to fish – or any nonhuman species – isn’t useful, but we needn’t dismiss their various behaviors as insignificant.

 The take away here? Never under estimate who you are attempting to reel in – be it a fish or fowl or another person. Smart anglers go to the trouble to bring  apparatus all designed to attract a likely fish: the right size hooks, correct lines and sinkers for the various depths, floats that may draw attention, various rods, reels, baits to lure the kind of fish they hope to snag, all for the purpose of winning the prospective prize. All for increasing the possibility of luring one to bite.

 The angler takes into account what makes a fish more likely to “cooperate” and then operates accordingly. To the non-fisherperson such tactics may be viewed as being overly obsessive. But it may be good to see the angler as bringing respect into this encounter.

 Building effective strategies in life best occurs when we discern what the operative motivators of those attempting to persuade, win over, influence, or form a successful relationship. Psychologists have divided motives into three types: Biological motives, social motives and personal motives.

 Advertisers work hard to figure out what perspective buyers want or need. Then they spend their efforts tapping into these motivators. A luxury automobile isn’t merely about getting you to and from the grocery store. It is designed to offer the promise of safety, achievement, or prestige; or all of these things and more.

 I would propose we go about bringing some love to the fish. More importantly, when it comes our relationships with people, we can bring respect, support, trust and humility. Let’s not forget some play and humor, too.

There’s an old adage that seems to apply: “If you want a friend, be a friend.”