Don Paglia | Marriage and Family Counseling. Constellations Workshops


Tip #34:

“All fishermen are liars; it’s an occupational disease with them like housemaid’s knee or editor’s ulcers.”

                                                 Beatrice Cook, Till Fish Do Us Part, 1949

Fishers do not lie, they will, when given the chance, exaggerate. And in each retelling of their latest fishing escapade, that fish they caught will become larger and weigh more, not to mention the tremendous fight it took to bring it in increases with the latest version of the story. But fisherpersons do so no more than what most of us also do regarding any number of tales we like to tell. We are after all, primarily storytellers.

You could say it’s all about perceptions. That is, our perceptions are what really matters. Take for example the way people call each other either optimists or pessimists. This is quite subjective and yet people are so adamant about their convictions. There are also the so-called realists. My personal take on this is that optimists are actually the true realists; whereas the so-called realists are often pessimists. But that’s just me, who is, of course, a spot-on realist.

As storytelling goes, some of us find it way too easy to bitch and moan, and complain to no end, thereby getting ourselves into “poor-me” mode. Once I had a client who told me; “the whole world is out to screw me over!” He got a lot of press time with this story. Whenever something went not quite right in his world he simply had more proof that he was right about this vendetta the world had out for him. He was RIGHT. Boy how we love, love, love being right.

I tried to explain what Henry Ford said: “If you think you can or you think you cannot, you are right,” as bearing on his predicament. I informed him that his outlook was a predictor of his “reality.” I continued with the idea that since my belief is that I have a great life and I more often than not will bring forth positive things into my life, so if he and I each got a flat tire on our way home, he would add this to his belief that the world was out to screw him, while I would figure the odds of a flat tire were small but real, and it wasn’t the end of my life. I’d also probably put it all in prospect and see the flat as really small. I could even imagine that my flat may have averted me from having an accident by keeping me off the highway. We both would be furthering our respective stories. Both are made up. The difference is my story won’t give me an ulcer.

Don’t get me wrong. All of us can become stranded by circumstances in the midst of life. This can happen suddenly, and depending on the situation it might momentarily stymie us. Our otherwise joyfulness can vanish. Our self-confidence may get shaken. But most people have the capacity to work through such times. What I’m talking about is how some stay in the funk and are stuck there without taking on something new or better, while others find ways to move on and even learn from this so-called crisis.

Newspapers and most of the media are chock full of “woe-is-me” and victim type stories. These stories sell. We live in a society that is highly litigious and lawsuit happy. Few seem to be willing to take any responsibility for one’s own destiny. I realize I am walking on thin ice with such a blanket statement. I am subject to being viewed as lacking compassion or kindness for my fellow humankind. Actually, I see it as just the opposite.  

Two days after Thanksgiving our 105 year old house’s sewer line backed up. We were down for the count. Because we have a utility sink in the basement laundry room, it filled up with some not-so-pleasant water. It even overflowed a bit.  As you can imagine it was not fun. We made some calls and after the folks that tackle such problems came, reamed out the sewer pipe to the street where tree roots blocked the waste water flow, and buttoned up the pipe line, we were back in business.

The next day I told a couple of friends about this. Each became extremely alarmed and dramatically upset. It was as though this happened to them. I thought their alarm to be more than necessary. I said we had handled it and it was resolved. Stuff happens! We live in a circa 1910 colonial house. It’s a fantastic and lovely house, and it comes with old sewer lines. My point: although we didn’t like that this happened, we tend to put such events into perspective. In this case no one got hurt; it could have happened on Thanksgiving, but didn’t. We were certainly inconvenienced, but maybe we now had an opportunity to not take our lovely house for granted. And, as I said, ultimately we coped with it.

Back to taking personal responsibility. Instead of asking myself, “how could this happen to me/us?” I pondered “what could I have possibly done to avert this, or what can I do in the future to keep it from happening again?” This is me attempting to take responsibility for my sewer pipes. My pondering will and can lower the possibility for sewer line problems in the future much more than feeling sorry for myself.                                                                                 

I could make a case that we are all in the lying business. I’m using the word lie to mean what we say to ourselves and to others, as our take on life. I’m talking about the spin we give to events and circumstances. In other words, the connotations or interpretations we give to each circumstance of our everyday life unwittingly set us up for having a life of freedom or one of doom and gloom. Things happen all the time. The destressing part of those things that happen has a whole lot more to do with what we make them mean. When we discovered our sewer line was plugged we got to work to figure out what needed to be done. We took action. We managed until it was handled. No need to panic. Problem solved. End of story. You could say we owned it.

Another piece that gets factored into many of our experiences is time. If we are into an unenjoyable activity, we’ll see it as both burdensome, as well as, going on way too long. Time drags on! It’s just the opposite if the experience is fun and is something we enjoy. Then time seems to fly by way too quickly. We’ll say it was “great time well spent.” Again, something unpleasant is either dull or bothersome and seen as “a waste of time.”

You could say we’re constantly proving Einstein’s Theory of Relativity.

It all goes back to doing what one loves, and loving what one does. If you want to call it lying, I’m okay with it. Also, I’m quite willing to cut the fisherperson some slack. We might want consciously to do the same when it comes to ourselves.