Don Paglia | Marriage and Family Counseling. Constellations Workshops


Tip #50:

“Even eminent chartered accountants are known, in their capacity as fishermen, blissfully to ignore differences between seven and ten inches, half a pound and two pounds, three fish and a dozen fish.”

William Sherwood Fox, Silken Lines and Silver Hooks, 1954~

We all love a good fish story. More importantly, we also love to adjust details and facts to suit our own purposes.  And I am all for it. We all do it at various times. In fact, right now especially, I am very much in favor of us taking on telling great and wonderful fish stories. Not about fish, but about people. These difficult time call for drastic measures, so why not get us all telling about the great and wonderful stories of so many people that are stepping up and doing gallant things.

What I’m getting at is this: we sometimes toss about our own version of whether the cup is half full or half empty. Right now it would be easy enough to make a case for the half empty cup! Sure, there’s plenty to moan about, to criticize, and more than enough to be angry about. And of course most of this boils down to the fact that we see plenty to be frightened by.

But let me just say that I’ve run the risk of sounding like a Pollyanna before, so here goes one more time. Can’t we take bragging about all these amazing people out there doing herculean things? It’s not that they are unafraid, they’re simply doing heroic things regardless. It’s a case of a “feel the fear and do it anyway” approach. And don’t these amazing people inspire us to do our own extra kindnesses and helpfulness within our own neighborhood? Our towns? Our own families?

So let’s start gossiping. Why not tell the huge “fish stories” that you see going on where you live? Let’s tell on one another, only let’s make the telling of all those extraordinary things ordinary people are doing these days a priority. Let’s take it on because we see the telling as purposeful.  These people are all over the place: shopping for their elderly parents, shut-ins and neighbors; the kids that leave supportive messages with chalk on our sidewalks; the folks that while keeping distance still manage a smile and say “hello” or ask us “how are you go doing?”

This is what so many folks have been doing all along, long before this pandemic started. Then there are some of us who kind of slipped up in these simple and civic-minded things. Maybe we got lazy. Maybe we stopped when someone gave us a hard time and we quit being so friendly, or as friendly as we used to be. But I see this kind of stuff making a comeback.

Telling about Americans’ goodness and greatness is sorely needed. By bragging and even pointing out this kindness and generosity reminds and encourages us to all do better ourselves. But before I elaborate on this let me go over the way we generally tell stories.

People get hurt and feel upset all the time, but they base their being upset on the perception about whatever happened. It is never about what actually happened; it’s always our perception about the experience of what just happened.

So it’s our meaning or interpretation of the experience that then troubles us. Granted, our perceptions are all we have to go by, but we can get pretty worked up over our perceptions – what I like to call our opinion of moonlight – and then we go and even find all kinds of evidence to back up our story or interpretation about what happened.  This is also called confirmation bias.

This is not new information if you’ve read some of my previous blogs. But what I want to advocate for is that we can exploit this terrible and certainly challenging time in the best possible way by choosing to take on discovering whatever good we can extrapolate out of it. This collective forced slowing down is an unforeseen chance to become more reflective people. We don’t have to enjoy this shut down but we can choose to not become isolated and focused on fear. We can instead use this time to grow and to re-set so much of what we have accepted as the norm or the given of our lives. 

So here’s another way of saying this: when life gives us lemons we can make lemonade. While I am in no way making light of the realities of this pandemic, I believe this down time may begin to show us what good might come from it. There are and will be many hardships. The somber reality that many people will die. No question.  And I am asking that you not allow this virus to defeat us, but rather be a catalyst to decide the kind of world we want to come out of this pandemic and subsequent recession.

There’s only so much cleaning and organizing we can do. Even if we get to all that clutter in our closets, basements and attics handled we’ll still have ample time to clean up our world starting with one relationship at a time.

I recommend you start with your relationship with yourself. “Love your neighbor as you love yourself,” is one of those sentences that reads equally true when it’s reversed: “Love yourself as you love your neighbor.” What if you started treating yourself as well as you try to treat the neighbor? Don’t you often give him/her the benefit of the doubt? Don’t you sometime think, ‘Well, I might be a bit rough with people too if I had to contend with what they have to deal with.’

What would it look like if you were kinder to you? If you cut you some slack now and then, as well? What if you were to love yourself the way God loves you? My own take on this is that God simply loves. God is love. God cannot do anything except love. I get it, it’s a tall order to take on loving ourselves completely and unconditionally, let alone then doing so with everyone else, as well.

Occasionally I’ll ask people I consider over-functioners, or overly responsible what they might do for themselves if they weren’t being so busy taking care of everything and everyone else? Most reply, “I really don’t know,” or “I’ve not really thought about it.” They don’t allowed themselves to think such things. They are actually under-functioners when it comes to taking care of themselves. People who are following their hopes and dreams and their passions and are offering these to the world – their gifts and talents – are a huge contribution and are usually joyful and happy people, as well.

It may not seem an appropriate time to be looking at self-care and self-love. We are, after all trying to get through this pandemic. But perhaps we might see self-love as the way for us to unlock ourselves to courageously step up to do our part in this crisis. Loving yourself will provide you with a greater capacity to love others.  

Hopefully you are doing social distancing is a generous and caring act and are doing it from the right intentions. If you are doing so solely out of fear for your survival then this is selfish. When we come from a loving place our actions may not look any different, but the results will be vastly different. If you focus on who you and know where what your purpose is, you become very attractive. You will inspire others. You’ll draw the world a bit closer by doing so.

If you are married or in a partnership this is great opportunity to read books or e-books, watch videos or films on relationships. Doing this together creates a fabulous enrichment program. You can pull in exercises from the internet and have meaningful conversations. We can actually take time listen to really one another. If you are physically separated you can do these conversations via the phone or over the internet.

There are many opportunities to build up your relationships with your children either by engaging in their school work as their newly deputized home-school teacher, by book reading times, doing projects, or playing board games. As weather warms outside activities offer more family time with walks, hikes, bikes rides, picnics and more. This can also be time to get into eating better, and doing more exercise individually and as a family.

It’s also a great chance to communicate – to really communicate – with family and friends. Take advantage by contacting people you care about but never seem to have the time to tell of your love and appreciation. Show your support and love to any and all who may feel out there alone and isolated with a phone call or a stop by and chat through their front door while keeping a safe distance. I support writing actual letters to our loved ones. Why not? We do seem to have the time, after all.

Avoid watching too much news. Very often the news is reporting terrible and tragic events. It is tough to digest so much of this. A welcomed and refreshing PBS addition to their weekly news segment is called: “My Brief But Spectacular Take.” It’s toward the end of the evening broadcast and features some of the brightest thinkers, makers, artists, and inventors who give passionate and original voices to those we might not otherwise see.

I say we can do our own brief but spectacular segment right in our own local communities – right on our own street even – by giving attention of those around us who are the current heroes out there doing generous and brave things. There are medical and hospital people, first-responders, police and firefighters, all who are risking their lives every day to eradicate this virus. There are also the bank clerks, gas station attendants, grocery and pharmacy cashiers, the news and media people, those that are providing food and delivery services and many others who are working in spite of personal risk and danger they must face.

Gratitude serves us well. And I propose we make it imperative that we express our gratitude verbally to people are doing so much. This includes local, state and national leaders. We can all pray not just for our own safety, but for all these people, for the safe recovery of those infected by this virus, as well as for the families that have lost loved ones.

I know it may sound crazy to say this is an opportunistic moment for us. It is a moment to remember our great American heritage as the land of the free and the home of the brave. Look around, you will see many brave Americans coming from a place of basic goodness. Let us tap into this central core of who we truly are, who we have always been even if we seem to have forgotten some of this. We are also part of a global community. We really are all in this together. One outcome just might be that we take to heart the reality that we are but one global community. This Covid-19 knows this. It treats us all the same. Isn’t about time we did so as well?

This is a very good time to start telling our own fish stories. We can publicize the many valiant efforts of so many people. Let’s start bragging about each other. Go ahead, even embellish, what you see. Share inspiring stories and let’s do our part to lift one another up. As we do so we can reflect the goodness in family members, in our neighbors, community and in strangers. Maybe a better way to describe these people is by seeing them more than even as heroes. Perhaps they are angels. Maybe they are the living saints among us.

If were to we love each other as God loves there’s no telling the good that’s will come out of this awful global pandemic. 2020 may be remembered as the year we all came together to change the world.

It is time to start preparing for the fact that we are each being made anew; that we’re being changed. We need to prepare for such a world. It will be the pandemic that we not merely survived; it will be what caused us to really make over a world where everyone might survive but is one where everyone gets to thrive. Now that’s what I call a great fish story!