Don Paglia | Marriage and Family Counseling. Constellations Workshops


Tip # 73:

“To ask certain questions is to answer them. The answer to ‘Should we punt?’ is always yes. The answer to ‘Is that Sinatra or one of the other guys?’ is always one of the other guys. The answer to ‘Is this fly too big?’ is always yes.”

 Jon Margolis and Jeff MacNelly, How to Fool Fish with Feathers

One favorite question bantered about is the one where the wife asks her husband, “Does this dress make me look fat?” Any successful, veteran – I call them professional – husband – absolutely knows better than to answer. It’s a “trick” question. Some have to learn the hard way.

Many questions are not even questions at all. Rather they are someone’s attempt at getting support for their opinion or perspective, or an attempt to justify why one is going the opposite of what makes the most sense. “Don’t you agree that…?”  “See what I mean?” “Am I right or am I right?” This is what we call being rhetorical.

Questions are important, however. Too often we ask lousy questions. We therefore get lousy answers. Sometimes we need to ask different questions – better questions. A couple come to see me with an upsetting situation. They tell me how terrible living this way is for them. I often ask them “so what’s good about this?” Another way to say this is “what’s the pay-off?” Initially they’ll look at me in utter disbelief. They have a look that says, “Didn’t we just tell you how terrible it has been for us to live this way?”

Although this is indeed true, what is also true is that, at least up until now, they have tolerated this situation. And that’s because there’s been some sort of pay-off – some perhaps ill-minded benefit – or they would have discarded this so-called problem long ago. They are here with me now because the upset is finally outweighing the pay-off.

More to come on this later.

Back to the quote above, it seems a bit of a stretch to think of this quote as a fishing quote, but so what? It turns out the source, How to Fool Fish with Feathers, is a humorous, but very informative, introduction to fly fishing that features tips on casting, suiting up, proper equipment, expert techniques, the various uses of flies, and, perhaps most important, where to find the fish. Throughout the book the authors promote the importance of humor. I completely subscribe to this essential point not just for fishing, but for healthy living in general. Humor and playfulness is the antidote of anxiety. Fishing, like many other things, can be a great source for relaxation, to lightening up, and for seeing the humor of life itself.

Learning to ask better questions is a critical strategy to unravel the stressfulness of our hectic and frenetic life. Better questions can get us out of being stuck, feeling dead ended, and hopelessly trapped into not seeing any resolution to undesirable situations.

So here’s but one quote from this great book:

“Fly fishing is for those who hold that the fun in the race of life is in the running, not just the winning, that existence is its own justification, that a day spent in a stream or a pond with a goal in mind is a joy, even if the goal is not achieved, though a greater joy if it is.”

Such thinking can only come about from a commitment to contemplative living. Yes, this is my on-going and repetitive theme with all of these Tips. Admittedly I am a broken record, and once again may I say, “It ain’t about fishing!” I have nothing against fishing, and I do contend that fishing in and of itself can readily do the trick. That is, however, if fishing gets you to s-l-o-w d-o-w-n and to profit from your slowing down by using this slowed down way to be more reflective. The term I have been floating is: Contemplative Living. It is borrowed from Thomas Merton, the late Trappist monk and mystic. If fishing helps you get to a state of being facilitative of a contemplative life, well then, I am very happy for you. And not to be overly dramatic, but I am also truly happy for our world since we now have one more non-reactive, thoughtful, conscious person in our midst.

Here are some questions that may be useful whenever you feel stuck:

  • What’s good or useful about this problem or situation?
  • What are the pitfalls I might have to endure if I change things for the seemingly better?
  • What are the costs for having this difficulty, and why am I willing to pay them/tolerate them?
  • What will I gain by no longer having this situation exist as it presently does?
  • What will I lose by no longer having this situation exist as it presently does?
  • What is holding me back/stopping me from doing what I say I truly want?
  • Who will be most upset by my changing things?