Don Paglia | Marriage and Family Counseling. Constellations Workshops


Tip #80:

“The great charm of fly-fishing is that we are always learning; no matter how long we have been at it, we are constantly making some fresh discovery, picking up some new wrinkle. If we become conceited through great success, someday the trout will take us down a peg.”

Theodore Gordon-1907

There is something quite annoying about know-it-alls. We call these people “full-of-_ _it.” I think we can agree with how irritating it is to be with such people. They come across as arrogant and conceited. They cannot be offered any new information because they already know everything!

When I find myself with a know-it-all I chide them as being people who are “undeterred by any facts or current information.” They go about life very often with inaccurate, incomplete, or out-of-date, thinking. They appear averse to admitting they’ve made a mistake, or that they may actually not know something. “I was wrong” rarely, if ever, comes out of their mouths.

A fact of life is that we would become quite bored if there was never anything new to know or learn. Learning is essential to a fulfilling life. Growth is one of our most basic human needs. There are six basic human needs. I’ll address these at another time. It is enough to say they are not wants; they are needs. The need to grow is a basic human need. If we are not growing as a person, then we are actually dying.

Great masters of any pursuit in life are often humble people. They do not take their mastery for granted, or think of themselves as being above anyone. They have a unique skill of talent. And they see themselves as lifelong learners. They are people who continue to increase their capacity and skills on-goingly.

Whereas someone that already always knows everything is impossible to educate. There isn’t any room for new or additional knowledge. Lifelong learners – people who seemly have a compulsion towards putting more and more effort in developing their natural talents – do so in order to authenticate competence. At the same time, they never presume they have arrived. They aren’t competing with others; rather, they are competing with themselves. I am working to become better than I was yesterday. Tomorrow I will strive to become better than who I am today.

As of this writing our presidential election results have for the most part been concluded. We are to have Joe Biden as our next president. It appears we will be replacing the one we’ve have had for the last four years. Our current president is presently actively engaged in desperate attempts to hold onto his presidency seemingly by whatever means he can conjure up in order to do so. He has a history of suing in order to get his way. He is pursuing this avenue regarding the election process.

Litigious people are highly anxious. Also they are incapable of taking responsibilities for their own actions. The look to blame anyone and everyone else, and they are good at being victims. Some do it by a “poor me” approach, while others do so with angry righteous indignation. Trump does it with anger.  

Our Society – and we the people that make up our society – have become increasingly undifferentiated, unimaginative, and unwilling to undertake risk. Instead we are hyper-reactive. These are all forms of chronic anxiety. Chronic anxiety is different from communal nervousness, existential angst, or ‘anxiety’ stemming from the poor economy or, say, the threat of a war. Chronic anxiety might be compared to the potential explosiveness of a room that is filled with gas fumes – and where any sparking incident could set off an inferno. What people tend to do is then blame the person who struck the match rather than try to disperse the toxicity of the fumes from the room.

A focus on technical solutions to problems in families often fails to make systemic and lasting differences. When we address the manifestation of anxiety surrounding money, for instance, with technical solutions about money, the problem will merely relocate possibly around sex, or children, or some other displaced issue. The failure of quick-fix attitudes is that by neglecting to modify the emotional processes that underlie everything else keeps the present problem(s) in place.

Also chronic anxiety is self-reinforcing: the greater the chronic anxiety in any community, the more oriented it will become to its symptoms, and the more likely it is to export its troubles into the wider society through violence, litigiousness, or other destructive means.

The only way out of chronic anxiety is through a stage of acutely painful withdrawal, which is why many perpetuate the symptoms rather than address the underlying emotional processes. Some only know how to use violence, litigiousness and other mean-spirited means. Again these all lend themselves toward quick-fix remedies, and of displacing responsibility away from the self, but they do not address the underlying problems. They only address the symptoms.

Psychologist Leon Festinger describes chronically anxious and poorly differentiated people as having a cognitive dissonance. “The Theory of Cognitive Dissonance” is a phenomenon of how a person deals with dissonance. An example is with people who continue to smoke, even though they know it is bad for their health.

Whenever we feel uncertain and inconsistent, we feel a dissonance, i.e., mental strain, stress and discomfort.  We want to avoid this as it causes us to feel less capable of dealing with life. If we chronically feel high levels of dissonance, we are at risk for anxiety and depression disorders.

Basically, this is what happens: when we have two different and conflicting thoughts, such as: ‘I am intelligent person, and yet I did this stupid thing’ in order to resolve this conflict we change one of these two thoughts. For instance I modify one to be, “I’m not really stupid; there were some unusual circumstances…”

Right now we are seeing two different leadership approaches to our current political arena: We have our incumbent president speaking out from a self-absorbed, poor-me, they are against me, I am being cheated, and only thinking about what is best for himself. Whereas our president-elect is talking about all of us remaining calm and confident, that our democracy works, and that the voters always get to decide. He is not talking about himself or the opponent he ran against; he is talking about our nation. He is talking about us. He is also calling to do the things we need to get to work on.

This kind of leadership is leading with a calming presence, and one that recognizes that we are first of all, a nation of relationships. It is a leadership founded on maturity and personal responsibility. We have a lot of work ahead of us to heal our nation.

I am eager for us to return to these ways of leading in order that we do press forward. It do requires all of us to roll up our sleeves and take on the possibilities of what our nation has always aspired to – “to be a more perfect union.”  Let us, then, join together and be who we are called to be.