Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Dealing with life when it shouldn't be this way

This week I was thinking that I can deal with most ups and downs of life as long as they're organic. What I have a very hard time with is when the rollercoaster is caused by people who aren't doing their jobs. The primal roar that emerges from me when I've been jerked around because of someone's incompetence or mini-power play is rather impressive. It's impressive enough to cause me to stop and think about it a bit.

Most people in the world are jerked around a lot more than we Americans are. My mind boggles to consider what it must be like to be at the mercy of an arbitrary justice system, or to have your life dictated by a corrupt administration, or to be stuck living in a refugee camp with little or no recourse when something goes wrong. It would kind of be like taking my most intense outrage and raising it to the ninth power -- and living in that state all the time. Except, of course, you couldn't live like that or you'd go barmy.

When something doesn't work the way it should, Americans tend to bluster and shout, "It shouldn't be this way!" It's only later that we (sometimes) add, in a disgruntled mutter, "But it is the way it is." People who live in third world nations would probably flip that around, shrugging with resignation, "It is the way it is," and only maybe, on occasion, remembering, "But it shouldn't be that way."

Both thoughts are necessary. If you can't accept the reality you're dealing with, you'll be miserable. And if you don't remember that things ought to be different, you'll never work toward changing them.

I see this struggle in my kids, in their obsession with fairness. It's tough to instill in children that they need to be fair -- and that they shouldn't get too upset when life isn't fair, because that's just the way things are.

I have a friend who managed this very nicely by nodding to her kids when they came to her with complaints of institutional unfairness, and saying in a very matter-of-fact way, "Yeah, that sucks.I'm not sure there's much we can do about it." But this is the same friend who is a master at constructive complaining, and who has set a clear example to her children of how to change things when change is possible. I think she's on the right track.

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