Heading in the Wrong Direction: The Problem with One Way Streets

We all know that old habits die hard. Mastering a new skill is a lot easier than unlearning ingrained beliefs and behaviors. It’s a lot less demanding to incorporate a weekly juice cleanse day into our diet than it is to give up smoking. Likewise, it’s more straightforward to practice compassion for an unpleasant stranger than it is to stop resenting our odious in-law. Letting go of our inculcated beliefs and expectations is a much greater challenge partially because few of us realize what our baseline beliefs are. Where did they come from? It simply doesn’t occur to us to wonder. We’ve been taught X, other people seem to believe X, too, so we plow forward based on nothing more. How unthinking is that?


Nine times out of ten, people stick with what’s familiar because it’s comfortable and easy. “It’s what we’ve always done,” they shrug. The end. Embracing anything new usually requires us to let go of the old and letting go can feel like an admission we were “wrong.” Nobody wants to feel wrong—it makes us feel stupid. So instead, we cling to customary beliefs and choices in order to remain within the framework of What a Successful Life Looks Like. (Examples—holidays must be celebrated on the precise day and must be spent with relatives, no matter what; the only acceptable jobs within our circle have certain parameters; having children is the highest and best expression of adulthood.)


Let’s begin our analysis: who is someone you know who has a rigid idea about how someone (whether themselves or others) should behave or be like? Has this stubbornness resulted in great unhappiness for anyone? Now that you have a personal example on which to focus, let’s deconstruct their beliefs. What is their hang up? Why do you think they are so obstinate? What are they afraid of? When was the last time they showed their true colors about this matter? (Did you get caught in their crossfire?) What might happen if they changed their mind?


Now, let’s shift gears from an obvious example to considering the sorts of dogmatic ideas people don’t realize they have. For instance, where do you come down on the idea of attending worship services? Do you disdainfully consider regular parishioners unthinking ninnies or politically correct sycophants? Maybe you suspect that those who don’t attend formal services invite hardship into their lives because, obviously, they have no wish to know God. So, where would people who have no discernable religious tradition but believe in Spirit and strive to live a life dominated by kindness and generosity come out in your assessment? Can such people be ok in your book or, underneath it all, do you shake your head, muttering something about their misguided belief in a just universe or, on the other end of the spectrum, being lost in the wilderness? Is there another, acceptable way to express spirituality, even if it isn’t yours? Can you bring yourself to fully respect someone for whom abiding faith plays a role? Can you make room for these types?


Now extend this line of questioning to concepts such as “family values” or “good friend.” What do these phrases mean to you? How did you arrive at these definitions? Is there another way to live up to such principles other than the way you have deemed acceptable: “If she were a real friend, she wouldn’t have done X.” “A husband who cared would see that this is a problem and be worried.” “To be compassionate means you have to do/vote/advocate THIS.” Really?


Whenever you find yourself thinking along the lines of, “There’s only one way,” you’re in TROUBLE. What I am saying is not relativist—it’s not that all ideas are equally good—but, if two people uphold the same principle—family values is a natural–the fact that they express it differently doesn’t diminish their dedication to the overriding goal. How I express interest in the kids may be totally different from how you’d do it, but that doesn’t mean I don’t care. Does what I’m saying make sense?


Let’s think back on your stubborn friend, the one you thought of earlier in this post. You can see how much unhappiness their attitude has caused. Isn’t it a shame that they haven’t managed to reverse direction? Might you apply the same assessment to yourself?

One Way sign



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One Response to “Heading in the Wrong Direction: The Problem with One Way Streets”

  1. Jim Patterson Says:

    Good one Chrisanna. Quite a few different threads here.

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