Thoughts, Engagements, and Updates

17 Oct 2014

Mishandling Difficulties and the Failure to Attain Perfect Happiness


Pastoral care and counselling has become a field that I am very passionate about as i try to discover myself within the discipline of religion and culture. The methodological works of Capps, Drystra, Watzlawick, and the duo––Bandler and Grinder, in their counselling rhapsodies, happen to be methods that fascinate me. It is from reading their works that I understand the concept of “change” for the better. Then I realize that some things we kill ourselves for, might actually not be. It is as true as it sounds! Follow me.

I read the tagline of John…, one of my new followers on twitter and it reads: “You may say I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one. I hope someday you’ll join us. And the world will live as one”. A straightforward, inspirational motivation that could dare anyone to aspire to be a dreamer just like my friend, John. But frankly speaking, is there really any such thing as ‘the world will live as one’? Could there be a time when we have cohorts of passionate ‘wanna-be’ legends like John that will stir such shift in our polysemic world, even for a single day, to achieve John’s dream for a one, united world? You think the world is ready, for once, to experience such kind of utopia at all?

Let’s bring it down from the state to the individual level. Can anyone boast of having a trouble-free life? Can anyone brag of a life that excludes pain and misfortune from its order of existence? I think no, because difficulties and problems are a fact of human existence. However, some difficulties can be managed and reduced to its minimal, whilst others are inescapable lots of the human life and have to be accepted as the price we pay for breathing after all. Don’t therefore assume that difficulties and problems are the same thing. Problems are actually created when we mishandle difficulties. Suffering, evil, and death for instance are good examples of difficulties. In contrast, problems  such as diseases, depression, poverty  and so on can occur due to mishandling of difficulties. When we try to abort a natural phenomenon, we tend to wallow in its consequence, especially when such attempt is either not achieved or over-achieved.

We often mishandle our difficulties in three main ways, and surely, you will find yourself in one of the examples I will be giving here.


By Simplifying It

A lot of us find ourselves here: the procrastinators. In this circle, we are warn-out by a difficulty situation for which an immediate action is required, yet we procrastinate and simplify it as nothing. Such mishandling is called simplificationThis simplification occurs in two ways. One is among ironic “believers” we feel the difficulty does not exists, and surely, anybody who is on the negative with them is often confronted as an enemy. Doubtless, such confrontation is often accompanied by unnecessary attacks. If you fight an unnecessary war, definitely you will end up being wounded, or even so, killed in the process. A lot of us are fighting such wars presently. Sadly, towards someone who is not even an enemy. Continue reading. On the other hand, the second form of such simplification is a situation where someone admits there is a difficulty, but rather chivalrously treats it as small matter, insisting that it only requires a quick or simple fix to it. This is stinkingly dangerous. It is like someone with the Ebola virus taking an injection for body pain. A friend of mine died few years ago of typhoid out of carelessness. He traveled to his village and came back sick. He thought it was a slight, “change-of-environment” fever and thus decided not to take it serious until the sickness took him serious, even to the grave. His manageable problem unfortunately led to an unstoppable difficulty: death. Again, such mishandling is dangerous and produces problems that succeed eventually. Be warned!


By Attempting Utopianism

Whilst some of us love simplifying our conditions, others simply complicate theirs. Most people love failing over-and-over-again, attempting a no-where-to-be-found perfect happiness. May be I am in this group. We want to change the world like my friend John, but on the fallow grounds of utopianism. We want to change Africa overnight with all our might, for all practical purposes, whereas is either unchangeable or can’t be done by a single generation. Most people, myself included, take an action when it should not be taken. Eventually, we crush our self-esteem and deplete our ego when we don’t succeed. Utopianism can take two forms actually. One is when we practice what is called introjective utopianism, where we crush ourselves on the basis of inadequacy for being unable to reach what are, as a matter of fact, unattainable goals. Yes, you know what I mean (having the goal of perfect happiness ‘in Jesus Name!’). Frankly, don’t get GOD involved in those journeys of yours, “abeg”. Notice, when such goals are not attained, the blame does not go to the utopian nature of such adventure but rather on the inadequacy or assumed incompetence or in one’s ineptitude. At the end of the day, your stomach jumps to your throat, you fall sick, depressed, and feeling suicidal because you are on a journey to nowhere, unfortunately. A good example of such case is when we claim it is our right to be rich (while others should remain poor), making us to be less thankful about the priceless things in life that are all at our feet. Don’t get me wrong, there is nothing wrong with desiring wealth, only that being wealthy is a matter of destiny (some might disagree). The second form of utopianism is known among pastoral care workers as projective utopianism. As projective as it sounds, this definitely projects the life of many Christians. Especially ones who have a moral, righteous stance based on their persuasion from the Scriptures, though pulled out of context, claiming to have found truth about the solution of the world. Pastors are the flag carriers here “jare”. Such truth is sustained by our missionary responsibility of changing the unchangeable world at all cost, because “souls are perishing”. The failure to attain such famous goals does not actually, in fact, affect us directly but places a negative reflection on those who do not share in our vision of changing the world by all means possible. As a result, we spill arrogantly in paranoia, self-justification, and the illusion of originality against our religious ‘others’, believing we have the solution to the difficulties and problems of the world, which are as a matter of fact, unsolvable. We claim that nothing of this sort has ever been attempted by anyone in history and therefore, our way is the only way. This justifies hostility and incivility toward religious ‘others’, or those who do not believe in your belief. Consequently, the idea that we might attain a perfect state of happiness by solving the “unsolvables” of this world is more real to us albeit without experiential evidence.


By Creating a Paradox for Yourself and Others

Quite a handful of people mishandle their difficulties by taking actions at the wrong level. They try to create change when it is not appropriate by creating solutions that are contradictory and therefore incapable of reversing the situation. Such mishandling is called paradox  in pastoral care and counselingWhen a solution to a difficulty is paradoxical in nature it only manages to imprison individuals in impossible dilemmas, impasses, and deadlocks. Stop communicating in paradox! A number of attempted solutions on difficulties and even problems are paradoxical in nature and therefore does not clear the air for anyone. Communicating in paradox only generates greater frustration and hopelessness. A good example is among love partners. As you know more than I do, love is a powerful force. It can damn you if you don’t respond to it, and you are damned if you do. I hope this illustration helps. My girlfriend wants me to buy something for her, but she knows I don’t want to purchase it but I am buying it anyway because of her. Alternatively, I refuse to buy the stuff for her not just because of the original reason (her love effect ain’t working on me this time), but also she is now very aware that I don’t want to do it. In either case, what began as the difficulty of a simple need for something has become a problem between my girlfriend and myself. Donald Capps of Princeton Theological Seminary calls this “a mutually frustrating interpersonal conflict”.

In conclusion, my point is not that goals need not to be set nor met. I only argue against having unattainable goals, or envisioning a solution in difficulties that are, in all practical sense, unsolvable. Recall, unattainable goals do not eliminate difficulties, instead it creates a problem, one that was not there before. Regardless, for every problem there is a solution. I then suggest four steps I think will help you to manage your difficulties, to avoid problematic eruptions.

I’m sure you are well acquainted with the facts discussed above? Otherwise, please re-read the preceding section to make sense of these proceedings.

First step, you need to find where you fit in, in order to fix what you are in need of. You need to define the difficulty and problem in clear terms. Do this by distinguishing between your solvable difficulties and those that, for all practical purposes, are not. Death for example is one of those difficulties that are impossible to solve. My tips does not apply to insoluble difficulties. If you want to seek immortality or find an incurable cure, please find it somewhere else, perhaps in the transcendent. The goal however is to define the insoluble difficulties in terms of “How can I learn to live with it?” I think that’s a way forward to finding a potential solution, if there is, to your difficulty. Step two, investigate the solutions you have attempted so far. A thorough exploration of your previous journeys will eventually reveal what maintains that particular condition that needs change in your life and where such change can be legitimately applied. Step three, define the change you want to achieve. Having a clear definition of what you want out of life is a safeguard against getting hurting self and been caught up in wrong solutions, and compounding attempts that does not, evidently, solve the difficulty or problem at hand. When such is the case, it might be difficult is restore self out of such sense of complexity. Finally, try to formulate and implement a meaningful plan to produce whatever desired change you need in life. It might require you believing in or doing things that you are not accustomed to. It might require some imagination, playfulness, and recognition that will may you appear foolish to people around you. Need i remind you, it is better to be a wise fool, than an ignorant one. As rough as the journey sounds, it is a straightforward start to a better life.

Eventually after you have applied these steps, you should expect a reframing that changes the frame in which you relate with yourself and others in order to change the meaning and outcome of your life’s journey. A frame of mind that will not allow you to desire change in seemingly meaningful but actually useless terms. Good luck on your new journey!

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