Of Insanity and Other Matters
By Lyn Messersmith
One definition of insanity is repeating the same behavior over and over and expecting different results. I’m an expert at this. No matter how many times I try to fit that square peg in the round hole it never works. Eventually, I sit back for another look, and go, “DUH!” Or else ask for help and someone else gets a laugh at my expense. You have to give me credit for persistence, though. I never quit until the air is blue with curses.
The computer is my practice field; I follow the same routine repeatedly, and get the same screen every time. Never the screen I wanted, of course, but surely the machine misunderstood and the next try will get me where I wanted to be. Whether or not I qualify for insanity isn’t the point, it’s my expectations that are the root of frustration.
Expectations and rationality are unrelated, for the most part. One of my friends seldom has a happy birthday, Mother’s Day, or anniversary. She anticipates getting flowers or jewelry from her husband to mark these occasions; never mind that his notion of gift giving doesn’t match hers. She drops hints, reminds him of the upcoming event, and shows him pictures of what she has set her heart on. He figures she’ll buy those things herself and hates shopping. This Mother’s Day he built her a nice patio, but she pouted all day for the lack of flowers. They’ve been married thirty-odd years, but each has refused to modify his/her expectations. At least one of these people is not being rational about this issue, and the unhappiness continues.
The couple in the prior example may just be in a power struggle. Maybe he is determined not to be manipulated and she is just as determined to make her pretty little dream come true. Abe Lincoln is credited with having said that most people are as happy as they make up their minds to be, and apparently, some of us are determined to be displeased.
Sometimes we simply haven’t made our expectations clear. I tend to assume that my husband will go through his pile of mail and promptly dispose of the unsolicited clutter. He tends to assume that I will leave the mess on the kitchen table and figure out a way to fit food and plates around it. Both scenarios happen just often enough so that neither of us ever modifies our expectations, but most days we can put aside the frustration and move on in good humor.
Asking ourselves whether an issue will still be important to us next year helps us decide whether to risk confrontation. If, after thorough discussion, one party is stuck on a particular point of view, we can either decide to adjust, or move on. You can’t get a loaf of bread at the hardware store; it’s not in their inventory, and they probably aren’t going to special order any for you.
One of my family members maintains he can either choose to be right or be happy. We can’t always be both, but we don’t have to choose insanity. I overheard this good advice in the grocery store. Someone said to a companion, “Have a nice day, unless you have other plans.”
See you next week, and meanwhile, try to stay at least partly sane.