Self Help advice needs a time-out.

 My mother had an incredible sense of the ridiculous. She often shared her observations with me and they were spot on. One day she called and commented on the fact that she felt the culture was losing its ability to do anything without consulting an “outside expert”. She mentioned that since everyone is getting so entrenched in what experts think, that pretty soon they won’t be able to leave the house without asking someone’s advice. She figured she’d make millions by just writing a book called “Leave, then Come Back!” Of course, she also managed to point out that people hired me to learn how to laugh at some of their stress—something that she did automatically along with her spaghetti, and wine.

It appears that there is nothing a human being or pet does today that doesn’t have a self-help book attached to it. Relationship books are rampant with advice on how to get along. Believe me, I think it is valuable to understand the differences in how people communicate. But, where is the line drawn? Some of the new ways of dialoging with partners, children or co-workers are exhausting and sound so plastic. One book I read suggested that if you weren’t getting the response you were looking for that you could reframe it in the following way: “ Should we take a time out and try this again tomorrow, or would you like to talk in another room, or perhaps I should play some background music while we interact?”

Yes, I’m being silly, but I wonder how my grandparents managed to stay married for sixty years without the above double speak. I remember them raising their voices until they sounded as if they were doing a high voltage scene from an opera. My grandmother would bring her hand to her mouth and bite it. This Italian gesture means “you’re in big trouble”. I don’t think I’ve ever seen this in a self-help book as a way to have rational conflict resolution.

What invariably resolved their “issues” was their mutual love of cooking and eating. After a time, one of them would say, “Let’s eat”, and the drama would end.

I find it unfortunate that we are so driven to follow techniques that often feel hollow and ridiculous. A lot of our lives would work better if we accessed our sense of humor and our common sense. Life contains a lot of absurdity, but in order to realize that, we must be able to witness our own absurd behaviors. Perhaps the next time your in the middle of an argument with your family, or partner, you might want to call for a time out. Keep a red nose handy, put it on and try to continue being upset. It just might change the outcome.



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