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April 6, 2019

Running Away Too Soon, or Sticking Around Too Long

Abandoning unpleasant circumstances or extending our stay in pleasant ones are more often than not bad choices. If unpleasant circumstances are abandoned, we go against the street wisdom rule that states to never run away from a situation, and if we overstay a good situation, we violate the street wisdom rule that advises, “quit while you’re ahead.” Circumstances, both good and bad, pleasant and unpleasant, are our classrooms, and life offers many courses, and though we wish things would dance to our tune, the fact is we have to take it upon ourselves to go with the flow.

About a mile below the home I had on Maui was a lovely beach named Keawakapu, which stretched for several miles. It was lined with the homes of the few that could afford the beach property, everything from industrialists, writers, movies stars and so forth. There I witnessed a funny scene one day. Five or six custom paddleboards, beautifully made and about twelve feet long, were stuck in the sand pointing skyward in front of a mansion with its own aquatic center and beachboy. It was as lesson for the two daughters of the home owner, and the beachboy was describing to one of the daughters something about “stand-up paddling.” But the daughter seemed to be very frustrated about the lesson, and as the beach boy was talking, stormed off walking up the beach. But the beach went on for miles and the beachboy simply placed his palms on his hips and, amused, waited for the inevitable turnaround, which came very predictably.

Wealth cannot buy street smarts and the billionaire’s daughter proved the point when a humble return was forced upon her by circumstances. The servant “beachboy” outwitted his client’s rebuke without even trying, by simply letting her entrap herself. Seem familiar? We have probably all been there some time.

Every situation has its remedy and walking away is seldom one of them, though often employed. Whatever ticked off the privileged daughter wasn’t going to be resolved by storming away from the issue, and no doubt the long stretch of beach staring at her brought that to mind. How often we run off with no promise to hang on to. Even a contentious exchange with a beachboy (who was only trying to patiently teach her, more than likely) offers more promise than a journey leading nowhere.

If we got ourselves into a situation and later want out, we must ask ourselves if the person wanting out is any different than the person wanting in. Of course not. Yet, often we act as if was, and don’t take responsibility. Situations must be resolved in the context in which they are created. Otherwise it is like shooting an arrow at a target and then, arrow in flight, changing the target.

Marriage counselors and therapist make their livelihood trying to show people how to work through situations. Resolving a conflict does not necessarily mean remaining in the situation, but rather that whether one stays or goes, one does so with understanding and no-lose ends. Because, walking away leaves so many lose ends, it’s the least viable option in any circumstance.

It goes without saying that leaving a situation unresolved harms the other person or persons as well. By abandoning ship before passing out life-preservers everyone drowns.  A plan that works for everyone is best when situations that don’t go as expected. No one intentionally enters a bad situation, but we do enter seemingly good situations that develop problems or have hidden ones beneath their surface that we later discover and cause us to seek the exit door. Before we use that door, however, it is far better to understand why we made the mistake we did, for if not, we are sure to walk into a similar situation again, and again.

Quitting while ahead is wisdom known to every gambler, shop owner, “Market” player, and many other enterprises, including, personal relationships, as well, yet, even knowing better, many of us end up proving the rule. The demon here is greed and infects the best of us.

I was once a restaurant owner and observed that many restaurants fail. When I looked into the reason for their failures it was more often than not overexpansion. Building upon the success of a single restaurant, adding more restaurants, often borrowing on the current one, stretches us “too thin” and it may be impossible to survive a slow-down in business, and like dominos, the entire restaurant chain fails.

As goes with restaurants, so goes many a fine marriage as well. How many a joyous “partnership” has ended in sadness as deep as it once was joyous? It is said that “love is blind” but it also prevents our seeing our own greed. Like the restaurant owner with a single successful restaurant, who thinks why not another, many partners are tempted out of the nest with the prospect of another love relationship.

It is easy to see with a little reflection that the ability to dig one’s feet into whatever position we find ourselves, both good and bad, will lead to contentment. Being steadfast in all circumstances affords the opportunity to learn many of life’s lessons, none of which can be realized when we are seeking escape or increase.

All the above is illustrated in many of the Buddha’s teaching Life echoes many lessons that could have been plucked out of a Buddhist scripture, so, whether Buddhist or not, by simply paying attention to the lessons life offers we can live and find peace.

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