Monday, January 19, 2015

The Problem

“If you are distressed by anything external, the pain is not due to the thing itself, but to your estimate of it; and this you have the power to revoke at any moment.”

Marcus Aurelius, Meditations


I woke up with a problem this morning.  In my e-mail there was some bad news.  It was a very large bill from a company I do regular business with.  It was the largest bill I have ever gotten from this company and I was shocked, to say the least.  I was sure that it was an error.  I was also angry and scared.  Anger and fear are often the same thing.  Sometimes we get angry because we are afraid and we don’t know what to do with our fear.  This has often been my response.  During the hour-long process of trying to resolve my issue (45 minutes of that being put on hold) I felt I had to do things differently than I’ve done in the past, especially when dealing with large and seemingly faceless organizations.
First, I had to not be angry.  A friend recently challenged me with this question when I was dealing with a similar issue:  Why did you get angry?
The question stopped me.  I wondered, “Why is anger so often my first response?  Why is the first response for so many of us?”
Perhaps it’s personal for some.  Perhaps some were raised in constant anger or violence or abuse.  Perhaps it’s our culture.  Much of our media seem intent on displaying the most aggravating and the most enraging scenarios in both news and entertainment.  Perhaps it’s political.  We lionize or demonize our political leaders.  Comments on Internet articles and social media posts, especially, though not exclusively, political stories, are often the most hateful and vitriolic possible.  Because there is anonymity, no personal accountability, and no system of restraints, people are free to spew poison and insults.  Perhaps we are at war with each other because we are at war with ourselves. 
So I decided not to be angry.
The second thing I did differently, and this is related to the first, was deciding to listen more than speak.  After I expressed my concerns, rather than keep talking, something I do when I’m frustrated, I just listened.  This was a little difficult because the person I was speaking to was not a native English speaker.  Still, she explained and then went to work on my problem while I waited on hold.  While I was waiting, I reaped the benefits of being calm.  I organized the cabinet under my kitchen sink.  I cut some flowers.  I put things away.  I started out with self-control and stayed that way.  It was a pleasant 45 minutes.
The final thing I did was stop thinking that this was the end of the world.  If my bill didn’t get resolved to my satisfaction, then I would have to make payments.  Perhaps I would have to end my association with the company.  It was too soon to make a decision.  Fortunately, it worked out.  My bill was reduced substantially.  But there was a greater benefit.  I learned some things.  I didn’t have to stop doing business with this company; I just had to be more aware.
First, I learned that I needed to pay more attention to detail.  While I still think the company overcharged me, I realized that I wasn’t paying as close attention to things as I should have been.  This happens more than I’d like to admit.  For those of us with ADHD and impulsive personalities, living in the moment doesn’t work if the moment goes badly.  Living in the moment, in the now, doesn’t preclude planning or attention to detail.  Being in the now doesn’t mean being sloppy or foolish.  In fact, taking care of the details enables me to enjoy the present moment for more.
I also learned that this problem wasn’t the end of the world.  Very few problems are, though many may seem like it at the time.  When we are in the midst of a struggle, often it’s not the problem that weighs us down as much as our beliefs about the problem.  That’s not an original thought, but it’s true nonetheless.  I wasn’t going to end up homeless and alone because I couldn’t do business with this company.

Everything turned out well and I learned from it.  So I didn’t wake up with a problem.  I woke up with a gift.  This gift enabled me to Get Started and Keep Going…until the next “problem.”