Renewal Twenty-Eight : Being Top Dog Is Not Absolute

Just before I quit smoking cigarettes in early 1976, I went on a one-week smoking binge. It was deliberate, as was my intention to quit. I pretty well did myself in, but it did provide me early momentum. When I did quit, I was so toxic that I had no interest in cigarettes.

Admittedly, since I intended to quit, and since I had already shifted my perspective to that of a non-smoker, it wasn’t all that hard to quit. I went through the shuttering, which I interpreted as my cells releasing the toxins as opposed to interpreting the shuttering as needing a smoke. I was simply on my way to being healthy.

One thing I noticed about the whole experience (I was not new at quitting, having done it numerous times) was that stopping a behavior, whether it was a pattern of thought or a pattern of deeds, was best accomplished by shifting perspectives and becoming the newly desired pattern.

Trying to stop patterns by a sheer act of will was possible, but it takes a lot of energy to keep those border guards at attention. If I simply was a non-smoker, I did not have to put any energy into staying that way. I was that way.

Binge smoking (that was the first time I had tried that) simply provided me the impetus to be a non-smoker–it helped anchor my intentions. It was a cognitive trick, and pretty goofy.

Clearly this idea is not generally applicable. Can you imagine doing this to kick a heroin or cocaine habit? Binge drinking would be risky as well. How about binge relationships? Well, maybe that would work out in some cases, though it would likely leave some overturned tables and chairs in the wake of it all.

This ability to change is partly how I became somewhat flippant about smoking (and a few other things). Though I had quit a number of times, I had never done it as an act of will. So when I did start back up again, it was not that I succumbed to the hold smoking had over me, I started because of different reasons, people around me smoked and that was a common thing to do together, I wasn’t sure what to do with my energy and smoking helped to take care of that problem, etc. I was not particularly worried about getting hooked.

However, by 1976, my attitude about being able to quit or not was no longer the issue, smoking was toxic. Sooner or later, it would get my physical being. So, off went that behavior for the last time, but not the pattern of doing what I wanted because I knew I could find my way out of it if need be.

It is funny how this very ability to change, which can be a good thing, wound up catching up with me in other ways.

The attitude that I could change if I wanted to is a double-edged sword. It was one of the basic reasons I have continually become entangled in relationships that were not good for me, except by way of driving home my propensity to think I can get into most anything and come away relatively unscathed, which, actually, has been pretty much the case (I know, I know, here I’ve been lamenting about the death of my mother, the busted relationships, power mongering in the workplace, but comparatively speaking, I don’t have many problems–even if I consider them worthy of examination). The same attitude is one of the basic reasons that I will engage in most any conversation with most anyone, in power or not. I can navigate fairly well through the psychological, behavioral, and logical orange cones thrown at me. And I can do fairly well at tossing them back.

Nothing ventured, nothing gained–growing and learning requires a little risk. Remaining safe is not much of a way to learn, even if safety is needed to engage in risk.

But, alas, I have now come to revisit the attitude that finally brought me to quit smoking, the ability to transform is not a healthy reason to blithely do just anything. I can’t exactly beat myself up for where I’ve been, but to continue running into walls is not learning either. It looks like I should shift the pattern and venture into another attitude.

So what’s been going on?

Well, pride is an interesting characteristic. I want equity, but I think that I must have wanted to be waiting there when others showed up–there was just a slight edge to be had before we all walked off to new adventures together as creative equals.

One of the things that interests me in relationships, whether it is personal or professional, is the notion of learning. I actually get a buzz from it, an endorphin rush. I love the energy that washes over me. I love the sense of freedom that comes from it. I love the humor that emerges (eventually) from clearly seeing one’s previous stupidity. And I love the creative promise of moving to another level.

However, people will promise most anything to get what they want. And they will believe those promises.

Actually, most have good intentions. But patterns are difficult to change. And the humility that comes with truly recognizing an unhealthy pattern is often hard to take. And sometimes what started out as a healthy pattern will change into an unhealthy one. That is a particularly tough one to see.

Standing at the gates of equity first can create some inequities. And that inequity is more likely to mean that heads are going to roll. Pride is not unique to just one person. Mostly, when people find themselves in an inequitable position, they will find ways to sabotage the relationship so they can better position themselves to be at the gates of equity first. Quite a bit of positioning actually seems to go into most relationships, and most of it under the herald of love.

Is this positioning really important to me?

Actually I’m not all that concerned with winning, the positioning is of concern only in the sense that I don’t come up short.

What does this all mean?

I’d better become one of the people I want to be around, people who can position, but who can play, people who have pride, but who know humility, people who can help, but can be helped, people who can lead, but can also follow. After all, some days you bite the bear, and some days the bear bites you.

There is a dynamic to being there first, that position is not in concrete. I think sporting events confuse us into thinking that being first is absolute and cannot be undone. This is strictly temporally oriented. There are new “champions” all the time, even if there is only one at a time. The same is true of positioning in relationships. Even in the most inequitable of relationships, there are days when the top dog isn’t.

So, am I going to suddenly quit wondering why things are so steeped in stupidity?

Not likely there either.

Maybe I’ll just go on a binge.

But (deep breath), I am going to attend to being healthy. That probably means learning to disengage a little more smoothly, rather than disengage entirely. After all, I do like the edge of competition. Done right, it can be outright fun. Done right, it can deepen relationships.

That works. The egos involved will just have to learn that foregoing the top dog positioning or that being perceived as being located on a lower rung of the ladder, doesn’t mean personal annihilation.

Good luck to us all.

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