The world would be so much simpler if there really were just a handful of hard and fast truths that never changed.
We could base our decisions around those parameters, and when others stepped over the boundaries, we could call them on it. All of us could then ascertain with reasonable certainty what was about to happen next. Fairness would rule the world forever.
But, there's no such thing as fair, and we have no idea what's going to happen this afternoon, and thank goodness. Fair would require a long set of rules to determine right and wrong, and another human being to decide the details of the list. Imagine, if occasionally, we picked the wrong human being.
It's the reason that democracy consists of elected governing bodies, who come back year after year to tweak, abolish or enact laws. Everything constantly changes, and as it does, throws off what we were certain had to happen.
Here's the tricky part, though for human beings. We have an idea of ourselves that sometimes contains a lot of doubt about our abilities or worthiness. We carry around a few fears that, perhaps, we're not up to the basic tasks of raising children or paying the bills or keeping a spouse. Often, we base our decisions around trying to maintain those labels, rather than what would be in our best interests today.
Opportunities are overlooked because our focus was fastened inward on convincing ourselves of something that never needed to be proved. The shorthand translation of that is we needed to be right, and it happens more often than we care to notice. Like those small moments when someone is telling a story and we feel the need to correct any errant facts, or someone else is driving and we give better directions. Neither one of those will really make a difference, and yet we do it anyway.
It's as if we feel the need to tell everyone that we're still here and have a few things to offer. But we're really the ones who are not sure about that one little fact.
To test out this idea, start paying attention to the people right around you. Those who can laugh at themselves often roll with all of the waves that come along in a lifetime, and describe themselves as happier, more content and are faster to feel gratitude no matter what's going on around them.
Their perception of themselves is more positive and they're more likely to see an opportunity, no matter how small, and take that first step knowing it will grow and flourish. My best example is Abby Marmion, who recently came to see me while I was still in New York City. Abby runs a successful public relations business back in Indiana, and even during a recession is showing a nice profit.
Just like millions of others who travel around Manhattan every day, we took to the subway and passed our card through the turnstile. Abby managed to get herself stuck in a turnstile, and for a moment, wasn't sure how to go forward or back. A stranger quickly stepped up and took her Metro card out of her hand, swiped it again and gave her direct orders to push forward.
Rather than hold on to her card and ask questions in order to maintain control, Abby went with the situation and moved forward. Safely on the other side, Abby also started to laugh at herself. Warren Webb, back in Fort Worth, Texas, is another good example of a very successful businessman, who can also be in on the joke, and still know it has nothing to do with his worth. There was an incident when he was vociferously complaining about "mom" jeans as he turned his head, which is when he noticed what I was wearing.
Both of us broke up laughing, and I had to admit he was right. I haven't worn a pair since that day. In the end, all that an insistence on being right can get you is a lot of resentment and arguments. What can be lost are the advice that might actually be useful, or the help we had been reluctant to take.
Martha's column is distributed exclusively by Cagle Cartoons Inc., newspaper syndicate. E-mail her at: Martha@caglecartoons.com.