Monday, January 11, 2010

Defiance: Who Does It Really Hurt?

Out with the old, in with the new. When the new year comes, there’s always a sense of getting a fresh start. Leaving the past behind, getting on with our lives. But is it really possible?

Sometimes even simple changes like losing weight, arriving at work on time or getting organized can seem impossible. We fail at them over and over. It is easy to blame somebody else, a situation or circumstances, but the fault is usually our own.

The answer to many of our problems lies buried in the past.

My life now is somewhat orderly, but it hasn’t always been that way. As a young mother, my house was always trashed. I had numerous unfinished projects going on, stuff in little piles everywhere. I could never find what I needed. I spent so much time looking for things like keys and shoes, it made me angry.

Then I got a book, “Getting Organized” by Stephanie Winston. The principles she put forth in the book were extremely helpful, but I could find those things in other books. It was the opening chapter that made a profound change.

“I believe that many people get trapped in a sort of time warp in which they live out their present lives responding to forces that were in operation many years ago—as much as ten, twenty, thirty, or more years,” Winston writes. “The majority of people who are consistently (as opposed to occasionally) troubled by the issue of order and disorder and by the logistics of managing their lives, are still, as adults, often living out guilty defiance of a childhood authority—usually a parent.”
She gives the example of a parent who expected you to do things the “right way.” They nagged you about this over and over.

“At some point defiance begins,” Winston says. “The young person digs in his or her heels and mentally says, ‘I won’t. I won’t be orderly or disciplined.’ ”

We grow up, not imprisoned by our parent’s rules, but imprisoned by our defiance. We adopt lifestyles that justify being disorderly. We become busy, frantically busy, too busy to impose order on our lives. Or we become creative and artistic, too involved in creative activity to do something mundane like being orderly.

Often, our model for order is the one our parent taught us, the “right way.” We decide it is impossible to achieve and say, “The heck with it.”

As adults, our defiance no longer hurts our parents, but it does hurt us. In my case, I was sabotaging my own life.

In Alcoholics Anonymous there’s an expression, “Don’t analyze; utilize.” I didn’t spend a whole bunch of time delving into the past. I merely acknowledged within myself that this was true, that my defiance of my parents was ruining my life.

I began putting Winston’s organizing principles into practice. I did not become a super-clean homemaker or super-organized woman, but my life has some order. I put my keys in a certain spot. I put my shoes in the closet. I put the bills in a file.

Eventually, I found my own way of order that’s right for me. Winston writes, “… true freedom, in the context of this book, meaning a system of real order, intrinsic to the person that you are, that liberates rather than constricts.”

Of course, this leads us to ask other questions about defiance. What else did your parents try to impose on you? Career plans? Choice of friends? Religious beliefs?

A friend of mine grew up in a strict Mennonite home. He had to sit still during long church services several times a week. His parents quoted Bible verses to enforce their ideas about work, play and discipline. As an atheist, my friend insists that he is free of his religious upbringing. Yet he refuses to consider that God may exist. I think his defiance of his parents has blinded him.

I, too, as a child, had someone’s ideas about God imposed on me. When I grew up, I was able to separate my parent’s loyalty to an oppressive institution from the hunch that God may not be a tyrant, that God may be good and loving.

So, when our attitude, opinions and behavior are based on opposing certain beliefs or people, are we not still imprisoned by those beliefs and people? Aren’t they dictating our life to a greater degree than ever before? Should we be biased against orderliness? Against God?

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