Browsing the archives for the responsibility tag.
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If It’s Not Fun, Why Do It? A Few Pointed Answers

I'm just sayin'

Don’t get me wrong: Ben & Jerry’s ice cream is delicious–nobody’s saying it isn’t. It’s also ridiculously unhealthy and will kill you if you eat enough of it, but I’m sure that when Mssrs. Cohen and Greenfield started their ice cream shop up, killing people was the furthest thing from their minds. I even believe that the company is, or at least has been, a beacon of responsible corporate citizenship–honestly I haven’t looked at it in great detail since the Unilever takeover a decade or so ago, so I’m not sure whether that’s still the plan or if it’s just the brand strategy.

But notwithstanding delicious ice cream and the good will of the founders, I have always hated the slogan Ben & Jerry’s uses sometimes: “If It’s Not Fun, Why Do It?”

Here’s why:

  • Because the kids need to eat
  • Because long-term happiness is more important than short-term pleasure
  • Because you’ll be glad you did, even though it was difficult at the time
  • Because you have a cavity
  • Because tequila isn’t good for dogs
  • Because it will clear the air
  • Because you promised
  • Because if you do it enough, it will really pay off
  • Because it will help you do fun stuff in the future
  • Because they can use your help
  • Because the cat box isn’t going to clean itself
  • Because integrity is more important (and more satisfying) than fun

I could go on like this all day, but they’re telling me it’s time for my meds. Let me just mention, though, that I’m very much in favor of making things you’ve decided to do fun–it’s practically essential. I’m just not in favor of deciding what’s worth doing based on whether or not it seems easy and pleasant. There’s more to life, right?


When Is It Time to Make a Change?

Handling negative emotions

In my recent article “Dealing With Problems That Can’t Be Fixed,” I promised to follow up with a discussion of things that can be changed. If a situation is bad, there are circumstances in which we can’t do anything about it–for example, for most of us the recent Deepwater Horizon oil spill was such a situation (although even in instances like this we’re not completely powerless, as I’ll discuss in my upcoming article on ways we can affect the world). When we have little or no opportunity to change a situation, then in a way the situation is no longer our problem; instead, our challenge is to address our own feelings about the situation, as discussed in last week’s article.

But what about situations where we do have some control, influence, or future prospects? If you hate your job, does that mean it’s time to quit your job, or time to change your attitude toward your work? (See “6 Ways to Be Happy at a Job You Don’t Like“). If you’re having a lousy marriage, does that mean you should divorce, or that you should work on finding ways to be happier together? If you’re failing your first year of college, should you stay even though you think your chances of succeeding are slim or quit?

Questions that point the way
Although there’s no one simple answer to questions like these, often it comes down to one of three options:

  1. Stay and work on it
  2. Stay and reconcile yourself, or
  3. Leave.

These choices don’t apply to every single situation, but they do to most. Which one we choose depends on questions like the ones that follow. Asking questions like these helps us focus on key issues about our situation.

By the way, it’s best to answer these questions out loud–whether to yourself or while talking with a friend–or in writing, since this will lead to more specific, focused responses than quiet thought would do.

  • Do you have direct control over or responsibility for the problem? Note that this includes situations that feel out of control but that you are the sole actor in, such as eating habits or organization.
  • If you don’t have control, do you have some direct influence? Is there someone you can talk to, a request you can make, or an action you can take to encourage things to go in the right direction?
  • If you don’t have direct influence, do you have indirect influence? For example: if you want to be promoted, are there things you can do to stand out better at your job? If you want to be picked for a team or performing group, can you expand your practice schedule?
  • How much does this problem really matter? This isn’t always the same question as “how much do you care about this problem?” because it’s possible for us to get really worked up about things that may not necessarily be very important. (See “How emotions work“)
  • How much impact will your efforts be likely to make? If you’re worried about a situation in your neighborhood, you’re likely to be able to have more direct impact than if the problem is national or international, for instance. This doesn’t mean that you should only direct your efforts towards small or local things, only that it’s worth considering how big your contribution can be.
  • If one or more other people are involved, are their aspirations the same as yours? If they’re not, are you necessarily in conflict, or is it possible there might be an approach that could work for everyone, or at least for more people than the existing options would help? I’m not talking about compromise here, although I don’t deny that has some value in its place, but instead about getting away from the idea that when two people don’t agree, they necessarily have to duke it out. An excellent resource for learning how to work with someone who’s opposed to you is psychologist Marshall Rosenberg’s Nonviolent Communication: A Language of Life. Another great book for navigating difficult negotiations is Crucial Conversations: Tools for Talking When Stakes are High. If you’re really interested in learning how to make constructive solutions in the midst of conflicts, either or both of these books can be invaluable.
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The First Step is Admitting That Everybody Else Has a Problem

States of mind

rippedjeansI don’t know about you and me, but it’s clear as that unopenable, molded plastic they package everything in these days they everybody else is pretty screwed up. I mean, come on: suburban sprawl? Pollution? The fashion trend where your jeans have to be all discolored and ripped up? Geraldo Rivera? Everybody Else may think they don’t have a problem, but it’s pretty obvious they’re fooling themselves.

Case in point: the near-annihilation of all of the Native American nations. They had Europeans going around and enslaving people, stealing their stuff, giving them infected blankets, shooting them, breaking agreements, taking their land, telling them to clear off and go live in the desert … all kinds of injustice. Then later, as if to add insult to injury, they make it so the only way they can make their living is by running casinos. I know I wasn’t there to do any of that stuff, and I bet there’s at least a 96 to 97 percent chance you weren’t, either.

Now, this is kind of hard to reconcile. I mean, it’s clearly a good thing to take responsibility for our own lives and how they go, but what about all this stuff other people have done to mess us up (and right when things seemed to be going pretty well for once, too)? Don’t we have enough of our own issues to deal with without having to put up with that nonsense?

Clearly Everybody Else needs help. Now, you know Everybody Else: it’s really hard to get in a meaningful conversation with them, and when you do, they kind of mumble and end up wandering off to play Halo or get their hair frosted or something. The problem with Everybody Else is that they just don’t listen! If you’ve ever tried to gently instruct people in the art of more considerate driving by revving your engine and honking your horn at them, you’ll know what I mean.

Unfortunately, that leaves you and me holding the bag, my friend. If Everybody Else won’t get help, then we’re going to have to do one of those perspective shifts and consider ourselves part of Everybody Else, then get some help ourselves. As close as we are to perfect, we can probably come up with at least a few things that could stand improvement, and if we look at it that way, then at least Everybody Else is getting somewhere. Maybe some of them will even kind of notice what we’re doing and try to follow along. No, seriously, it could happen.

Why it should be left to you and me to be part of Everybody Else and improve, subjecting ourselves to potential arch comments when we consult self-help materials or to pride-swallowing when our pride really isn’t going down too smooth in the first place, I don’t know. But as much of a pain in the butt as Everybody Else is, we really do love them (or at least certain ones of them we know), and a touch of self-sacrifice every now and again won’t kill us. After all, we’re pretty chill, you and me: we can handle it.

Photo by Idhren

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