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Friday, November 05, 2004

Don't Sweat the Small Stuff: Just Stuff it!

A family is a wonderful thing, but spouses, children, and parents can slowly chip away at your dignity, time, and most importantly, bank account. Small stuff adds up to being large stuff, so you need to find a strategy to tell your loved ones to ‘stuff it’.

People who learn to make ordinary generic irksome stuff into small barely annoying stuff have a tremendous edge. They are more peaceful with themselves and less attached to having things a certain way. This can be particularly valuable as the antics of your family bring your world crumbling down upon your head. In general, you will feel less burdened, and this peaceful feeling can spread to other family members, who will now steer clear of that snoring lump on the couch, lest you deprive them of some small stuff, like their teeth.

Finally, people who know how to stuff the small stuff feel more patient and easygoing, have better sex lives, win more and better promotions on the job, are more likely to win Power-Ball lotteries, and when they die will go to heaven without having first to take a number.

The following strategies are designed to address some of the most common sources of aggravation, and to help you appreciate the gift of a well trained and housebroken family.

Put Feelings First

I recall that as a child, when I wrecked the furniture, scratched the car, or indulged in other forgivable mischief, my father would take me in his arms. As his hands tightened around my neck, he would murmur gently from behind his clenched teeth: "Stuff can be replaced, and so can you!" From that pearl of wisdom, I learned how to postpone cleaning, yard work, and other errands, and all the while seem noble and unselfish.

There is a lesson somewhere to be learned in all this. You can make precious moments out of when your wife tells you about her successful shopping trip, or when your child wants to share with you his exultation and pride upon passing the seventh level in the video game ‘ Quake’. With a simple mechanical nod, you help them feel pride and self worth, and assist them in their development of a life of wanton materialism and video game addiction. These are memories that can last a lifetime.

But, otherwise, unless you can live with a dented car, scratched furniture, and dirty dishes, tell your loved one’s to stuff it! By venting your wrath, your loved ones will soon develop their own precious memories about how its not nice to make havoc with your stuff, and will steer clear of anything that disturbs you. And as for their feelings, just remember that feelings mend at lot faster than upholstery stains.

Learn to live like kids do.

We should emulate the life affirming exuberance of little children. Children live for the moment, do what they feel, and have no regrets if they make mistakes.

We should cultivate such joyful innocence. Adults of course do have to work on it a little. It’s often difficult to act without thinking of others, to be mindless about responsibility, and have no empathy for anybody or anything but yourself. In other words, it takes a little doing to revert to the natural state of a child, and to behave, for all intents and purposes, like a little Caligula.

But it can be done! Observe your child as he or she abuses their peers or the family pet, and ignore utterly your every request. Soon you will be able to pick up their invaluable sociopathic skills, and learn to take innocent and inconsiderate pleasure in abusing your family, boss, and coworkers. It can even prepare you with new skills that you can apply to new career paths like politics or law!!

Forgive your outbursts

No matter how close you all are, sometimes you’ll just lose it. You’ll get angry, rant and rave, maybe even go after a family member with a chain saw. But unless you hurt someone, you only need admit that you’re only human and move on.

Indeed, beating yourself up afterwards is not the solution, since there are a lot more people deserving of a good thrashing than you.

Becoming a more peaceful person, particularly in at home and with family, is a process, not a destination; unless of course your family has taken off to a destination such as your mother-in-laws, while leaving you in proud possession of a six pack of beer and the TV remote control. When you forgive your own outbursts its easier to extend the same courtesy to others, particularly when you visit them in the place where your outburst put them, namely the hospital or mental ward.

Think of your home as the Golden Gate Bridge

Like most folks, I used to get overwhelmed and frustrated about the maintenance of our home. If seemed like nothing ever got done- a bed needed making, meals had to be prepared, and pants had to be put on one leg at a time, again and again. I kept waiting for the time when the work would be finished, but alas, I never won the lottery, my kids unfortunately didn’t run off as they reached puberty, and my wife refuses to accept my narrow instinctive calling of hunter-gatherer.

Then I hear a story about how the Golden Gate Bridge had to be painted every day, and how this incessant painting caused many workers to leap off the bridge in despair, and local government to impose onerous tolls. Thinking about my responsibilities in these terms has been a tremendous relief to me. Now when I think about my wife and kids constantly badgering me for money or to do incessant chores, I can quell my ardent desire to jump off the roof. Instead of panicking when something needs to be done, I put in all in perspective. So, as mildew, termites, and nagging family progressively reduce my physical and social life to a shambles, I will not panic, and keep in mind that all of these things can be addressed the first thing tomorrow.

Develop your own reset button

In every home there are warning signals that chaos is imminent. These signs, such a billowing smoke, siren alarms, shrieking cats and mates, and the stampeding noise of children are usually ignored until they interfere with your appreciation of the football game on TV. But by then its normally too late, and you are then rudely pulled out of your Lay-z-boy into the baleful world of oven cleaning chores, lawn mowing, and little Johnny’s soccer practice.

But we can use these feelings as signals to hit the reset button. So when your family gathers around you like hungry hyenas zoning in on an injured wildebeest, you take them into another room, and hit your reset button. This button, which resembles the garage door opener, can slam them in the garage for hours at a time. As you wait for them to cool off, you can cool off with your beer as you finish your game. While you’re at it you can develop a rewind, fast forward, and pause button too as you think about the good old days, about your upcoming vacation, and about that quick nap that you’re going to take right now.

Read a book that takes a different position from what you hold dear.

Its always good to expand your horizon, to challenge yourself with new ideas. Sometimes we can get stuck when we revert again and again to the same old patterns of thinking. You know that those well worn and tiring rules, those boring golden rules, stop signs, and fat content labels on hot dog wrappers. These can really impede you from dynamic and liberating thinking. A quick antidote from the same old ways of thinking is to read books that take positions a bit different from those we are so familiar and complacent with.

For example, I read the other day a book written by an obscure Austrian house painter. I learned some marvelous new things, such as how people need lots of living space, and how really selfish some people are who refuse to share their ample living space with others who just need a little living room. This is particularly irksome when all you need is something small, like the Ukraine.

I also learned some interesting things about international politics and banking, and in particular about the worldwide Jewish conspiracy that threatens world peace. I also became interested in joining fun social groups where I enjoyed the camaraderie of campfire meetings at the local church or synagogue. Since then my life has changed so much for the better, and all thanks to the courage to consider new ideas, and of course to the inspiration of mein Fuhrer!

Let someone else be right

When someone else wins an argument, it doesn’t mean that you lose, since no one can really win until you say so. Settling an argument is like settling the score of a football game, except you’re a referee. So when your wife declares you an utter fool, you can easily call back the argument on a technicality. Thus, by merely saying, "But I recall that it was you who said such and such", there is no way for your better half to revisit the time of the conversation to conclusively prove you are wrong. Thus, since there is no instant replay available for your past mistakes, you’re pretty safe to dismiss any argument she may have.

Besides reinventing the past, another helpful strategy is to simply change the topic. For example, if one of my kids say, "You never spend any time with me." My first thought would be to respond, "Yes, I do. Wasn’t it just three years ago that we went to the park?" However, this just feeds the argument. A better response is. "You’re right. I’d like to spend more time together. I love you very much." As you return to watching your favorite wresting match, you know that you have not only ended the argument before it started, but that you reinforced in your child that precious cynical attitude that will cause him to give up before he even thinks about questioning you again.

Finally, if a family member just has to be right, let them be right about something you care little or nothing about. Tell your wife that her choice of wallpaper is perfect, your child that Mohawk haircut looks fine, and your teenager that its ok to substitute a three month BA degree from Bob’s Institute of Hair Care in place of a university education.

Speak Softly…and carry a big stick

If you really want someone to listen to you, soften your voice as you slowly stroke the sides of a baseball bat. You be surprised how attentive and respectful your audience will become as they notice that you mean business. As you relax your body and lower your voice, take a few practice swings. Smashing a lamp or two will communicate to your family the transitory nature of existence, and they will know and appreciate your sincerity.

You’ll be surprised that similar mild mannered gestures such as holding frying pans, hammers, and assorted power tools can be perceived as a gentle portent of doom. This apocalyptic foreboding can elicit just the right ‘fear of dad’ that can make your family as attentive and affectionate as a warm puppy.

Ask Yourself, "Why not me."

A few years ago, I was complaining to my boss Ebenezer about how miserable and wretched my life was. Rather than sympathize with my plight, he snarled:

"Is there some reason you should be exempted from the troubles of the human race? And so what if you can’t make your VISA payments? Are there not workhouses? Are there not jails? Your complaint is just a big humbug!"

He was just stating the obvious—that everyone’s life is full of disasters, tragedies, and frequent indigestion. Regardless of your background, religion, sex, credit rating, astrological sign, or sense of humor, shit happens.

Case closed.

Remember what your children really want

Its easy to say, "My children are the most important thing to me in my life", but another to ask what it is that makes you important in their own eyes. Our kids don’t need our success, and they don’t need our love, they need our bucks. They don’t care if you are a doctor, lawyer, hooker, Mr. Rogers, or a Mafia Don. They just need the bucks, and they will pretend to love you just fine. Your willingness to give them money unconditionally will turn them into slavering sycophants with marginal social skills who have a phobic response to anything resembling working for a living.

We have only a short window of opportunity to make them into such helpless dependent creatures. Fortunately, most of us have wisely dedicated ourselves to career success to the exclusion of time wasting activities like reading to our kids, watching their soccer games, or talking to them. This frees us to earn those precious bucks that kids most dearly need. Kids just want to be at the center of our universe, and to live on the planet Bloomindales. For the few precious years that we have them, lets make it so.

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