Some time ago I saw this helpful post on Facebook from Sue Fitzmaurice, about ‘unsuccessful strategies’ in life: and it’s fundamentally so right. Of course, the fact is that many of these ‘strategies’ can be helpful and appropriate, at times, or to some degree. It is right to be afraid, at times. It is good to want to be right. There are appropriate times and ways to take control (for example, in a crisis situation). But as basic attitudes and stances, by which to shape and govern our lives, these things in the end are not the best.
In the end, though, I find this approach in itself to be less than ‘successful’—essentially because it tells us what to avoid, without giving a clear indication of what we might hope to achieve. I have always tried to find the positive in a situation, not just what is wrong or in appropriate. So in place of blaming others, we need first to consider whether a situation or problem is perhaps our own fault or responsibility, or some mixture of these. Or perhaps even no one is to blame. We need ways to step back from the ‘blame’ mindset altogether, and find a way to deal with the reality of the situation and make the best of things. On the other hand, when others are ‘to blame’, blaming them may not be the most helpful thing to do. We need to think about how to help them see and accept responsibility and also what they can learn from the situation.
Similarly, when I think about not re-living the past in the present, I think there are many aspects to this challenge. If we are not going to repeat our past mistakes (or try to live in the glory of past achievements), we need positive strategies for leaving the past behind and engaging with the present. At different times in life, that can be very difficult. For older people, who are perhaps struggling with the loss of their career, home, independence or health, this is a big demand. For people forced from their homeland by violence, poverty, fear, again this is a massive challenge. It may be true that to live too much in the past is not helpful, but we should not pretend that this is an easy thing to achieve.
So I guess I am affirming these 12 statements as helpful guidelines, indicating where some of the big roadblocks are to a healthy life in relationships and society at large. But I’m also wanting to say this is not enough. This insight comes to me most clearly when I consider the ‘Ten Commandments’, found in the ancient Hebrew scriptures, in Exodus chapter 20. These 10 ‘words’ of God are often seen as prohibitions: ‘Thou shalt not …’. We miss the point entirely, though, if we see them like that. The Decalogue begins with God’s self-identification: ‘I am the God who brought you out of slavery …’. God is the champion of freedom and these words of God are intended to guide the people in living that freedom and preserving that freedom. They are not wilfully to become slaves to things, to false gods or harmful values, such as jealousy and theft, abuse of family or marital relations. In other words, the values here are much more on the positive than a superficial reading would suggest.
Still, it is helpful to know where the roadblocks are. But life is more than avoiding the roadblocks. We want to move ahead, together , in love and freedom. Thanks, Sue Fitzmaurice, for this contribution and wisdom.