“The Wall” – an Allegory
I remember the day my little son, who at the time was around four years old, was standing next to a wall shouting, “move.”
I explained to him carefully that the wall could not move.
Four or forty-four, we often find ourselves up against a problem which we cannot control, but nevertheless try to solve. We try to move “the wall” (a spouse, a boss, a subordinate…you name it). It is analogous to banging a head against the wall. It does not move and all we got for our effort is a headache. What usually follows is the “victim scenario” where we accuse “the wall” for hurting us.
Obviously, it is not the wall’s fault. It is our futile attempt to move an immovable object.
All of us who engage in this practice (and I include myself) tend to have a strong ego. We believe we should be able to solve the problem. That we should have control of the situation. To stop banging our head is to admit that we are not omnipotent. Our ego will not accept it.
In a roundabout way, I believe this touches on maturity. Which to me means recognizing that something that bothers you, because it is neither acceptable nor desirable, is “a wall,” and it is necessary to come to terms with it. In other words, you need to recognize and accept your limitations and your limited capabilities.
That is the beginning of maturity.
There is obviously a benefit from being immature. If we were all mature, there would be no change, no revolutions, no breakthroughs; those who make the breakthroughs do not know that it cannot be done.
Ben Gurion, the first Prime Minister of Israel, when asked how he intended to start a Jewish state surrounded by one hundred million Arabs said: “Those who do not believe in miracles are not realists.”
So, here’s my curve ball. I believe that founders of companies, innovators, even charismatic leaders, are immature. They do not accept their limitations. At times, when they succeed, they enrich us with their innovations and their leadership. But, they pay the price in the quality of their personal life. They often live with a constant headache.
A mature person can distinguish between a manageable problem and one that is beyond his control; between a partition with wheels that can be moved and a solid wall that cannot.
What should we do then when confronted with the challenge that will not be budged? With “a wall?”
First, we can always continue banging the wall with our head while leveling accusations against it. That is, as I said, futile, immature behavior. But presumably it serves us somehow. Fulfills a need. And we apparently are rewarded with the attention we crave.
Of course, there is another solution: Go around the wall.
If the immovable object is a marriage, people find a way to enjoy life outside their miserable marriage. In business, they do the minimum they can for the company, and in their free time, which they try to maximize, they moonlight somewhere else.
And then there is the solution where you surrender. You simply accept “the wall” and stop banging your head against it. In business, it is called “the moose.” A dead moose is lying in the middle of the room. Everyone knows the moose is there, but no one talks about it. They just live with it.
Why would they do that?
I have seen that happen in companies where the CEO is arrogant. Abusive. Demeaning. And people still do not leave. They do not even complain. They just live with the situation. Why? Because they get paid far above the market rate; and for them the alternative of leaving is too expensive.
Leaving the room for another place which has no wall to contend with is the last one of the choices we have.
What strategy do you choose if it is not “a wall” that confronts you, but a partition? It looks easy. All you have to do is push it aside.
Not so. The analogy does not serve us well here.
A person-quite different from a partition-has a will of his own.
A human “partition” does not change because YOU want him to change. He will change for his own internal reasons. Following his own self interest.
Accusing him of causing your head-ache-and because of that he must change-is a waste of time. He will change when it is in his interest to change.
So if you want to cause change you have to ask yourself why is it good for “the partition,” the other party, not why is it good for you.
And if such self interest is either not strong enough, or the other party is incapable of moving, it is better to realize you are confronting not a partition but a “wall.” Now you have the following choices: live with it, walk around it or walk out of it. But stop banging your head,
There is one more alternative many people miss.
And, it is to enjoy “the wall.” Look for the positives. Instead of cursing the rose for having thorns, bless the thorns for having a rose.
Is there anything positive in having this “wall?”
Instead of perceiving it as blocking our way, can it be perceived as protecting us, blocking external threats…
There are no positives without negatives and by the same token, there are no negatives that have no positives. Can you see them both?
Dr. Ichak Kalderon Adizes