It’s always amazing (and a little amusing) to me, when I’m in the middle of writing a few chapters on something, and suddenly I see examples of it everywhere I look.
I was helping a friend with a yard sale, and we’d just decided that the mandolin that she’d brought back from England should go inside since the skies were threatening rain. She already had an offer on it from a shop that specialized in resale musical instruments so it wasn’t something she was particularly concerned about selling.
It had no more gone back in its case and into the house than a visitor asked, “Do you happen to have any musical instruments?”
When the older gentleman heard a description of the mandolin he wanted to see it, so she brought it out for his inspection.
It wasn’t clear where it was made, or when. No mass market stamps gave it away. So they chatted back and forth about possibilities and, in the course of the conversation, my friend said, “Well, you know those stories you hear about someone buying some old violin and finding out that it’s a Stradivarius or something.”
The gentleman bristled, “Those are all just stories,” he asserted. “Never happens.”
I’d just been writing on our desire to believe in absolutes.
Words like “never,” or “always” or “just” or “only.” Absolutes suggest that there is only one possibility, one option, one outcome, one idea worth believing, worth pursing, worth even speaking aloud.
I call them the “Abusive Absolutes,” and if you visit this space regularly, subscribe to this blog, or buy my next book, you’ll be hearing more about them. But for now, let’s just examine this one story.
We’re conditioned, it seems, to prefer that the world be easily divided into true and false, right and wrong, black and white, one or none, yes or no, and so on…
We like to believe that if there is something we don’t like, something we don’t get done, something we don’t succeed at, that there is one cause of failure and one secret to success.
Because words like “maybe” and “sometimes” or “shades of gray” are messy, and thinking that your success formula might be different than anyone else’s, or your personal truth might not conform to a recognized “norm,” is both ambiguous and a little scary. It means there is nothing that’s certain, that there’s nothing you can depend on as universally true, right?
True or false, right or wrong, even black or white is all subjective. What you believe to be absolutely true or right might seem absolutely false or wrong to someone else. And your absolutely black car might look faintly blue to someone else.
And as for the one reason for, well anything…
Every time I hear someone say “If someone won’t do X it just means they’re Y” or “People who say A are really just saying B” or anything that follows that formula, I immediately start thinking of the endless other possibilities, interpretations, and understandings for the choices they are making.
Oh, and about that “one secret to success.” I can tell you what it is. It’s whatever you aren’t doing, or aren’t doing enough of, or aren’t doing well enough. And it may not be one thing, it may be a dozen things that need small improvements.
I watched the older gentleman’s face as he repeated again, “They’re great stories, but really, it never happens.”
I saw hunger there, and maybe a little bitterness. And what I heard was, “It could never happen to me.”
He turned the lovely little instrument over in his hands, tracing the grain of the wood on the back, stroking along a pair of strings without plucking a one. And I formed a theory, that maybe (maybe, because I could come up with endless theories, but this one caught my fancy) he wanted to take that little beauty home just because he could love her, maybe he could even play her as my friend had never learned to do. But he needed to justify it as a good investment, and buying a mysterious musical instrument and finding out it was worth far more than you paid… Well, that “never” happens.
He took a picture before he shut the mandolin away in her case. Said he’d ask for a professional opinion and perhaps give my friend a call. His reluctance was clear.
He paid for the bracelet his wife had fallen in love with. A pretty tennis bracelet of clear and purple stones that were meant to look like diamonds and amethysts. No one asked if there was a chance that the stones were really gems. She loved the way it looked on her wrist, so he paid the price that was marked and they went away, she moving her hand so that her new bauble caught the sunlight as they crossed the street. He with empty arms.
What if, I thought, he had believed in those stories? Or had believed in himself enough to buy what he really wanted regardless of its value to someone else?
There are many ways to limit your life: these are guaranteed:
–Believe that something always or never happens (at least to you.)
–Believe that it is wrong, or foolish, or stupid to value a thing, a person, an idea, a goal just because it speaks to you, regardless of what value your friends, your lover, your society or the entire world might place on it.