Nobody likes obstacles.

And things we don’t like we usually try to avoid. On one level this makes sense.

If you don’t like spinach, you avoid it.

If you don’t like your crazy racist aunt, you avoid her.

You don’t like the idea of dying so we do things that will hasten the arrival of death.

Of course the Nietzchean creed of “that which does not kill you makes you stronger” comes into effect…but really wouldn’t you rather just roll the dice and not do that thing which is an obstacle and see how it turns out? How much stronger will you be for eating spinach if it makes you gag?

And so this is the way of the world. Avoid the obstacles and if we can’t avoid them – fight them.

This gives us the War on Drugs or the War on Terror or the War on Cancer…or anything really. We seek to avoid and vilify our perceived obstacles.

None of this was in my mind when S came to my table and asked

Do you have children?

I don’t but I didn’t feel that would be an impediment to offering her something creative to whatever her situation was. She hadn’t said anything yet but she looked like she was going to say something. And then it came. Almost in one big breath. All at once.

I have two kids. Two boys. I know this shouldn’t freak me out, but it does. It totally freaks me out. It makes me so angry. But we have so few dinners together and then they just ruin it. They just eat so fast.

They take these huge disgusting bites of food and finish dinner in five minutes and then they want to leave the table and go and play video games.

And then I scream at them. Every meal I end up screaming at them to slow down, to eat like a human being, to enjoy dinner, to spend time with the family and enjoy that. But they never do.

I know I shouldn’t be upset but I am. I know they’ll grow out of this probably. But why do I care so much?

How long had she been  keeping this in? While it was in no way a comic monologue – it was very, very funny. Funny because it was true, and funny because you could feel the heartbreak coming out of the pores of this poor woman feeling totally beset by her two sons as she herself recognized the ridiculousness of the situation.
We chatted about her kids and just chatted. I suppose some tactics working on her came to mind (none of them seemed to fit) about her attachment to the way her kids should eat and what dinner should be like and what family time all played in mind but this was an irrational reaction so sometimes it is hard to come to those with reason in hand.
Hey, I was an 8 and 11-year-old boy before and reason isn’t a strong suit (not a bad thing per se, but I am just saying). But kids don’t want to fight with their parents – they just do what they do and hope to be seen and loved. There was no malice here of course.
And then the formulation came – lean into this.
I asked S if she was willing to try to put aside her feelings about this for a ridiculous experiment. She said she was. And then my off-the-wall idea smilingly spilled out.
S, replace the silverware your children normally use for dinner with clean garden shovels and shiny new pitchforks. And when they sit down to dinner seeing a regular plate of food with garden tools next to it they will obviously look at you like you have lost it. But you can just gently and calmly say ‘Boys, I realize that I have made dinner a really stressful place for you and I am sorry. If you want to eat your food really fast and in gigantic bites it shouldn’t be such a big deal to me and I have decided that I want to help you with that. Eat as fast as you want.’
My thought was that boys at that age would freak out with delight to actually eat like farm animals but that a few things would happen – eating with a shovel will have to make you eat slower and eventually the schtick would get old and you would beg to have regular silverware again.
But S was shocked and delighted. She suddenly saw through the radical heightening of the situation how crazy it was to be so angry. She said
Oh my God. This will totally work. I don’t need to fight my children. That is insane and wonderful. I want to go to a garden store. Now.
S hugged me, I hugged her back and I was left thinking how to lean into all my obstacles. Do you think this has general applicability for all sorts of obstacles?
Heighten them, agree with them and then see what comes out on the other side?
It might radically change geopolitics, relationships and your vision of yourself.