A Well of a Tale
In my youth, I attended a number of faith-based camps in the summertime and wintertime. My favorite of these adventure-themed locations was located in Las Vegas, New Mexico (NM).
There, I was able to hike through scenic areas in which mountains, waterfalls, and streams afforded me an opportunity to connect with nature in a manner mostly unavailable through my upbringing in the plains of Texas. That camping experience made quite an impression on me.
Thinking about a particular trek in NM, I recall coming across a well located in a valley. Left unattended for many years, the well water was likely undrinkable.
Campers were warned that bacteria and other waterborne pathogens in stagnant water could result in serious consequences, so we were advised to fill our canteens and water bottles at base camp. Ever the active mind, I wondered what exactly would happen if I drank the well water anyway.
Suppose that when no one was paying attention I believed I would be unharmed as I sampled the water by consuming several drinks. I imagine the fateful consequences of my beliefs and actions would’ve resulted in amebic dysentery which could be accompanied by cramping and diarrhea.
That result could’ve ruined my camping experience. I don’t have to stretch my imagination too much with this thought exercise, because I once had traveler’s diarrhea (Montezuma’s revenge) from a trip to Tijuana, Mexico and it was the most unpleasant gastrointestinal episode I can recall.
Now, for the sake of discussion, let’s imagine upon recovery from the uncomfortable abdominal cramps and defecation that I foolishly decided to again drink from the well. After all, I’m told that I was a bit of a rambunctious child even if I wouldn’t have categorized myself in such a way.
With ingestion of more contaminated water, I became ill once more. Suppose this cycle of unintentional, though foolish nonetheless, behavior occurred again and again.
I drank polluted water and my resulting infirm condition ruined my camping experience. Let’s say this happened over the course of several years.
Given the setup I’ve outline herein, what would you conclude about this tale? Might you determine that someone should, must, or ought to have done something about that nauseating well? How dare camp staff have allowed a minor to repeatedly get sick!
Maybe you conclude that it was awful for a tainted well to have been available for teenage curiosity which resulted in the declining health of a camper. Though not entirely the fault of the camp itself, someone could have done something about that damned well!
Perhaps you find it unbearable to think about how many other children could have been rushed to the emergency department from sampling the foul water source. One could even imagine a far worse scenario than an expensive trip to a hospital. Seems almost intolerable!
Conceivably, you may decide that the religion with which I was affiliated was entirely bad. After all, my experience could be viewed from a macro perspective and condemnation of those who allowed children to be harmed wasn’t unwarranted. The nerve!
Despite one’s attempt to find blame in the well, the campgrounds, camp staff, the religion, or other sources of liability, there is only one person who would have been responsible and accountable for his actions in regards to this well of a tale—me.
If I drank from a poisonous well and become sick the first time, I could’ve learned a lesson from the unpleasant experience. However, if this happened repeatedly and I became ill each time the well wasn’t the problem and neither was anyone else.
After all, that particular well was around before I was ever born. It was simply as it was—contaminated and its water was undrinkable. Moreover, campers were warned not to consume stagnant water.
Therefore, my rigidity in regards to behavior associated with the well would’ve been the issue worthy of addressing. Although I understand that people tend to impulsively and emotionally assign blame, so as not to condemn the supposed “victim” in many circumstances, I invite the reader to use a rational approach to this well of a tale.
Not always (and allow me to repeat this for the scornful and reactive individual who may choose to misinterpret my words)…not always is a person to blame for behavior which results in unhelpful consequences. For instance, if I weren’t warned about stagnant water and drank from the well it would be reasonable to question camp staff in this scenario.
However, if I was cautioned about the potential danger of bacteria and waterborne pathogens, and I chose to disregard the admonition, then my beliefs and behavior would be the source of condemnation for the inevitable outcome I experienced. Drink around and find out!
The reason I think this is an important lesson is because I often observe people searching for sources of blame for their own beliefs and behavior. A failed romantic relationship, job termination, legal action, or some other unfortunate event may occur and people look outside of themselves for answers to their own reactions.
That “narcissistic” ex of yours, dreadful boss, callous cop, or other factor isn’t the cause of your woes. In many cases (though listen, I’m not daring to imply all), it may be worth logically and reasonably asking yourself, “What role did my beliefs and actions play in the outcome?”
If I chose to drink from a contaminated well after many instances of becoming ill, my beliefs and resulting behavior would be the source of the problem. Likewise, if you chose to revisit the same fast food restaurant that repeatedly messed up your order, your beliefs and subsequent behavior may be the source of your problem.
If I believed that the third instance of consumption from the dirty well would be the miraculous number that would keep me from needing to stay near a toilet and the result of my conviction was painting a fecal masterpiece in a camp latrine, that’s a me-problem and not a camp-problem.
Similarly, if your frequented fast food joint continues to mix up your purchase and you believe that things shouldn’t be as they continually are, that’s a you-problem and not a them-problem. The same may apply to rigid expectations of your romantic relationship, employment setting, and the police officer who pulled you over earlier today.
So next time you disturb yourself with unhelpful beliefs that cause unproductive behavior which results in unpleasant outcomes, you may try to stop and ask yourself what role you played in the matter. By doing so, perhaps you can prevent your own well of a tale.
If you’re looking for a provider who works to help you understand how thinking impacts physical, mental, emotional, and behavioral elements of your life—helping you to sharpen your critical thinking skills, I invite you to reach out today by using the contact widget on my website.
As a psychotherapist, I’m pleased to help people with an assortment of issues ranging from anger (hostility, rage, and aggression) to relational issues, adjustment matters, trauma experience, justice involvement, attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, anxiety and depression, and other mood or personality-related matters.
At Hollings Therapy, LLC, serving all of Texas, I aim to treat clients with dignity and respect while offering a multi-lensed approach to the practice of psychotherapy and life coaching. My mission includes: Prioritizing the cognitive and emotive needs of clients, an overall reduction in client suffering, and supporting sustainable growth for the clients I serve. Rather than simply helping you to feel better, I want to help you get better!
Deric Hollings, LPC, LCSW
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