Chapter 31: Knowing is half the battle
You can’t solve a problem unless you first know it exists. Often when we discover a problem, we react with dismay. We say, “Oh no, now there’s this new problem!” and feel worse than we did before we discovered it. That’s not the whole story, though — you can’t solve a problem unless you identify it first. Knowing is half the battle.
Take a look at the illustration. This is what we call the Hill of Discovery. On the far left are the Flatlands of Stagnation. The steep drop at the end of the Flatlands is The Cliff, which leads down into The Pit. After that is the rough climb up the Hill of Discovery, leading up to the Plateau of Happiness.
We’ve seen this pattern over and over again in communication, problem solving, and self-improvement. In the illustration, horizontal distance indicates the passing of time and vertical distance indicates your level of happiness, higher being happier. You start out on the Flatlands of Stagnation. A lot of people get stuck there, either because they don’t know there’s anywhere to go from there or because they’re afraid of The Cliff. Then, you either jump off The Cliff or are pushed off, and everything is suddenly horrible. Back in the Flatlands of Stagnation, everything was fine. You were complacent, you were happy with ignoring little problems, you were basically content. Now that you’ve fallen into The Pit, there are all these problems that you can’t ignore anymore, you don’t know what to do about them, and everything seems desperate and bleak.
Then, having nowhere to go but up, you face those problems. You think about them, you communicate about them, and you figure out what’s at the root of them. You gain knowledge and insight about yourself, and about whoever or whatever else is involved. You’ve begun the long climb up the Hill of Discovery. It takes a lot of time and a lot of work, but eventually you pull yourself up out of The Pit, and soon you’re higher up (happier) than you were when you were back in the Flatlands of Stagnation. You’re solving your problems instead of ignoring them and making yourself happier along the way. Eventually you reach the top, the Plateau of Happiness, when your problems from The Pit have been resolved.
Our natural and understandable reaction when we fall into The Pit is to say, “Oh no! Everything is horrible!” We’re judging our situation by the vertical distance: we were about halfway up and now we’re at rock bottom. Surely we’re worse off than we were before?
Here’s another way of looking at it: you could judge your situation by the horizontal distance. Instead of being dismayed at having fallen into The Pit, say to yourself, “Now I’m one step closer to the Plateau of Happiness.” It’s true. The only way to the Plateau of Happiness is by jumping off The Cliff. We can never resolve our problems unless we first face them and admit they are problems; knowing is half the battle. When you’re in The Pit, it’s hard to see the silver lining, but we’ve found that keeping this picture in mind helps us remain positive and focused on the happiness to be gained in the future rather than the troubles we’re experiencing in the present.
Kyeli’s Story: The Oubliette
Sometimes I wind up stuck in The Pit, mired in my own problems. The light of understanding flickers, fades, and finally extinguishes, leaving me in darkness, surrounded by my own echoes. I struggle with a problem for so long I get trapped and lost; the pit becomes an oubliette and I’ve forgotten where I am.
I spend days, weeks, even months pacing back and forth, starving for resolution. I get bogged down with stress, fear, and unhappiness. Eventually, light returns like a bolt of lightning and I remember: I’m in The Pit! I say out loud, “It’s okay! It’s only The Pit!”
Suddenly, by saying that, by remembering where I am, The Pit doesn’t seem so bad. No one ever stays there forever; being in The Pit means that once I get out, things will be much better. I hear the echoes lessen and I take those first precious steps up the Hill of Discovery back out into the sun.
Knowing you have a problem puts you further along the path of getting better, of feeling happier. Knowing you can fix it helps your mood and your attitude, and strengthens your ability to do something about it. Finding out something new about yourself, even when it’s negative, is really a positive thing. Self-knowledge is wonderful! The only way out of the pit is to first know you’re there; you can’t heal without acknowledging the wound. Knowledge is power.