By Dr. Dennis Merritt Jones
“One of life’s best coping mechanisms is to know the difference between an inconvenience and a problem. If you break your neck, if you have nothing to eat, if your house is on fire, then you’ve got a problem. Everything else is an inconvenience. Life is inconvenient. Life is lumpy. A lump in the oatmeal, a lump in the throat and a lump in the breast are not the same kind of lump. One needs to learn the difference.” – Robert Fulghum
Last month I was living in what I referred to at the time as computer hell. Between changing internet service providers (a bundle package including internet, TV and phones… oyy) moving my website to a new server, email database malfunctions, connectivity challenges between my printers, phones and televisions, and downloading the “latest” software to update the operating system on my commuters, I spent more time talking to tech people than anyone else. Suffice it to say, it was a very challenging month dealing with one “problem” after another.
Then I ran across the aforementioned quote by Robert Fulghum and it sort of sucked the wind out of my sails, and my iceberg of problems instantly dissolved into a puddle of very minor inconveniences. The fact that we have so many wonderful things in our lives to be inconvenienced by is a true gift; computers, phones, cars, our jobs, home maintenance and repairs — we could also include those minor aches and pains and even many of the challenges in our relationships with friends and family. In other words, unless you are on your way to the hospital, or living on the street and have nothing to eat, a detour on the road called “your daily life” is not so much a problem–it’s an inconvenience.
Remembering how blessed we are by our “inconveniences” seems to be a lesson that most of us, including me, need to be reminded of on a regular basis.
Speaking of the ongoing detours life puts in front of us, this past weekend while returning from a speaking engagement in Las Vegas and eager to get home, Diane and I became stuck in a major freeway traffic jam — cars were backed up and at a standstill for miles. At the time I saw it more as a problem than an inconvenience because I had consumed about four cups of coffee, a coke, and several bottles of water and was particularly in need of a restroom. Eventually, every car was sloooowly directed off the freeway and detoured through a number of side streets.
As it turned out the cause of the backup and detour was a brush fire along the freeway. It was only then that we learned there had just been a flash flood in the high desert area we had passed through which severely damaged a number of homes and automobiles. Diane was quick to remind me (and rightfully so) that, given all that had transpired that day, I did not really have a problem; I was merely being inconvenienced, and she was correct.
Everything is relative to our current experience and our perspective of it. The differences between our problems and our inconveniences become even more obvious when we consider the incomprehensible pain and suffering of the men, women and children all around the world who are caught in the middle of warring nations or famine and lack of clean water. I don’t bring all of this up to cause us to feel guilty about how blessed our lives may be — I bring it up as a reminder that perspective is everything. As Robert Fulghum reminds us, one needs to learn the difference between an inconvenience and a problem because in so doing life not only becomes more manageable, it becomes more meaningful.
If you are so inclined, the question I would invite you to do some self-inquiry around today is this: Where in your life might you have mistaken an inconvenience as a problem? Taking time to put things in proper perspective is a wise thing to do. The practice is to learn the difference between your inconveniences and problems and appreciate them: just consider how blessed you are to have so many inconveniences and so few problems. If you do, when a true “problem” does show up you will be able to recognize it and mindfully respond to it rather than mindlessly react to it.
This post originally appeared on Sivana East.