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In Defense Of The Straw That Broke The Camel’s Back

May 2, 2011

It’s always that last straw that gets the blame. And it gets it dismissively. “It was just too much.” As if THAT straw was the problem, and it’s fate nothing more than a simple twist, easily spun then tossed like the dregs of a cocktail. Talk about ignoring the real problem! What about all the other stuff the camel is carrying? Or all the miles the camel has to walk? Or how hungry and thirsty the camel is? And we want to blame the straw?

It’s cute when it’s a platitude, but it’s co-dependent and dysfunctional when it’s life. Seriously. Especially when that straw is joyful, and is disregarded because the burden of everything else means there’s no room for it. And it sounds so legitimate, “I can’t make room for this because I have all these other things….”

We almost sound responsible when we do it.  I really want to workout more, but I can’t because….  I really want to spend more time with my friends, but I can’t because….  I really want to have this love, but I can’t because….

The camel, not being the most sentient of beings, doesn’t have much of a choice. His load is likely the work of others. But we do. We like to think that we are not responsible for the “responsibilities” that fill up our lives. We HAVE to do this that and the other. But no matter what they are, we CHOOSE to do them. And those feelings and anxieties that fill up our heads until they are a cluttered mess? We choose those too.

On any given day, a million things happen that we choose to give our attention to. And each of those has more than the one side that we choose to focus on. But we suffer from this myth of “truth” and “obligation.” “MY way is the right way to look at it.”

We fill our days and heads with so much noise that it weighs us down. We manage relationships that don’t fuel us, but we can’t let go of. We do tasks that could be delegated if only we could stand up and ask for help. We let people run roughshod over us for fear of being “mean” and telling them that they can’t, (or worse, losing them, even though they run all over us.) We buy into the expectations of others that don’t actually bring us joy, but we are afraid to disappoint them so we cheat ourselves instead.

Some of it is relatively necessary. Most of us need to work. Many of us take care of our kids, but probably do things for them that they could do themselves. Most of us have people in our communities that we can’t erase, but we could stand up to them and tell them that their behavior is draining us unfairly and they need to behave differently or leave the community.

Why does it matter? Because all of those things drain the very real resources of time and energy that we need in order to live our lives. So sure, on we go on our tracts and we think this is just how our life is. We don’t question it. We choose unhappiness over happiness every time we accept them.

And then something comes along that we want. Something that might make us happy. But it won’t fit on any of the existing tracts. And there’s no room for it anywhere. And it would mean changing. And…..  boom. Camel’s back is broken.

Camel is stuck in it’s tract with a broken back, and can’t move.

The easiest and most obvious thing to do is blame the straw. It’s the straw’s fault. “Oh,” says the camel, “if I could just eliminate the straw, my life would go back to normal.”

With a sigh, and even an admission of regret, the straw is dismissed.

Or if you’re a human and not a camel, the love is dismissed. Or the triathlon you want to do but don’t think you can. Or the dance class you wanted to take, the language you wanted to learn the….

We humans, who should be smarter than camels, will say, “I wish I could, but I can’t.” No, you choose not to. You choose all of the other things that drained you to the point that you couldn’t have the thing you claim to want.

Be clear with yourself. It’s never the straw. It’s all the other crap you choose to carry around. You have finite space in your life, you choose how to fill it. If you want something new in your life, you simply have to move something old out.

Either way, you have to blame yourself, not the straw.

While you’re at it, look at why you make the decisions that you make. Do the dysfunctional people in your life who drain you actually allow you to feel needed and connected to something larger than yourself? Could you get that same feeling from something that gives you joy? Do the tasks that you assign yourself daily fill up your time so that you can justify not taking bigger risks in your life? Do they justify failure so that you don’t have to blame yourself?  (Is avoiding failure better than the joy you could have if you took the risk?)

Either way, your choice, but don’t blame the straw.

You would have plenty of room for the joy, love, adventures that you want – if you actually wanted them more than the stuff you choose to fill your time and space with. (Which of those things that you do all day do you really want more than the things that you have dismissed? ) You have to take responsibility for how you pack and carry your load, what you choose to carry with you.

Personally, I’m not a camel. I don’t carry other people’s shit around, no matter how they try to burden me with it.

But sometimes I envy the camels; they have lots of stuff to claim as their own and use to identify themselves. I’m a straw, and frankly, it’s a lonely thing. It’s nice being tiny and all, but it’s hard when people like to blame you for things that really aren’t your fault. When you get tossed aside because there’s no room for you, even though…. And using my little straw body to chisel away at other people’s baggage just isn’t a way that I choose to spend my own limited resources.

No matter how badly I want to ride off into the sunset on that camel.

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