“The conventional view serves to protect us from the painful job of thinking.”-John Kenneth Galbraith
Salmon swim upstream, and I read on Wikipedia how they are “anadromous”,-a word I did not know-which is from the Greek for “running upward.” I like to think that people can swim upstream sometimes, and I actually think most of us don’t do this often enough.
Our language has no shortage of phrases telling us we should be laid-back- “go with the flow”, “going with the grain”, or “water off a duck’s back”- referring to an “easy” mentality where we don’t sweat the small stuff. We all seem to feel the pressure to be this easy, low-maintenance, “cool as a cucumber” persona. My image of this mindset is that we take things as they come, accept what life hands us, and don’t obsess, worry, or fret. In other words, most of us “type A” people instinctively don’t do any of this, and we really sweat the small stuff, all the while telling ourselves we should go with the flow. Not only that, we’re all supposed to be mindful of our feelings throughout the process! At times, this is a tall order, and I would say occasionally counterproductive. We spend more time thinking about how we should be handling something instead of handling it, and I would argue that our methodology isn’t always faulty to begin with.
What if there are times that it’s not only okay to sweat the small stuff, but necessary? What if thinking outside the box with all our worrying, fretting, and imagination actually help us identify options and therefore, a more powerful, productive solution? If we never go against the grain, how do we spot the gaps? Where is the place for imaginative thought? If we simply accepted our first thought to any given situation, we might miss something. I think it’s okay to reframe, to see things from another perspective, and really chew on it for a bit before coming to a decision. We don’t need to accept the pressure to go with the flow, when the flow may not be going where we actually want to end up.
If you’re facing a decision or struggling with a situation, ask yourself some questions. How would you feel if you were on the receiving end of this story instead of the storyteller, or vice versa? What if you were a detective, and needed to exhaust all evidence before coming to a conclusion? What factors would change your decision- i.e. a different job, if it was about someone else, or if something hadn’t happened? Play devil’s advocate, and pretend it’s your job to come up with a counter argument. Sometimes, this can help identify what we miss if we simply go with the majority vote.
Someone might argue that going upstream is harder. I say harder is fine, because that’s where we get stronger. The brain is a muscle too, and needs exercise in order to grow.
Don’t be afraid to swim upstream. Just because everyone else is in agreement doesn’t mean you can’t question or raise other possibilities. Just because a thought enters your mind doesn’t mean you need to accept it, react to it, or believe it. Swim upstream. Go against the grain. Change direction. Use your mind’s potential to imagine, create, and think. If you’re not able to be mindful about it, that’s okay. Some days are hard enough already. You’ll get there eventually. And who knows-your “there” may lie upstream-and it’s up to you to go find it.