Sunday, February 28, 2010

When Opposites No Longer Attract

“The people who live in a golden age usually go around complaining how yellow everything looks.” ~ Randall Jarrell

Yesterday morning I received a call from a friend who’s traveling through Mississippi and stopped by a restaurant in Jackson. As she related her impressions of this restaurant and of the people working there, my friend was obviously quite impressed. As it turns out, this restaurant is part of a chain, even if one would never know it from the atmosphere it offers – friendly, proud, and happy to serve a good meal made even tastier by the nearly-forgotten charm of southern hospitality at its best.

“I remember when Raleigh was like this,” my friend said, “and now people seem to have forgotten what a true welcome is all about. I think it’s because of the influence of all the northern folks moving south; they move down because they like the weather and the attitude of the southern states, but as soon as they get here they try to change the very same things that attracted them to the place to start with.”

While my friend talked, my mind started racing. Was my friend right? As nice as it is to have a cup of Espresso on a sleepy morning, who wants to live in the south without ice tea? And what about our famous – or infamous, according to some – fried chicken? Nothing against the great benefits of a healthy meal, but I doubt anyone will argue that chicken tastes better fried than baked. We are not even going to touch the issue of tobacco…North Carolina is a tobacco state, yet smoking is banned mostly everywhere, with the result of our state wealth dissipating quickly. Crazy stuff to think about, some of it sad and some of it inevitable.

Our conversation led me to think of something else altogether; more specifically about how often we turn against the very things that attracted us to situations and people. For example, we can be attracted by the independent streak detected in a person of interest; once the relationship forges and familiarity sets in, the same quality which served as a magnet in the beginning is suddenly converted into an annoying trait we can’t stand in our companion.

We often approach other people and situation with mixed intentions – on one end, we are curious and attracted by the differences, and find dealing with an opposite mentally stimulating. On the other end, we wonder how much we can influence people and circumstances, and dive into situations we are not comfortable with for the sake of proving our personal power. In truth, people and situations can’t be changed that easily, and most of what is born out of the shuffle is long-felt resentment on both sides.

A change of approach – as ironic as those words sound in this context – is in order if we hope to find a middle ground. When we feel unhappy with our present circumstances, it would be helpful if we could remember what attracted us to those circumstances to start with, and try to shift the focus back to what we loved about the person, the place or the arrangement. If, upon reflection, we can instead no longer find the magic behind the process of the original attraction, we can safely know that chapter of our lives has run its course and it is time to move on.

People and situations don’t have the power to make us unhappy, unless we give that power to them; we can’t always change others, or alter the situations in our lives, but we can change the way we look at them, and maybe rediscover the good things we have forgotten. Sometimes our own focus is what can make all the difference.

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