Writing Exercise: Become the Other

[These are writing exercises. I pull a card out of a box, read what’s on it, write something related.]

Become the other person? Swap places with someone? Adapt the qualities of another? 

There seem to be many shows on television of late – not that I watch, but that I’ve seen advertised – that involve trading people, places or things. Swapping spouses, trading houses, somehow being or doing something that somehow allows the contestant to become something other than s/he or the family is in reality. (Oh… and then they call it “reality television”, but that’s another point all together.)

I wonder about the appeal of these shows, both for the participants and the audience. Do they provide some break in the humdrum of the ordinary? Is there a thrill in being someone else, if only for a little while? Is there some guilty pleasure met when you’re legitimately allowed to swap a spouse or a child or a neighbor for another? After all, it’s not really real. Just television. Right?

Or is it perhaps that it’s just downright easier to trade places with another person, to assume aspects of their life, rather than to change aspects of one’s own?

I work on a study that has the lofty goal of helping women achieve permanent lifestyle changes. It involves changing diet and exercise patterns, but even more, it involves changing an awful lot of other relationships that the women have; relationships with themselves, family, friends, and co-workers. It involves developing new relationships with the stresses of life, with the work of work, with how one deals with everything from caregiving for elderly parents to going out to dinner with the kids.

We all live with very ingrained thoughts and behaviors that develop within us over long periods of time. They’re hardly given up and/or replaced with others very easily, even if and when the others are better for us. No, I imagine it’s way easier to pack a suitcase and move in with the family next door, to assume all of their dysfunction rather than try to untangle the mess at home. On some level we all must believe this and that’s what makes it entertaining – both to watch and to participate in.

My doctor once said to me that the human body, for some mysterious reason, seems to like to exist with a certain amount of pain and discomfort. It actually, in an odd way, becomes comforting to be uncomfortable. Perhaps it just becomes familiar and it’s the familiarity that’s comfortable. But then, at the same time, there’s that craving to move next door. There’s that curiosity to be someone else, live someone else’s life, swap this for that. It’s a curious juxtaposition. 

Last night I led my study group through an exercise where we listed the pros and cons of (1) exercising and then (2) NOT exercising. We had things in all of the columns, but when we looked at the board afterward, we quickly saw that we’d been able to easily list many more pros for exercising and many more cons for not exercising than the other options. So then I asked, “If this is true, why do we so often get stuck here (pointing to the shorter lists)?”

And it’s true. That is where we get stuck. We get stuck with the familiar uncomfortable. We get stuck in the place where we long to become the other, but longing and becoming are two completely different things. One makes for good television. The other, sometimes, makes for good living.

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