Two trees stood together in a deep valley. A breeze rustled their leaves.
“I can tell that a storm is coming, the biggest and fiercest I have ever seen,” said the first tree.
“Yes, you are correct. In my many years, I have never heard the wind speak of a tempest like this,” said the second tree.
It did not take long for the ferocious storm to overtake them.
“We must stand tall and fight the wind! Let us be as strong and as unyielding as the storm!” cried the first tree.
“No! Let your branches flail and your trunk bend in the howling gusts. We only need our roots to hold firm,” bellowed the second tree.
The gale raged.
The unbending tree succumbed to the storm, its rigid trunk and branches snapping against the force of the wind.
The flexible tree survived, its trunk and branches made stronger by their ability to move with the storm’s onslaught.
Strength and Wisdom
Those who exercise know that strength is enhance by flexibility. If people don’t stretch, they will not run as fast, jump as high, throw as far, or lift as much as they otherwise could. When muscles are not stretched and made flexible, they are more likely to pull, tear, and breakdown when under the stress of a workout.
To grow in wisdom and maximize our potential, we need to know how to stretch ourselves mentally and where to be flexible in our routines. The mind gets sharper when it is forced to consider new concepts and come up with fresh ideas. If we get stuck watching the same shows, reading the same material, and doing the same things, our minds won’t have the opportunity to grow.
Flex in Conflict
One process that escalates conflict occurs when people are so fixed in their perspectives and opinions that they find it impossible to understand or empathize with another. These types of fights often include name-calling. With a stubborn and rigid perspective, anybody who isn’t you is just one contrary opinion away from looking like an idiot, bigot, or dumbass. All of us have fallen into this trap at some point and it is a signal that we have become inflexible and self-centered.
Even if we don’t end up changing our opinion during conflict, we need to be flexible with our perspective in order for a fight to go well. When we are able to convince people that we hear them and are willing to learn more about their point of view, it becomes easier for everyone to maintain their composure. The fight goes way better.
It is easy to fall into a comfortable routine. Following a predictable pattern in life reduces the number of choices that we make on any given day, helping us avoid decision fatigue (i.e., mental exhaustion caused by having to make too many decisions). Research has shown that decision fatigue is associated with “…less physical stamina, reduced persistence in the face of failure, more procrastination, and less quality and quantity of arithmetic calculations” (Vohs et al., 2008, p. 883). Decision fatigue may explain why it is particularly frustrating to have our routine interrupted. The irritation we feel when the breakroom is out of coffee or when we drive up to a detour sign on our way home from work may be exacerbated by our body’s limited decision-making capabilities.
Because our mind can tire and have a hard time making decisions, it makes sense to train it to be flexible in order to combat frustration when our routine is interrupted. We stretch muscles and make them flexible so that they function well under stress and our mind can work the same way. A flexible mind expects to have to work through interruptions to a daily routine. A flexible mind expects it to be difficult to make decisions from time to time. When we expect things to go perfectly and they don’t, it’s an emotional disaster. When we expect imperfection and we get it, we can tolerate it. A flexible mind doesn’t help us avoid disappointment, but it does take away some of its sting.
Bend Without Breaking
Like the tree that survived the storm, we need to be flexible in some ways and firmly rooted in others. A values system founded on principles including honesty, prudence, justice, mercy, and kindness protects us from being too flexible and making decisions that have destructive consequences. When we live in a manner that is consistent with healthy values while also being flexible at times in our perspectives, we find it easier to manage life’s struggles and to love those who are different we are.