The Roller Coaster of Life
By Stephen C. Schultz
Over the last month I have been privy to some conversations by parents who are in the unfortunate position of having their sons in a therapeutic residential setting. No parent should have to go through this experience. However, in today’s society it is more needed and more frequent than most people are aware.
These conversations were heartfelt and emotional. In fact, some of the emotions felt by the parents were reaching a heightened and heated level. It started me thinking…which isn't always a good thing!
If I can share an example I had with my family, it may serve to provide some structure for how I express my thoughts around this situation. It also provides some principles that may apply throughout our lives.
My family and I were at Disneyland and we waited in that eternal line for the roller coaster; “Screamin”. My youngest daughter Emma and I happened to be placed in the front seat. She had a sparkle in her eye and a grin on her face… while I was filled with trepidation. The coaster shot out like a bullet! My knuckles were white from holding on so tight to the handle. However, she waved her hands in the air and screamed that joyful scream of an eight year old having the time of her life. Once the ride was over and we were docked at the end, Emma jumped out and said;
“Let’s go again Dad! That was so fun!”
“I don’t know hon, that thing scares me to death!”
So, here is the question. Did the roller coaster really scare me to death? Did the roller coaster “cause” my feelings of trepidation?
When I first thought about this situation the answer was; absolutely! Don’t be silly! It’s a “cause & effect” scenario. But, is it?
If it was cause and effect, then everyone on the roller coaster would need to feel the same way I did. The stimulus was the same; therefore the reaction should be the same. But, that isn't what happened. My daughter was having the time of her life and I was scared to death! Did the roller coaster really cause her excitement and my dread, even though we were both in the front seat having the same experience?
No… it is actually our belief about the “event” that creates the emotional response. It wasn't the roller coaster that scared me to death, but my belief about the roller coaster. It wasn't the roller coaster that delighted my daughter, but her belief about it.
Some might be saying to themselves; “No duh, Schultz!” But, the important thing to remember about this principle is not that our beliefs create the emotions. No matter where emotions come from, they are real. They can represent joyful as well as traumatic times in our lives. The difficult thing about this principle is the fact that the emotions we feel are ours…no one else’s. They are ours to work through and ours to feel. Often it is scary and often it is painful. Nonetheless…they are ours.
I can tell myself that the seat buckles aren't tight enough or that the person controlling the start switch didn't do it right. I can complain about the long lines or share with others that there was a lady a couple months ago that fell out of a roller coaster and died. I can probably even find people coming off the ride who feel just like I do. All of this may be true, but it doesn't change the fact that the emotion around it is mine and mine alone.
It’s my responsibility to own my emotions and choose to work through them. If they are too painful, I may choose not to deal with them at all. That is fine. I might be perfectly happy to never get on another roller coaster ever again.
However, if I try and stop others from riding the roller coaster based on my emotions, then I need to realize that is a pattern that often leads to conflict with family, friends or community. In reality, my intentions may be noble as well as a bit misguided.
This life experience brings with it many loop the loops and G-Force curves. Through kindness, thoughtfulness, perseverance and courage we will develop the skills necessary to navigate life’s next scary roller coaster.