Correctly Naming the Problem

Sometimes it’s difficult to speak honestly about one’s challenges. Recently, I attended a conference at school with one of my child’s teachers. She said that said child is doing very well academically. Assignments are handed in on time and usually accurate. The problem is not learning the information. The problem is a social one.

You see, my child is bright, but does not socialize well with others. My child does not want to play with others on the playground at recess. And it has gotten to the point that when others greet my child, instead of responding to the greeting, my child will simply walk away. I suspect that the problem is not a surly attitude (like others have been saying) so much as it is an issue of shyness.

In any event, I can understand the problem because I am tempted to do the same. Even as a child, I disliked playing with others. I preferred doing things alone, mostly because I found others that demand much more from me than I could give. Most of the people I knew seemed to be self-absorbed or problem-ridden. And taking care of them (which I found myself doing in many, many occasions) required me to put my interests and opinions on hold. As a result, I preferred to do things alone. I still do.

And while I would like to blame my daughter’s behavior on the people at her school who require her to do too much, I won’t. I know that it is something she inherited from me. And I know she needs to learn to, at least, be civil with others. It is something I need to teach her and not something for which I should punish her. I also know that she rarely sees me talk with others. This is not to say that I rarely talk with others necessarily, but I am not super social like some people.

All of this is to say, I need to be honest about the real nature of the problem and take responsibility for it as necessary.

In my most recent book, Destined for Greatness and Other Stories, the short story  “Strange Behaviors” explores this same idea. That is, it revolves around a character who cannot accept that the problem is not really the problem at all. It is a symptom of a larger issue. In the story, one of my minor characters from my first novel Fragile Creatures, named Pierre, takes several seminarians out for a drink at a local night club. It might seem strange that seminarians would go out for drinks, but I have it on good authority that it does happen at many seminaries. Throughout the story, we see that Pierre is essentially shallow; he takes things he sees and behaviors he witnesses at face value. He does not assume that there is more to the story. Specifically, when he sees his colleagues start to misbehave or become upset at the club, he assumes that it is the alcohol that is making them behave that way. The character becomes so angry about what he sees that he goes to the bartender and asks her to stop giving his friends drinks. When she says that the drinks are not the problem, and that they are only the catalyst that brings the true problems to the surface, he becomes frustrated. He believes she is not listening to him.

But the fact is he is not listening to her.

At the end of the story, as he watches his friend literally fall apart, Pierre becomes embarrassed and blames his friend’s actions on his inability to hold his drink. Pierre no longer wants to be friends with him, nor does he realize that his friend’s breakdown is in actuality a cry for help. Instead of helping his friend, Pierre chooses to leave his friend in a terrible state and no longer spends time with him.

Pierre is self-absorbed and shallow because he chooses not to see the real problem. He is afraid of the mess his friend has made and will not help.

This protagonist cannot see the deeper problem his friend has, and therefore chooses not to be honest. He does not help. As a result, he cannot help his friend take responsibility of the true problem and finding a lasting solution.

There is a terrific sketch that I remember seeing on Saturday Night Live several years ago. In it, a drunken Peter O’Toole explains the difference between the behavior of an alcoholic and the behavior of someone who has bigger problems. Indeed, people with these problems use their alcoholism as an excuse and therefore never manage to fix what really is to blame. Here is the link to it on YouTube:



About L.M. Gil

L.M. Gil, a writer and English teacher, worked closely with Roman Catholic seminarians for several years. Born and raised in Upstate New York, she has lived in Europe, the Middle East, and the Southwest of the United States. She lives with her family in the Baltimore area.
This entry was posted in alcoholism, Fiction, Fictional Characters, Healthy Relationships, Kindle Fiction, short stories, taking responisibility and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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