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What if …

Submitted by on Wednesday, 9 June 2010 No Comment

I watched “The Tooth Fairy” this weekend, and I’m not ashamed to admit it. After all, seeing Dwayne Johnson in fairy wings actually is far more believable his previous gig as a pro wrestler.

I’m also not ashamed to admit that I learned something from the movie – chiefly, that in trying to keep the guys free from irrational fear, I might accidentally be teaching them to be too cautious.

My epiphany came during the part when Ashley Judd, who plays Johnson’s love interest, lectures him about being too  realistic/negative. You need to learn to say, “what if” she tells him before huffing off.

“Oooooh! ‘What if.’ You don’t like that, do you?” Big Guy smiled knowingly.

And he was right – but not for the reasons he thought he was right.

I often lecture the guys about “what if,” mainly because they use it in a limiting way – “what ifs” such as this recent barrage they fired as we talked about vacation plans:

“What if the car breaks down on the way to the airport?”

“What if you can’t find the parking lot?”

“What if they lose our suitcases?”

“What if no one’s home when we get there?”

“What if an elephant falls out of the sky and lands on our heads?” I interrupted. It’s my standard retort to “what if-itis.” “Yes, it could happen. But is it likely to? No. So let’s not ‘what if’ ourselves to death with worry.”

It’s something both of their parents have had to work to overcome.

When Dad announced plans to go to bartending school – it was a two-hour daily commute – his dad “what if-ed” his blood pressure into stroke territory. That’s a dangerous, dangerous road. If you don’t get killed there you will in the big city, was the clear message.

When I booked my first flight to California, my mom was convinced my return trip would be in a body bag. “You’re going to go out there and get your head bashed in,” she predicted.

A little fear is fine – prudent even. But the kind that paralyzes you into inaction – not good.

That’s not the kind of “what if” Judd’s character was advocating, though, when she called Johnson’s character a dream crusher. “What if” you used your imagination and didn’t look at everything so literally was what she meant.

I’ve seen that type of “what if” in action as well, most brilliantly in the hands of a theatrical director who one summer took a tired – dramatic, but tired – scene and literally turned it around.

For decades, people who directed the outdoor drama “Hatfields and McCoys” staged a raid scene from the perspective of those doing the raiding. The actors would sneak up to a cabin and set it afire. Those inside would run out. One summer, though, the attack began as it had for 30 years, but midway through all action froze. The cabin wheeled around, and the rest of the scene focused on the anguish of those trying to survive the raid. The audience’s reaction: Stunned silence. That’s a huge compliment in theatrical circles.

I’d seen that play literally a hundred times before, but that night I was thunderstruck. One simple change, one tiny “what if” altered the whole meaning of the scene. For the first time, I felt the pain of those inside the cabin instead of getting caught up in the bloodlust of those trying to destroy a home and a family.

That’s the kind of “what if” I want the guys to learn. What if we do something differently? What if we look at a problem from a new perspective? What if we dare to try.

It could be that years of harping and elephant analogies have poisoned the guys’ minds against what if. But what if I adopted different language?

I think “why not” will work just fine.

Copyright 2010 Debra Legg. All rights reserved.

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