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(For reading in Chinese, please scroll down to the end of the English text.)

(For international readers, allow me to explain: I am an American but I have lived in China since 2004. My city of Chongqing, often abbreviated as CQ, is pronounced Chong Ching to rhyme with Wrong Ring. CQ is a megacity of 30 million people in south-central China, on the Yangtze River.)

In these pandemic times, it seems changes are rushing at us faster and faster. Changing circumstances require new decisions and new directions on our part. In the midst of this chaos, however, we can also find the opportunity to reinvent our lives. Some of the old elements of our lives are unavailable – temporarily or permanently – and we must learn to live without them. Other things, upon reflection, simply become less important, less valuable.* Seizing this opportunity to reinvent our lives can make this period a milestone in your life. 

Photo by Gerd altmann

The first step begins with reviewing our current values, activities, and expectations. No action steps yet, just serious thinking. Call it rethinking.

Let me offer an example of how our habitual way of thinking can blind us to opportunities. I am recalling the time many years ago when I was teaching at a university in China and living on the campus in dormitories provided for the foreign teachers. The buildings were new and quite nice. However, one problem was that the insulation between the floors was nonexistent. Literally, a coin dropped by the people above you would be heard distinctly. The teachers, all six floors of us, quickly learned and adapted because failure to be reasonably quiet would be a great inconvenience for our fellow residents. 

In my furnished apartment, one room was designated for my office. In it was a desk with a swivel chair. Unfortunately, over the next couple of years, the casters on that swivel chair deteriorated badly. They made lots of squeaky noises whenever I moved, even when I was trying to be very quiet. I was sure this squeaky chair noise would be disturbing to the people below me, especially since they had a young child.

In attempting to keep my noise levels down, I gradually stopped using that chair, especially in the early morning or late evening hours. This meant, however, that I could not sit at that desk much of the time. Thus, the room which was supposed to be my office became used less and less since I couldn’t work there without feeling guilty.

Over a period of time, the failure to use that office space gradually resulted in a change in my lifestyle. My apartment became smaller by one room since I could not use the office if I could not use the desk and chair. I spent less time on the computer since my internet access was also in the office. Obviously, this was not a life-threatening situation, but it was inconvenient and irritating.

Photo by free photos

Enter the girlfriend. 

After a couple of years of this limitation, I developed a new relationship. I had a wonderful new girlfriend who frequently came to visit. One day, I was explaining to her about my problem: I could not use the chair… which meant I could not use the desk… which meant I could not use the office…

The girlfriend said nothing. But the next day, she appeared at my door with a new desk chair which meant that I could now use the office again. Yes, I felt a little foolish at not seeing the obvious: Go buy a new, quiet chair to replace the noisy one. And, yes, I was very grateful and impressed with girlfriend’s ingenuity, and in taking the initiative.

I confess that this choice – giving up my office for lack of a quiet chair – does not cast me in a very favorable light. I plead guilty to not seeing the obvious and simple solution – which girlfriend saw and acted upon. But, let me explain. I didn’t see the obvious solution because of my habitual way of thinking which I had developed and kept over many years. When I was a poor college student, I didn’t have much extra money; therefore, big purchases – like a swivel chair – were not even considered. As a poor student, I developed the attitude of buying nothing except absolute necessities. (Okay, some of what I considered to be “absolute necessities” may have been questionable… but you get the idea.) 

photo by Gerd altmann

Now, in my new life as a foreign teacher, I did not have such severe financial limitations. But, my thinking had not changed. I had unconsciously carried that old attitude with me. It never occurred to me to go out and buy a new desk chair to solve the noise problem. Duh! The girlfriend’s way of looking at situations from a different perspective is exactly the kind of analysis we all need to be performing these days. Many times, the solution to a problem or a superior response to a current situation is obvious – if we will step back and look at it without our self-imposed filters of habitual ways of thinking. Maybe, without the girlfriend to show me what I was too blind to see, I would still be vaguely resenting the loss of my office because of one stupid noisy chair.

Right now, today, we can begin to visualize what we want our life to be after the pandemic is no longer a crisis. We can consider and decide what we want our life to look like in the future. Maybe, in a way, this current window of opportunity could not have occurred if the pandemic had not disrupted our lives and our old expectations. 

So, what about you? What are the noisy desk chairs in your life? What are some remnants of your pre-pandemic life which are no longer relevant? What situations in your life could be vastly improved with a few simple changes in attitude and small adjustments in your behaviors? How much better could life be and how much happier could you be if you simply changed the way you habitually think about some things? Maybe we should all look at the opportunities available to us. There are plenty of new opportunities to discover – and the future will bring even more. It is up to us to recognize them and seize the ones that are suitable for us.

photo by Gerd Altmann

* Personally, my conclusions are that most of the things that have been upsetting me are really not worth my attention – plus they are beyond my control, anyway. Really, our relationships and good health are the only important things that we can have in this life. All the possessions, all the achievements, and all of the things that we do for impressing other people with our status symbols have greatly diminished in importance and allure for me











我承认,这个选择–因为没有安静的椅子而放弃我的办公室–并没有给我带来很好的印象。我承认自己有罪,没有看到明显而简单的解决方案–女友看到了,并采取了行动。但是,让我解释一下。我没有看到明显的解决方案,因为我多年来形成并保持的习惯性思维方式。当我还是一个贫困的大学生时,我没有多少额外的钱;因此,大的采购–比如转椅–根本没有考虑过。作为一个穷学生,我养成了除了绝对的必需品之外什么都不买的态度。好吧,有些我认为的 “绝对必需品 “可能是有问题的……但你懂的)。

现在,在我作为外教的新生活中,我没有这么严重的经济限制。但是,我的想法并没有改变。我不自觉地带着那种旧的态度。我从未想过要去买一把新的办公桌椅来解决噪音问题。咄咄怪事! 女友换个角度看问题的方式,正是我们现在都需要进行的分析。很多时候,问题的解决方法或对当前情况的优越反应是显而易见的–如果我们会退一步看,不需要我们自我加压的习惯性思维方式的过滤。也许,如果没有女朋友让我看到我太盲目的东西,我还会因为一把愚蠢的吵闹的椅子而隐隐约约地怨恨办公室的损失。




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