People Are Not Cars. Pity.

My first and last adventure into car repair was in 1971 when I rebuilt a VW Van using John Muir’s, How to Keep Your Volkswagen Alive; A Manual of Step-By-Step Procedures for the Complete Idiot. Muir, the Lockheed engineer turned drop-out hippy made a mechanic out of this complete idiot! All I had to do was follow the directions: “remove this head bolt and put it in a tin can labeled head bolts.” I felt like a genius!

The reason there’s no book called, How to Keep Your Relationships Alive; A Manual of Step-by-Step Procedures for the Complete Idiot is because there is one way to replace a piston ring but there are 100 ways to treat depression, anxiety, anger, and conflict. People truly are more complicated than cars.

Yet you wouldn’t know it from these automotive sounding self help quips.

  • You drive me crazy
  • I want to stay on track
  • I need my batteries charged
  • Our marriage needs a tune up
  • We better put the brakes on our spending
  • Let’s get it into gear
  • You torque me off!
  • I give you the green light!
  • He’s tooting his own horn
  • He’s not firing on all cylinders!
  • “Don’t put your life on autopilot!”
  • We better shift gears
  • Fasten your seatbelt and hang on for the ride!
  • Need a jump-start in the morning?
  • Get a grip on the steering wheel of life
  • I need some body work
  • Let’s check the oil (cholesterol)
  • She’s so driven!

Sleep researcher Ruben Naiman  (from whom I got this insight) wrote in his dandy book, HEALING NIGHT, “The assumption that there is a magic bullet, a single, simple solution to multifaceted and complex health problems like sleep disorders is a myth that health professionals generally try to dispel. It is a myth that can interfere with comprehensive and personalized treatment by lulling people into the false home of a simplistic, impersonal, one-size-fits-all solution” (p. 84).

Scott M. Peck (The Road Less Traveled guy) said, “Because we assume there is a reason for everything we will go looking for it when we should be looking for them.” There’s one gap setting for a spark plug. There are oodles of contributing factors to conflicts, disputes, and fights.

The complexity of human emotions has been known for centuries. Here’s a profound thought from 1764. “It is impossible to prevent all disorders in the universal combat of human passions. They increase in ratio compounded of population and the conflict of private interests, which it is not possible to turn with geometric precision in the direction of public utility. For mathematical exactitude we must substitute, in the arithmetic of politics, the calculus of probabilities.” Marchese di Beccaria, Essay on Crime and Punishment (1764). Quoted in Science and the Enlightenment by Thomas Hankins.

What this means for peace makers: disputants who expect “geometric precision” in conflict resolution will be disappointed.  It’s not as easy to tune a relationship as it is to tune a car.  Our approaches should be eclectic, exploratory, and a blend of curiosity with compassion.

If you’ve been a one-size-fits-all peacemaker using a singular approach, maybe it’s time to change strategies. It might be time to make a U-turn!