Tuesday, December 22, 2015

The Rules of Disengagement: Cultivating Serenity and Why Quitters Sometimes Win

I've touched on the theme of disengagement in several prior posts, probably because disengagement is something I struggle with a lot.

Every year, I resolve to "disengage" from the people, places, habits, and other forces in my life that I think are making me feel frustrated, depressed, and emotionally spun-out. 

It's kind of a constant battle, so I'm always looking for reading material to help me execute the old AA "serenity prayer": having the serenity to accept what I can't change; the courage to change the things I can; and the wisdom to know the difference.

My most recent annual quest unearthed an article in Utne Reader from 1996, called "The Quitting Way: A Beginner's Guide to Perfect Disengagement," by Evan Harris. It's a great read and I highly recommend it to anyone considering quitting anything or anyone. 

Harris challenges the old adage that "quitters never win and winners never quit," by suggesting that, in fact, quitters often do win. "The art of quitting," as Harris calls it, be it a job, a location, a habit, or a person--is a therapeutic act that "demands a great deal of time, attention, and energy."  

Her central conceit is that quitting doesn't deserve its bad rap.

In my experience, the hardest thing to quit is people. Unlike a job, a city, a habit, or food, people aren't static or inanimate. They therefore present the dilemma of "the interactive quit." People might quit you before you're ready to quit them or when you don't want them to quit you at all. They might resist your efforts to quit them. They might do other things that generally make quitting them difficult. 

I'm not talking about just deciding not to talk to someone anymore. That's easy. 

I'm talking about something much more difficult. Specifically, a deliberate, psychological disengagement from the expectation that another person's words or actions will make you happy or unhappy. I'm talking about cultivating indifference--or if not indifference, at least serene resignation to the limitations of a relationship, and then doing whatever it takes to truly make make peace with those limitations.

And that, sadly, is never easy.

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