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The Gift of Willingness

May 13, 2020


“Nothing is easy for the unwilling.” Gaelic Proverb

Willingness to change, being ready to do something differently, is the foundation upon which transformation of people and situations is built.

However, willingness doesn’t arise magically. For most of us, it is a process, meaning that it doesn’t happen overnight. And sometimes we need help to unlock it.

Here are three stories where willingness (or lack of it) is the central theme.

STORY 1: Tony & Bob’s relationship has been struggling for quite some time. Though not an abusive relationship, physically or psychologically, it is certainly a tense one. Each of them believes in their bones that they are right and the other person is wrong in nearly every argument they have, whether the disagreement is about money or how to raise the kids. They don’t listen to each other’s viewpoint nor do they wish to listen.  You could say that there is a lack of willingness in each of them to hear the other or accommodate them in even a small way. They see willingness as backing down. As losing. As weakness.

STORY 2: Geraldine’s substance addiction has taken her to the brink of despair. It has affected her relationships and capacity to earn a living. Her health is deteriorating to the point where the medical team that treated her after a recent overdose warned that she either puts down her drug or she will die. She is frightened of course. She doesn’t want to die, but there is something in her that blocks willingness to take any action that will save her life. No one close to her understands her reluctance, her resistance. She doesn’t understand it either.

For a very few people, willingness comes without a struggle. But as the above stories illustrate, it is not unusual, even for those that are deep in crisis, for willingness to be nowhere on their radar.

But more often, willingness comes about when they accept that nothing else has worked and that there is nowhere else to go to get what they truly, deeply desire. Story 3 illustrates this principle.

STORY 3: Joey’s relationship with his father has been a distant one for most of his life.  Joey can’t work out how to fix things with his dad. He wants closeness with him. He wants a dad in his life. All of Joey’s attempts to change things end up badly. Then when frustration sets in, Joey descends into alternately blaming and placating his dad. Of course, this has only made things worse. So much worse that Joey contemplates totally giving up trying. Yet and still, Joey desires a close, loving relationship with his dad. The therapist that Joey has been seeing has told him that a warmer relationship with his dad is possible. But it while it will take willingness on both their parts, the therapist suggests that, if Joey is willing, truly willing, he can make a start, firstly by cleaning up “his side of the street”.  That would mean changing his attitude and his behavior toward his dad without expecting any reciprocity on his dad’s part. By changing himself, there is a chance, a real chance that Joey is able to lay the groundwork or a positive change in their relationship. The therapist states that he is happy to help, if Joey is willing to do his part. After some reflection, Joey says yes and they set to work.

Willingness and how it comes about is a mystery in many ways. It can’t be forced. That’s why I say that it is a gift. And like other gifts, it comes to us unexpectedly when the time is right.

And then there is this thought. Sometimes, when we aren’t quite there yet in the willingness department, it can be enough to simply be willing to be willing in order to set the stage for the real thing to make its appearance.

“Nothing is impossible with a willing heart.” John Heywood