Dancing on the Head of a Pin

Not too long ago I heard a presentation by Dr. Paul Rasmussen entitled “The Human Condition and The Law of Movement.”  His main thesis was “Life is a process of movement through advancing time and changing circumstances grounded in the desire for things to go well while having to deal with the inevitable challenges that life presents.


Dr. Rasmussen also asserted that as babies we come into the world with an infantile orientation characterized by: “I want what I want when I want it and I don’t want what I don’t want when I don’t want it and when I don’t want it you will know it.”  As we age he said, we hopefully develop a more mature orientation characterized by: “I understand that I can’t necessarily do everything I want and some of the things that I don’t want to do simply need to get done.


The job of parents is to help their children move from the infantile orientation to the mature orientation.  That job is made more difficult when the child struggles with developmental delays, trauma, or mental illness, but the lesson still has to be learned in order for that child to eventually function in the world when he or she reaches adulthood.  Of course, we all are aware of adults who approach the world with an infantile orientation.    These individuals continuously struggle to meet their tasks of life (e.g. social, work, intimate) and being in relationship with them is generally unpleasant.


Now it is perhaps not surprising to think that people generally want their lives to go well.  What was somewhat surprising was that Dr. Rasmussen shared some research that indicated that the vast majority (80%) of our lives we are dealing with the fairly mundane if not downright unpleasant details of life.  It is only a relatively small percentage (20%) of life during which we experience those moments of joy, happiness, intimacy, laughter and connection.  So, no, it’s not just you - the 80-20 rule holds true for everyone – we all get stuck in traffic, have a kid home sick or get sick ourselves, and have bills to pay more often than our best friend calls just when we needed a laugh.  But, some people are better at accepting the 80% as an imperfect part of life they have to adapt to and recognizing the 20% as something to truly celebrate when it happens. 


Adults with a mature orientation – as well as children and adolescents whose parents have coached them towards developing that mature orientation – are far more likely to adapt when life does not go their way.  They are less likely to get stuck in rigid patterns that keep them stuck in a perpetually reactive stance towards frustration, disappointment, and annoyance.  And they are far more likely to truly see and experience the moments of joy.