Our Blog


Monday, April 25th, 2022

by Douglas L. Anderson, PsyD




Everybody has good days and bad days, good experiences and bad experiences.  Sometimes things go smoothly and well, and sometimes things just don’t work out even with our best intentions and efforts.  

Here’s the deal.  We cannot control everything, and people who need to be in control all the time face the anxiety and discomfort of frequently feeling out of control.  People who anticipate differences and change, and who welcome the ambiance of difference, discover they can be in control of themselves internally even when external events or experiences are completely outside their control.

I spent more than a decade traveling to China twice a year to provide psychotherapy services to an organization there.  If you want to experience external events that are outside your control and comfort zone, traveling to China will absolutely provide you with that experience!  

I was making those trips to China at a time when very few people spoke English, leaving me in the unenviable position of trying to communicate my needs and wishes.  But I was determined to find my way without assistance, determined to lean into the experience, and determined to appreciate the ambiance of our differences rather than be reactive to those differences.  This approach always made my time in China a rich time of growth.

On one occasion I entered a restaurant to find something to eat.  Commonly restaurants had menus with pictures of food so that I could order by pointing to a picture.  But on this particular occasion the restaurant simply had a written menu (in Chinese of course), and I had no idea what to do.  Instead of leaving and seeking out an easier experience, I decided to do my best at communicating and finding my way.

Using my best made up sign language I struggled to help the workers understand that I could not read or speak Chinese, and I needed them to simply decide what I should eat and bring that to me.  I still recall the waiter pointing at a line of Chinese characters in the menu that I could not read and then look at me to ask if that would be an okay choice.  I had no idea what he was pointing to, but I said one of the few words I know in Chinese, a word that is somewhat equivalent to what we mean when we say, “sure, sure” or “yeah, yeah.”

The food came, it was unrecognizable to me, and I ate it.  It tasted good, but to this day I do not know what part of what animal I ate that day.  

That experience was one more life lesson in acknowledging and appreciating difference rather than being threatened by difference.  I was so grateful for the help of others who did their best to help me get a meal.  They had to work as hard as me at finding a way to communicate across the language chasm and all of the cultural variables we each represented.  I think we both grew a bit that day.

We live in a country built on the principle of difference as a good thing, but we aren’t doing a very good job of living into the ambiance and value of difference.  We are quite segregated racially, politically, religiously, financially, and so on.  When difference threatens us we retreat to our comfort zones where we feel safe.  This results in a couple of things.  It provides us with a false sense of safety or security, and it prevents us from any kind of genuine growth.  In short, we are less healthy psychologically and relationally when we allow difference to be a threat rather than an opportunity for growth.  This is true across all levels of our lives - international, national, local, organizational, familial.  

If you want to become a better, stronger, psychologically healthier person, get to know and appreciate people and things that are different from you and outside your comfort zone.  That approach to life will bring about changes in you and in your relationships that will serve you well throughout your life.

If you need some help addressing feelings of threat in your life, and if you want to discover ways to grow personally, give us a call.  River Counseling Services and Sioux Falls Psychological Services meet you where you are, offering hope.  You may schedule an appointment with the Platte office at 605-337-3444, or meet with one of our Sioux Falls Psychological Services therapists from your own computer or smartphone.  To schedule an appointment please call 605-334-2696.