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day 32: devil 'em, tarhorns

March 5, 2011

In the field of cognitive behavioral psychology, black and white thinking is a type of cognitive distortion.  In a nutshell, when you engage in black and white (or dichotomous) thinking, you think in absolutes: “I never succeed,” “she always treats me badly,” “we’ll never make it work.”  Cognitive behavioral therapy aims to challenge black and white thoughts, subsequently challenging dichotomous language, and ultimately changing destructive behavior patterns.

I am a big believer in living the space between absolutes — in the gray.  When I worked as a behavioral health counselor at a therapeutic obesity treatment center, I would often encourage my new clients to walk for 5 minutes a day.

“Only five minutes?” they would gasp, “Oh, come on.  That’s just not enough.”

Um, it’s five minutes more than you walked yesterday, right?  The last seventeen times you tried and failed to get healthy, your demands of yourself included an hour of walking a day.  How did that work out for you?

That’s living in the gray.

Living in the gray can be uncertain and lonely.  It is a lot easier to say, “I’m a vegan” than “I eat vegan much of the time, except when I feel like having a wedge of ice cream cake and a big slice of pizza.”  Most of us are uncomfortable coloring outside of the lines of others’ expectations of us.

This weekend, North Carolina is engaged in its own version of black and white thinking.

The entire state, it seems, is painted either Carolina blue

or Duke blue

in anticipation of tonight’s big basketball game.

On Day 32, my gift was a birthday present to my husband’s longtime friend and former college roommate.  Having gone to grad school there, he is a huge Carolina fan.  Naturally, I thought he needed one of these:

Did you notice the pad isn't even touching her shoulder?

Yes, that’s right.  It’s a seat belt/man bag strap protector.  I’m not sure how Ian has lived without one for so many years, but I decided it was the perfect gift to both celebrate his fandom and protect his tender shoulder from the ravages of a seatbelt and/or messenger bag.

I took my two year old along to make this purchase.  As we were paying for this lovely gift, the store clerk looked down at my boy and said, “A little Carolina fan, huh?  Can you say, ‘Go heels’?”

Quietly, so only I could make it out, he responded, “Hook ’em, horns.”

Talk about living in the gray…  I couldn’t have been prouder.  Nobody puts my baby in a corner (unless, I guess, it’s painted burnt orange).

On the evening of Day 32, we celebrated Ian’s birthday with non-vegan pizza and ice cream cake.  The adults played cards while the kids destroyed the basement and watched Despicable Me (indeed, Hank Jr., it appears that all our rowdy friends have settled down), and I was reminded of how comfortable it is to be loved in spite of my abysmal card-playing skills.  I think Ian will sport his shoulder protector with pride, and his wife said it will nicely match the Carolina blue pants she gave him for his birthday.

Tonight, we’ll watch the game with rabid Duke fans.  I’m unapologetically apathetic about sports, but I’ll cheer for Durham’s own Blue Devils.  After all, Duke paid my salary for a few years — I guess I owe them that loyalty.

Later, I’ll cross my fingers for a Longhorn win, both for my coloring-outside-the-lines son and for my superfan husband (who claims alumni-hood because he took an accounting class at UT in the summer of 1992). Until then?  I’m off to a five year old’s birthday party with a couple of my rowdiest friends.

Whatever color your day is, I hope it’s painted brightly.  Thanks so much for showing up.

P.S.  I intended to share this with you on Day 31 and totally forgot.  Urban Ministries of Durham teamed up with advertising firm McKinney to create Spent, an interactive educational game about the experiences of low wage workers.  Check it out here. It is a great tool to immerse teens or tweens (or adults, for that matter) in the experience of being a low income worker in America.

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