Have you ever had anyone snap at you “OK! Have it your way” and then perhaps storm off in a colloquial “huff”? Maybe you’ve even had the experience of firing off such a retort yourself.
If we think about the situations where decrees like this one are usually proclaimed, it’s often the case that, at the time the instruction is issued, the person making the statement is not having things their way and they have been singularly unsuccessful in persuading you to adopt their stance. Perhaps it’s something as mundane as which movie you’ll see on Saturday night. You’ve been excitedly and impatiently waiting for the sequel to your favourite superhero movie to come out and it’s just been released. Your partner, however, wants to see a documentary drama based on real-life events.
After an extended and increasingly inflexible exchange, you’re told “OK, enough! Jeez. Have it your way. We’ll go and see the stupid superhero movie.” While you’re secretly glad to get the outcome you wanted, you have a sneaking suspicion that there won’t be a happy ending once you leave the cinema.
It’s probably reasonable to suggest that when people are in the midst of capitulating with the “Have it your way!” edict they are not in a philosophical frame of mind or even intending to make global statements about the meaning of life. On one occasion, for example, when my son and I were negotiating what a reasonable amount of screen time on the weekend might be, I heard “Fine, dad! Have it your way. I’ll have 30 minutes at a time and do some other boring thing for 30 minutes before I go back on. Is that what you want?”. At that time I don’t think either of us was thinking of the bigger picture or contemplating what it meant to be alive.
But of course, that’s the rub, isn’t it? Is that what you want? Are you getting things your way?
Life, actually, is a continual process of striving to get what we want or have things our way. The most exasperating times occur when someone else is imploring us to do things their way. Someone else’s way can never be our way.
We can enjoy playing bridge with the same small group of enthusiasts we’ve been meeting up with for 7 years and we can look forward to the monthly hilarity of our raucous book club. We can thrive on the challenge that our friends in the running club continually provide and we can flourish in the warmth and security of the deeply loving relationship we’ve created with our partner.
All of the enjoyment, thriving, and flourishing we experience, however, is ours and ours alone. In one sense, every person really is an island. That doesn’t detract at all from the endless and multifaceted rewards there are from connecting with other islands. It also doesn’t minimise the devastating grief we can experience when tragedy befalls one of the favourite islands in our own personally constructed archipelago. And nor does it dismiss the torment and suffering some people inflict on others.
The point is simply to recognise that my life is my life and your life is your life. We can definitely work together to create experiences of happiness, love, and contentment (as well as misery and mayhem) but you can never know my experience of satisfaction and I can never know yours. From this perspective, we can never share goals in the same way that we might share a red duck curry at our favourite Thai restaurant or a ride home from work. I can help you achieve your goals and you can help me achieve mine, but we can only ever have shared goals metaphorically.
Some people seem to have the knack of being able to have things their way most of the time. Conversely, other people don’t ever appear to have things their way very often. Perhaps the most contented people are those people who have discovered how to have things their way by helping others to have things the way they want. Could it be that we’re really only ever able to have things our way when we discover how to carve our path without blocking the paths of others?
So, go on. Have it your way. That’s what life is all about. Contentment and satisfaction can be found during those times when individuals, partners, families, and communities are all able to have it their way. Friction, strife, and anguish occur when one or more people are prevented from having things their way. The secret of successful social living may be finding out how each of us can have things our way without stopping others from doing the same thing.
To help create a more harmonious world, let’s start a tradition of raising our glasses at social celebrations and toasting “May you live life your way”.