Friday, March 31, 2006

Boiling point

We boil at different degrees. -Ralph Waldo Emerson, writer and philosopher, (1803-1882)

Have I ever mentioned how much I love Emerson? This statement sums up much of what I believe makes up the difference in individuals. So many times I've heard people become frustrated with their friends, partners, spouses, children, baffles them when someone doesn't take an action they believe should be taken, or reacts too quickly for their taste...someone who changes more slowly or more quickly than they. Assuming basic psychological and emotional stability, we all simply move at different rates, react to different stumuli...we reach boiling at our own set point.

In this context, I'm referring to "boiling" as the point at which we affect change. When water boils, it changes to steam. When we boil, we make changes in our lives. Like water, the molecules will probably have been in motion for a long time before the first bubbles break the surface. Just because we don't see the changes, we can't assume the other person isn't simmering quietly inside, temperature rising slowly toward their own set point. When they get there, the bubbles float to the surface, break, and the steam rises.

People sometimes forestall the boiling. They resist the change to the point that they "turn down the heat." The heat is the stimulus to change, usually in the form of pain or discomfort with the present status. A statement I've heard used (and used myself) is that people only change when the pain of change is outweighed by the pain of staying the same. I think that's true. To avoid the discomfort of change, the pain of breaking that surface tension and morphing into another form of ourselves, we ignore the heat. Fortunately, the heat remains and, eventually, forces us to change. Maybe not in this lifetime...but eventually.

Our challenge, then, is to pay attention to our own heat sources and to let those we love pay attention to theirs. It's hard, sometimes, especially when the relationships are very close. Many a marriage has fallen apart because one partner is still simmering while the other is boiling away! Ahh, but perhaps that's part of the change in progress. Maybe the pain of that failed relationship is what it takes to get the other partner from a slow simmer to a rolling boil. Maybe not. One thing is certain - life is change. We all boil at different degrees but we still boil. Steam happens. So does condensation. And then we boil again.


  1. You've made this point to me many, many times, and I finally get it. Just because someone doesn't "boil" as quickly as I do doesn't mean that they aren't changing, at their own rate. I've come to see that neither rate is better, or more correct because people are so unique!

  2. Steam happens. Too cool.


Sing with me...