Earl R. Smith II. PhD

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An old friend was fond of saying things that boiled down a situation and focused on the core.  I always enjoyed his company and wry observations. One of the things he was fond of observing was that “People get to deal with the same problem over and over again until they solve it. Then they get to move on to the next one!” I always responded with, “What circle are you re-rounding now? And when will you move on to the next one?”

Over the years I have gradually probed deeper into the idea of practiced recidivism. My mentoring work brings me into regular contact with the tendency. Here are some things that I have learned:

  • The tendency to repeat experiences is a defensive mechanism. People can become comfortable with the frustrations of a known challenge and come to see it as preferable to the uncertainty of a new one.
  • The operation of this preference is actually within the conscious mind – it is a conscious decision that is made and then relegated to the realm of the unconscious. There it functions as a form of self-delusion
  • The efforts at change are most often designed to fail and maintain the status quo. They are designed from the very beginning to be ineffective. As an example, I know a person who moves from one “coach” to another. He dances away from one when the work begins to focus on the need to make real change and engages another so as to begin again in the safe zone. I am reminded of another friend who – having been married and divorced five times – told me “I like falling in love. I’m really good at it. What I can’t manage is being in love.”
  • The “Recidivist’s Waltz” almost always centers around an Avatar – a manufactured version of a person’s self. A mask, if you will. I describe how Avatar’s work in Self-Sabotage: 12 Nasty Habits. The dance is a way of distancing from reality via the interposition of a virtual reality.
  • Change is hard and usually only comes as a result of some crisis. The dance, unfortunately, only tends to stop when it is no longer possible to go on with it. This is the real tragedy. In Buddhism, there is the idea that the source of all discomfort is grasping. Stop grasping and the pain goes away. Instantly. Immediately. Completely. The decision to keep the pain is one that one makes when they decide to continue grasping. The same is true when it comes to the Recidivist’s Waltz. The decision to continue is a conscious one and it only ceases when the music is forced to stop.
  • The way out is hard work and not a journey that should be attempted solo. There are many side-tracks back to the status quo. Once a person reaches the point of no return – makes the decision that things have got to change – they are confronted with a set of decisions of enormous consequence. They can decide to “go it alone” – generally a strategy designed to fail. They can chose to work with a safe – warm and fuzzy – mentor. They can begin to attend any of the mass meeting programs given by self-appointed messiahs. Or they can engage with a tough-minded mentor who will only work with them if they are worth working with.

The point of all of this is that it is your life. You choose how to live it whether you want to admit it or not. There is little you can do about the reality you were born into. But that is not the point, is it? The real question is what do you do with the time you have been given – with this amazing gift called life. In that light, the Recidivist’s Waltz is a form of slow suicide. A premature ending of possibilities. It may be time to stop the dance and live the life.


© Earl R. Smith II, PhD