Retracing our footsteps

What would happen when we go camping and realize that we are lost in a thick forest? What if there is no reception in our smartphone? How do we respond?

Our first impulse is to panic. To take several steps in random directions. To rush ahead with a sense of desperation. And when that does not help, to panic even more. Where we need to find the one correct path amidst twenty wrong ones, this approach merely spirals downward.

The better alternative is to regain our composure, think logically and retrace our footsteps. How we reached our current location? Where did we cross that large banyan tree? Where did we cut across the stream? Eventually, we use our cognitive abilities to solve the puzzle, and find our way back.

Now think of the last heated discussion you had. Losing one’s temper in an argument is no different from getting lost in a forest. The impulse here is to throw our entire weight behind the first point that we can think of, which is very likely to send us down a line of reasoning we never intended to take.

The moment this happens, it helps to recognize that we are lost and retrace our footsteps. When did an open discussion turn into an argument? At what point was your anger ignited? What makes you feel so strongly about your stand? What gets you riled up so much?

It is easy to postulate what I have written above, but extremely hard to practice. Retracing one’s footsteps requires curiosity. But just like panic and logical thinking, curiosity and anger are mutually exclusive feelings. When was the last time you were genuinely curious while seething with rage?

Leading our mind back from anger comes with tonnes of practice. Curiosity is the map we can use to retrace our footsteps.

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