“Is a slave a slave if he doesn’t know he’s been enslaved?”

The worst trap is the one you don’t realize you’re in.

It’s a strange truth of my psyche that I realize I’ve fallen in a rut because everything starts getting on my nerves. It’s like a detector for ruts. And I don’t mean ruts of routine (those actually help keep me sane), but ruts of thinking. It’s like I stop looking out the windows. I stop exploring the world. I keep running along the same old thought processes, and then I find that they’re too deep, they’re too narrow, the sides are mounting up and now I can’t get out.

Or rather, I have to stop and do some digging. And lifting. And I have to find another road.

It’s so easy to stop looking outside. Especially when things get busy. Why are there people who hate the Christmas season? There’s so much going on, so many decisions to make, so many plans to lay, and they are all things that fall within a certain time and a certain place, all small, short-term things with, it seems, no greater repercussions. Our vision gets narrower and narrower, the walls build up and the blinds close, the sun is gone and the wind is dead. We’ve put up so many sticky notes that we can’t see the walls anymore. The calendar’s got so much writing on it that you can’t see the days. Too many songs makes it all go to noise. And we are in a rut.

For me, I stop seeing other perspectives. I disagree with people just because. I complain about my work. My life is confined to a little cube and a little flat, and even the roads of my hometown are too well-worn. I measure and measure and measure against myself and those around me, and it all folds in like a foil candy wrapper until you can’t find the edges anymore. It’s just one dense little ball of frustration.

And then I need to stop.

What woke me up this time was a graceless attitude. When I assume the worst of someone, and don’t give them a fair chance. My mother was pretty adamant when she taught me not to do that, both because it’s mean and because it’s usually wrong. The evidence should be considered before any judgement is made, and most of the time, we don’t have much evidence. And even when the worst is right, being graceless about it isn’t going to help.

The thing about a crumpled foil candy wrapper is that you can find the edges. You just have to be patient. An attitude is not changed in a moment. You’ve got to pick at it. You’ve got to go slow. You’ve got to find where you’re flat out wrong, and where you’ve misjudged and assumed too much. And then a little silver corner will stand up, and a fault will form along one axis, and very gently, with fingernails, you can tease it apart. Your assumptions fall off, your anger subsides, you start seeing the good parts, the pleasures and joys you were missing. If you don’t get hasty, bit by bit you can spread the whole thing open. And if you manage to keep it all in once piece, you can even flatten it out so that the whole colorful pattern can be seen again, like new.

My work is frustrating, but I have work. I might not agree with someone for good reason, but I can like them anyway. I don’t know what’s going on in other people’s lives, and sometimes the error was mine. I’ve got to open up again, to step back and see the sun again. I’ve got to put the sticky notes aside for a moment, and remind myself that they will only be handled one at a time, and that they will be handled. There is still a whole world out there, and I may be stuck in my cube, but I can still look out the window. The cage was not the doing of my work or my clients or someone else’s problems. It was all my own doing. Which means I have the key.