The word “dither” (being indecisive) comes from the Elizabethan dither-board. Like a chessboard, the dither-board had sage advice (“do nought for two days”, “consult thy mother”, “listen to thy dreams”, “speake thy minde this day” and so on) on each square and the “ditherer” would toss a stone or jewellery on the board to help their decisions.
We have always dithered – the Romans used to toss dead leaves, the Norwegians tossed runes and we toss coins at consultants. We dither because we are caught between two sets of rules – the rules for Survival and the rules for living.
See, as a baby we were quite helpless. Everything we needed came from the big people and, to survive, we learned what to do to be fed, cleaned and loved. We developed a repertoire of actions that got us what we needed (crying, screaming, smiling, looking endearing etc) and so we learned survival skills. As a baby we also learned that we could do nothing wrong – we could scream at 2.00am, piddle in purses and vomit on vicars and we were still seen as funny and amazing.
Then, without due notice, the rules changed. Love stopped being unconditional. To get the same affection as before, we had to do certain things “correctly”. We had to say the right words, eat properly, be quiet at particular times, not be demanding, be helpful and the amount of love received was proportional to the measure of obedience we gave.
The rules of survival changed at school. To join a peer group, you had to learn words, wear clothes and act in ways that our parents didn’t like. The rules for survival with our peers were different from the rules of our parents and these were both different from our teachers’ rules. Then we got a job and had to learn the unspoken and unwritten rules for survival there.
You only discover the rules for survival when you break them – you make an honest statement and embarrass someone. You admit weakness or failure and people are speechless. You express your power and competence and people turn away. So you learn not to state the obvious, not to lean on others, not to flaunt your greatness. You learn not to be you. Because the rules for survival are not written or obvious, we become afraid of breaking them and shrink our lives, lest we blunder on yet another social landmine.
Though we stop being ourselves to survive, we never actually lose our own essence, the “clothes” we’d really like to wear. If we look in our emotional, spiritual and behavioural wardrobes we’ll find, right at the bottom, the crumpled but beautiful clothes we’d really like to wear, the clothes that feel so good, so right and so empowering. As we stand before our rack of clothes we dither – do we wear this attitude today or that one; do we wear this behaviour or that one; do we wear a smile or a grimace; do we say “yes” to please others or “no” to please ourselves? Because we’ve been trained that others define us, we take on their truths, beliefs and attitudes. We forget that we have our own truths, beliefs and attitudes … and value. Then, one sweet day, for whatever reason, we stand up and say, “ENOUGH!” We realise that we don’t have to play the game we’ve been playing and losing. We were born for more than survival. We were born to LIVE which, spelt backwards, is EVIL.
Eventually, we make a new choice – the choice that makes our hearts sing and that gives us real joy. However, others’ rules have taken a lifetime to learn so can take time to unlearn. Whatever you use on your journey home to yourself and however hard it gets, just know that it is worth it – for you are worth it. The more dither-free you can be, the freer we can all be!
And, did you believe the story at the start? I actually made the dither-board story up. Perhaps it’s time to stop believing others and listen to your own brilliant story!