On Valentine’s Day someone brings a box of filled chocolates to group, and we pass it around while we’re talking.
When it reaches Jane she sits with the box on her lap, frowning.
“What’s wrong?” I ask.
“Oh,” she says, “I’m always afraid I’ll get coconut.”
“I hate coconut. So I’m trying not to find one.”
“Here’s a thought,” I say. “If you get coconut, spit it out, and take another piece.”
She stares like I’ve just spoken Klingon.
Then she looks to the woman sitting next to her.
“Sure,” the woman smiles.
“Why not?” the next woman shrugs.
The next woman is Marion, who is looking at me with her mouth open.
“I’m sixty-six years old,” she says slowly. “And I never knew you could do that.”
There are, it has been said, two types of people: inner-directed and outer-directed.
Inner-directed people base their decisions on messages they receive from inside them, on their own thoughts and feelings, wishes and dreams, desires and preferences.
Outer-directed people base their decisions on messages they receive from outside — rules and instructions, orders and demands, the opinions and expectations of others.
Jane and Marion are outer-directed people. Someone somewhere taught them waste not/want not, or don’t be greedy, or if you take two chocolates what will people think?, so they ended up convinced they must eat what they pick whether or not they want to.
I know many people like this.
Some became lawyers because Dad was a lawyer. Some vote Republican because their parents did. Some stay in bad jobs or bad marriages or bad relationships because they fear someone will judge them if they don’t.
Most raise kids who will grow up to do the same thing.
My job with outer-directed people is to turn them into inner-directed people.
Because we’re given just one life.
And it’s dumb to live somebody else’s idea of what that life should look like.
And it’s dumb to eat coconut when you hate coconut.
And because Patrick Dennis was right when he wrote, “Life is a banquet, and most poor bastards are starving to death.”