It is (pretty much) universally acknowledged that those who see a glass of water as half full are optimists, whilst those who describe it as half empty tend to have a pessimistic outlook. I took such a glass of water with me to HM’s Assembly on Monday, and asked for a description of what I was holding.
There was a fairly even split between the half-fullers and the half-empty crew; though – perhaps reassuringly – the alleged sunny outlookers came out in the majority. We discussed the perceived psychology behind the rigorous scientific experiment that we had just carried out, and then I offered an alternative to the ‘half full v half empty’ debate: that, in fact, it doesn’t matter. Picking up on a recent article by Rachel Ewan (mentalhealthwellbeingtraining.co.uk), I suggested that what matters is not whether the glass is half full or half empty, but rather how long we have to hold onto it for.
Imagine the glass, I said, as a worry; a concern; a problem. Being an optimist or a pessimist may make a difference to our initial internal response to that problem, but ultimately it’s what we do next with that problem that matters. Holding onto a worry all by ourselves can seem like a good (the only?) option at the time, but even small problems can soon become too difficult for us to carry alone after a while.
I presented a jug of water (deciding that big plastic jugs were a safer bet against the stone floor of the Cathedral) to four volunteers, and asked them to hold them at arm’s length. As they began to find their burdens a bit of a challenge, I asked for suggestions as to how they might lighten their load. ‘Put the jug down’, was the first suggestion. Unfortunately, whilst we can be advised by our friends to ‘just let it go’, putting a problem down and walking away often isn’t a realistic option for some of us. ‘Change hands’ was the next suggestion. Fine, but we’ll soon be back with an achy arm – and we can’t keep juggling this problem for ever. A few more suggestions followed until a voice called out ‘Ask for help’. Bingo.
The last remaining jug-holder (Charlie, captain of our 1st XV – surely there’s no-one stronger….) was then invited to choose a mate to help him out. Said pal was duly summoned, and promptly put his hands underneath Charlie’s forearm and pushed up. There was an immediate look of relief from Charlie as some of the weight was taken from him. Another friend was called, and between them they supported Charlie’s arm as he held onto his burden for a good long while – until it was time for staff notices and the start of period 1.
I don’t agree with the oft-shared adage ‘a problem shared is a problem solved’: I never have. But I do agree absolutely that a problem shared is a problem halved. Monday’s Morning Worship was a nice visual reminder of the power of sharing our burdens with those that we trust, and of the benefits – to self, to others, and to the community – that come from being a place where people matter.