The Road to Rational Detachment 

December 2, 2016
Younger hand holding an older person hand

One of many concepts from CPI training that I strive to practice at work and beyond is Rational Detachment.

Rational Detachment is defined as “the ability to manage your own behavior and attitude and not take the behavior of others personally,” and it’s a good reminder that your outlook can make all the difference.

I went with a friend and her husband to Indiana for a wedding. It was great to celebrate with friends I’ve known since I was a kid. It was also a good time for unexpected events that led me to see another application for Rational Detachment.

The journey to the hotel took hours longer than we’d thought, but we enjoyed spotting hawks on the scenic route that skirted Chicago, and we made it to our destination in time for dinner. We hit a detour on the way to a park that evening, but we managed to have a few minutes to enjoy the view before the dark settled and mosquitos began their evening festivities.

As we finally approached that lovely, well-lit intersection where we would turn back into the hotel lot, a nearly full moon shone briefly through tatters of clouds. It felt like a blessing.

Attending the wedding and reception was the best blessing. It was an evening full of light and laughter. Those two newlyweds are truly meant for each other, and there’s nothing like celebrating with your best friends.

There’s also nothing like the experience of getting lost to drive home the value of keeping a calm head, rationally detaching, and having friends you can count on.

“You Are on Road”

On the last day of our trip, four of us decided to see the Indiana Dunes. We got into two cars, fired up our GPS units, and headed out.

The first clue that this probably wouldn’t be a typical trip came when our GPS told us our destination was on the right, and all we saw was a small, official-looking building with state patrol cars parked in front. I could make out the word “Headquarters” on a sign as we drove past it, wondering where to get access to the park.

We kept an eye out for anything that did look like a gatehouse or a good place to park, and I pored over the brochure we’d picked up from the hotel lobby to find the right address. There was a plethora to choose from, and in the meantime, we just kept driving because soon there was no parking. I was starting to get a bit worried.

At some point we hit a fork, went left, and ended up on a very narrow two-way road through thick woods. It wasn’t all that encouraging to see a sign informing us that we would be towed if we parked anywhere on this road, and later, that there was no access to the beach.

That was nothing compared to what the GPS had to say. After a long litany of “recalculating,” she fell silent. The screen showed an image of the car on an unmarked white line, which was almost next to Lake Michigan, and the words “You are on road.” Very helpful, especially when the image of that car was starkly still while we were very much on the move.

Confusion, worries, and an urge to laugh all bounced around in my mind. I chose to smile at the absurdity of it, and we all tried to focus on what we could do to get out of this mess. It was time to call our friend who was driving her car. I brandished my cell phone and took a few breaths to clear my head as it rang. She picked up, and I filled her in on our situation and found out that she’d gotten turned around too but was waiting at the check-in that moment.

We saw a dead end ahead and gratefully used it to turn back around while our friend pulled up to the window. While she was looking for parking, we returned to that fork and started following her directions. The GPS rejoined the land of the living and proceeded to guide us to that likely address we’d found, which turned out to be the right one. We were never so happy to join a line of cars at the check-in, and to finally pull into a parking space right next to our friend.

After a ride like that, we were ready for anything. We had all the courage we needed to slide up those sand dunes and explore the beautiful mix of beach and woods in that part of the park.

Broadening the Beam of Rational Detachment

Before this trip, I thought of Rational Detachment mostly as a way to relate to other people, to stay calm and remind yourself that you don’t know everything about a person and their motivations, and to not take challenging behavior as a personal attack. Now I see a broader definition as well.

Rational Detachment applies to situations as well as people. It’s about finding something positive in the midst of uncertainty, shifting your focus from what’s wrong to what you can do about it.

Keeping as calm as possible makes a world of difference in how a situation can turn out. It’s easy to fixate on what’s wrong until you’re adrift on a raging current of worries and other negative emotions, but all of that pulls you away from responding rationally and getting to the other side of the situation. It blocks your view of possible solutions.

I now see Rational Detachment as a light that can help you see out of a tough situation. It puts a larger view of the circumstances into focus so that you’re not stuck in your own assumptions, worries, or fears. We all have those emotions, but they don’t have to win out. We can find the bright spot in a gloomy situation and see the way to reach our destination.

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