Thank you, IRS: Lessons in freedom and flexibility

Have you ever noticed that large, rigid trees get uprooted or snapped during hurricanes? It’s the palm trees that survive: They can flex their heads all the way to the dirt and snap back up every time. It’s the water inside of them that makes the magic. It flows and feeds the tree’s resiliency from end to end. What if truth is our water?


Fear is like a lethal gas. It wisps in, often unnoticed. It likes to masquerade as other things, lurking at times behind things like:

  • Righteous indignation
  • Controlling behavior
  • Aggressive behavior
  • Rigid dogma
  • Criticism
  • Bullying tactics
  • Fierce competitiveness
  • “Us” v. “Them” politics
  • Domination over collaboration

Fear makes us fragile. It prompts us to crawl up inside ourselves, disconnecting from the very resources that could help us escape it. Fear isolates us. Fear shames us and makes us think that it is not safe to look at the full truth of who we might find ourselves to be.

And therein lies the paradox: Fear keeps us from looking at our truth, but until we do, we cannot become freed up to be our true selves.

Truth. Truth is faithful. It only cuts us when something needs to be cut away. When we fight, it cuts harder, because our fear needs to be cut away too. Then that very same truth moves us toward becoming not just whole, but more of who have always had the potential to be. We can’t afford to be afraid of what truth reveals.

A “paradox” is so much more than just two wiener dogs sometimes.
Resistance is Futile We humans tend to resist things that we think will hurt. What we are really resisting is the unknown. When we resist assumed impending physical pain, the rigidity that creates in our bodies magnifies pain. It can even create much greater damage.

This is why drunk drivers in car accidents suffer significantly fewer injuries than the sober people they hit. With the discernment and reaction centers of the brain slowed by alcohol, these drivers aren’t “plugged in” well enough to resist. Their bodies are therefore looser, and they tend to roll with impact much better than sober people. (Before you go using my blog as an excuse to get drunk, bear in mind that the accidents I’m describing would not have even happened if the person had not been drinking. Do. Not. Even.)

When we resist emotional pain, we become rigid in our thinking. We try to brace our minds against a perceived threat, just like most sober people instinctively try to brace their bodies in very detrimental ways when they believe their car is about to be hit. Rigid trees can’t bend with storm winds: They can only break.
Should, Have To, Must… and the IRS I talk about trading “should,” “have to,” and “must” for “choose to” quite often. I do this for a whole lot of reasons: Maintaining internal locus of control, more authentic and effective decision-making, and also, to resist harmful rigidity.

I’d like the thank the IRS for giving us this easy example: If my internal rule is that I “have to” file and pay my taxes on time, every year, no matter what, I will be so rigid that I might dedicate time and energy that really does need to go to something else, to my taxes. For example, healing from sickness, being present for a loved one in crisis, finishing a project for work that could profoundly affect my continued employment. Who can use my time better?

Not only can the IRS wait; They have forms and processes all set up because they know some of us won’t file by the deadline. Guess what happens if you file your taxes late and don’t pay them right away if you owe them money? Not much.

  • If you recognized before midnight of Tax Day that you couldn’t do your taxes and simultaneously recover from pneumonia, you could have filed an extension request. Sometime around October the IRS would catch up to and say, “Oh, ok, no problem. We’ll just tack a small fine on. Hope you got them in here somewhere… by October 17th?” (I have good insider intel that indicates that the IRS is formidably disorganized.)
  • If you didn’t file an extension and just get it in late, guess what happens? Pretty much the same thing. And, if you don’t have the money, they will happily set up a perfectly reasonable payment plan with you. (Why wouldn’t they? They get more money that way.)

“Therefore, choose life…” (Biblical reference… don’t mind me.) Guess what happens if you don’t take care of yourself when you’re sick? What happens to your relationship with your friend in need if you choose to give your energy to the IRS instead of to your friend? If that work project doesn’t get done and you get fired? Well… At least you’ll probably pay less in taxes next year.

If we make a rigid, fear-based decision, it will likely cost a whole lot more than we assumed the “have to,” the “should” or the “must” would, whether literally, figuratively or both.

You have nothing to lose by stepping away from fear to make an honest choice about any given situation, even with things much more consequential than taxes. If something really is not your best choice, you won’t make that choice.

Which Brings Us to (Hidden) Shame What?!?!? Yes, seriously. This is one of the places that the odorless (and truly tasteless) noxious gas of shame has infiltrated the system. Why do we motivate ourselves with fearful shoulds, have to’s and musts? Because we are still unconsciously buying into the lie of shame. We think we can’t be trusted to make good choices without a rigid and demanding semi-external code.

Remember what I said about truth up there at the beginning of the blog? Instead of accepting the truth that we can think the unthinkable, the unloving, the selfish and unkind, we swiftly and unconsciously smash off those thoughts and everything around them with should, have to and must. It’s just not precise enough.

We assume that certain choices are selfish that might not be. We assume lack of moral code – for example, not filing and paying one’s taxes by the deadline. But which is more loving? Caring for a friend, or tending to an IRS deadline?

Bludgeoning Ourselves in Lieu of Surgery Shame is like one of those big medieval clubs with the spikes all over it. It doesn’t just address the small part of the issue that could use some moral decision-making. Instead of excising some unhealthy tissue, it destroys our arm entirely.

As it turns out, there are no Thought Police. Considering anything and everything does not mean that you will do anything or everything. It’s more like you’ve whipped out a magnifying glass and sharp, precise scalpel so that you can healthfully determine which thoughts need to stay and which can be cut away.

Fear, Truth, Shame and Freedom I’m not going to tell you to be fearless: Fear is an important early-warning system. There are some things that are dangerous and would best be avoided. However, unless we are shameless, (see more on “shame” versus “guilt” here,) we can’t face the important truths in front of us from edge to edge. Without candid, stark truth, we don’t have enough data to make appropriately flexible decisions that truly honor our character and best intentions in any given exchange.

If we learn to trust our discernment, we can sift through the data making the healthiest possible decisions for the moment we are in. That… is freedom.

Go be free. (Even if you didn’t file your taxes on time.)

Is rigid thinking stealing your freedom, your peace, and your ability to make the best decisions you can for your life? Contact Tiffany today. Let’s talk!