Stuff it. The world’s simplest theory of interpersonal relationships might just lie in the “Stuff Theory”. The author knows no specific academic to credit with this groundbreaking, highly accessible and life changing theory. Someone needs to be applauded for it though. It works.
The Stuff Theory moots that between us all, there is stuff: my stuff, your stuff, our stuff and just stuff. In this theory, ‘I’ enter any interaction with another person mindful that I bring ‘my stuff’ to the engagement. My health, my family circumstance, my personal economic or work pressures, my hurts and my values form ‘my stuff’. I may be full of the joys of Spring or perhaps be irritable and snappy, depending on what is going on in my life. None of my behaviours have anything to do with another person. My choices, actions and reactions are in my gambit of control. It’s my stuff.
Take, for example, that I am anxious by disposition. I may become demanding and want attention from a colleague around a matter that bothers me but is not actually urgent. I want immediate gratification so that my anxiety settles. Truthfully, that colleague has no obligation to appease me. He or she can set limits, contain my demands or ‘hold up the mirror’ even. The anxiety is my stuff and the issue is no one else’s to prioritise. My stuff is my problem. I must own it.
Then, there is ‘your stuff’. Like my stuff is mine, your stuff is yours. Your circumstances, your mood and your pressures are all yours, and I am not responsible for these. Hopefully, I will interact with you kindly and with empathy, but I may not take your issues on as my own.
By way of example, you are often late to work. You enjoy late nights out with your friends. This means that you often oversleep and get off to a disorganised start each morning. You rely on a carpool but you haven’t contributed to the petrol for months so your fellow commuters won’t pick you up any more. You must catch the bus. Towards the end of the month, you have no money for the bus fare as you spent it all on those jeans you saw on Superbalist’s special promotion. Your employer, confronts you firmly. When you start hating on her, she reminds you that your bad habits and disorganisation compromise the wellbeing and productivity of the whole team and you can’t make your problems theirs.
‘Our stuff’ is the ‘oft forgotten category. Our stuff is what we share.
Let’s think about the context around us when we are framing this theory. Globally, society is grappling with deeply sensitive matters, injustices and other abhorrences. Discussions get heated quickly. Our differences in terms of politics, religion, ideology and customs might bring tensions to our engagements. When we feel tensions between us, we need to consider that the issues are not only your stuff and my stuff, but our stuff. We are a collective. We need to own our stuff and sit with the discomfort when we deal with it. Sometimes, if we listen, reflect and reframe, we will alter our first reaction. We will take greater ownership for our community, for our stuff. Perhaps, a positive quality of South Africans is that we “go there”. We speak up. We confront one another. We make memes and Nandos adverts in a race to beat Zapiro’s witty cartoon of the week.
Then there is ‘just stuff’. This is the category for matters beyond our control. It is what it is.
Think about floods, pandemics, violent storms and other natural disasters. Consider magnificent sunsets, cool breezes and soaking rains. There’s good weather, bad weather and then just ‘weather’ weather. Think about raising child with a disability or the fragility of old age. Think about power outages and wi-fi connectivity problems. This is all ‘just stuff’. Maybe someone somewhere could have reduced the impact of these occurrences or could have assisted in a more useful manner, but it very likely isn’t the person in front of you at any given moment. Don’t blame yourself. Don’t blame others either. Don’t blame the country. Your stamina and resilience through the hard times that ‘just stuff’ brings will strengthen with acceptance.
The lockdowns in this pandemic bring a perfect storm of stuff – mine, yours, ours and just stuff. Pushed and pressured as we are, we must stop-think-act before we blur all the boundaries. We must self-regulate. Let’s choose to be kind as a default position. Let’s extend grace one to another. If we, as adults, can model accountability and responsibility, community and care to our children, the torrid events of early the ‘20s will give future generations a positive framework for life and living together. And that might just be a gift.