Monday, March 8th, 2021

R Shopper Columns


A group of us experienced an amazing interpersonal exercise during a seminar, and what we learned from the exercise was an eye opener. A Navy Chaplain gave each of us pieces of a puzzle along with a blank sheet of paper. We were told to study our puzzle pieces looking for clues as to what the larger picture was on the puzzle box.

When each of us had completed our tasks, the Chaplain organized us into small groups. We pooled our pieces and drawings. As a group, we searched for clues that would reveal the larger picture.

After much discussion, our group drew the picture of what we thought was on the puzzle box. I was convinced that our small group had drawn the correct picture because I believed we had discovered the correct clues.

When all the groups were finished drawing their pictures, each group presented their picture and told why they thought they had the correct clues. Then the Chaplain showed us the puzzle box picture.

We were shocked! We had completely missed it! How could we be so wrong? It was obvious that we had misread the clues; consequently, we had the wrong concept of the big picture. Each of us may have the wrong picture of life because we have the wrong clues! If we have a distorted view of what life is, we may be missing a happy and satisfying life.

Leaving the seminar, we were wondering if we had a true picture of life, ourselves and others. One insight gained from this seminar was that not only individuals can be wrong about life's puzzle box top but also, more frightening, so can whole groups of people! So the question that challenges us is: How do we know if we have the right clues?

If we have chosen the wrong clues, there is a huge chance that we have misread the actions of others towards us and have formed a wrong picture of who we think they are. The danger is that we are letting a hurtful action toward us say everything about that person. Their hurtful action has become what we believe to be their life's puzzle-box top.

When we think about or tell how someone has hurt or disappointed us, we focus on the infraction and assign evil intent and personality. By focusing on the hurt, we may be missing the other clues that point to good things the person has done.

We could have the wrong clues about others, about ourselves and about life because of our insecurities, our unrealistic expectations, and prejudices. These things can cloud our ability to select the correct clues. The result is that we will draw the wrong picture on life's puzzle-box top.

And so we come back to the original question: How do we know when we have the right clues?

Dr. William E. Austin is a licensed psychotherapist and holds a Doctor of Divinity degree. He is a therapist with Tidewater Pastoral Counseling Services . He is well known for his warmth and sense of humor. His book, Creating Our Safe Place - Articles on Healthy Relationships, can be purchased through

Tidewater Pastoral Counseling: 623-2700