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Bowen Close juices an orange in November 2014 at her home in Madison.

There is an old riddle that asks, “What do you get when you squeeze an orange?”

Don’t think too hard. The answer is orange juice. What comes out is what’s inside. No mystery. No trick questions. Just an old obvious observation turned into a metaphor for life.

My friend who teaches sociology and I were talking about this many years ago. We heard it from Wayne Dyer, and I can’t say if it is his original or comes from something more ancient and exotic than recent self-help books. I also don’t know which decade we both started using that concept in our classrooms, since Dyer wrote more than 40 books on motivation, human development and self-awareness.

I used the concept in a number of ways. One way was just to say, don’t expect things to be different when you keep repeating the same activity. If you squeeze an orange, you will always get orange juice. Stop expecting apple juice. What comes out is what is inside. Period. It will come out the same every time.

But there is the other message. The one that Dwyer wrote and spoke about.

This message is simple and powerful. When someone puts pressure on you, metaphorically squeezing you, or when you are in a compromising situation, what comes out? Is it anger? Is it fear, anxiety, bitterness? What comes out is what is inside.

When someone hurts or offends you, when you are being criticized, what is your first reaction? Is it retaliation and counterattack? If that is the common and most-used knee jerk reaction, it is probably what is displayed.

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Here is where it gets more interesting and applicable to human behavior and behavior modification. There is a choice. You get to choose what kind of reaction you have by pausing, reflecting and changing initial responses. You get to change what is inside of you.

Unlike the orange, which will never produce grapefruit juice or better yet, wine, you get to replace your inside feelings.

This is one of the many reasons so many people loved Dyer. He started out as a high school guidance counselor, went through the whole self-actualization period and ended up with books, lectures all around the country, guest appearances on talk shows, and PBS specials. He went from writing “Your Erroneous Zones,” to speaking about guilt, to carrying a message of spirituality, all while sharing great lessons of life.

The criticism came early about plagiarism and cult-like followers, but that was the inside of others coming out. Yes, there were earlier researchers like psychologist Albert Ellis who wrote about those same things that we studied in college, but Dyer made it available, readable, and applicable to daily life. That should count for something.

And his orange as a prop on stage? It made the point. I don’t believe he ever marketed “Don’t Be an Orange” T-shirts. But he could have, and they would have sold.

The problem with the orange example might be that it is difficult for all of us not to return to whatever old responses we have when under pressure. Nickel titanium also is known as nitinol and has the unique property of pseudo elasticity, or shape memory. It bends at low temperature but regains its original form when heated. In the human behavior analogy, it means that people too can return to their original state when under pressure, stress and anxiety. Dyer either didn’t think of that fly in the ointment or really, truly believed that people and behavior can change. Let’s stick with oranges and leave nickel alloys out of the equation.

An orange cannot change its thoughts, having none to change, but you can. Changing your life by changing what’s inside isn’t easy, but it is sure better that being compared to an orange.

Kay Stellpflug is an educator and trainer in interpersonal and professional communications. She works and lives in Beaver Dam and can be reached at kaystellpflug@gmail.com.

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