Sometimes I’m happy I took the trip to Abilene

Are you familiar with the Abilene Paradox? It’s the anecdote told by George Washington University Professor Jerry B. Harvey in his article: The Abilene Paradox: The Management of Agreement, originally published in 1974. Often used to define group think, it recounts the story of a Texas family that takes a long, hot, drive in a car without air conditioning to eat dinner in a town no one wanted to visit because everyone was reticent to express their concerns and preferences. Usually, the Abilene Paradox is used to encourage people to express dissent in organisations to raise concerns rather than “go with the flow.”

Mack Eplen's Restaurant, Abilene, Texas; Abilene Paradox
Source: Boston Public Library’s Flickr Photostream

I had an “Abilene moment” a few weeks ago but I’m glad I took the trip. Late on Saturday morning, my husband suggested we call friends to invite them over that evening. I’d been working a lot of overtime and neglecting friends and family; so, while I was looking forward to a quiet evening at home, I thought he was looking forward to a social occasion. I said “great idea” and left the message.

The day filled with family activities, chores (including the deceivingly tiring cleaning out of toy boxes and bookshelves) and errands. So  when our friends didn’t call back by dinner time, I was secretly relieved and already thinking about my fuzzy slippers. Then, they phoned from another town at 6:30 to say they could come in an hour. Despite my husband’s now furrowed brow and my getting-cranky kids, I brightly and a little falsely said “sure!” because what was a good idea in the morning should still be a good idea in the evening, right? I also didn’t want to back-out if our friends were looking forward to it.

When they arrived at 8:00 pm it was already my daughter’s bed-time. With the drinks barely poured, our friends divulged that they had spent all day shopping at the huge, self-serve, big-box furniture store and were pretty tired.

I was pretty sure we were in Abilene!

Then something wonderful happened. We played a game. Shared a snack and some stories. I put my daughter to bed a tad later so she could enjoy the visit and still be a reasonable human being the next day. Then, promptly at ten, our friends jumped up and said they had to pick up their thirteen-year-old who had refused the trip to Abilene and opted for a visit with his friend. Their visit was short, long overdue and vastly superior to tv and fuzzy slippers.

Sometimes, it’s worth the trip to Abilene. It becomes the stuff of family lore or a surprising change from the routine. You don’t want to be a doormat or to go against your values or best judgement, but sometimes it’s okay to go with the flow and be open to the possibilities. You might have fun. You might learn something new.

Have you ever been to Abilene? What happened while you were there? Send me a post card!

P.S. If you’re looking for a fascinating little escape, visit the Boston Public Library’s Flickr Stream.

Published by Dominique O'Rourke

Public Affairs professional, City Councillor, MA Leadership graduate, problem solver and lifelong learner.

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