Monthly Archives: July 2016

Responsibility or Blame?

Our country has veered into an environment of blame and obstruction of anyone or anything that doesn’t fit our view of the world. This past week it’s become even more violent. There appears to be no concept that it’s OK to disagree about ideas, or to allow others to their own beliefs.

I keep hearing cries of making America great again, and wanting to go back to the way things were.  My belief when I hear this is that people want to go back to a time when white straight males had all the power. Well, I’m old.  I grew up in the 50’s & 60’s, and I remember those times.  They weren’t much better than things are now, unless you’re a straight, white male who feels disenfranchised because there are other groups who are gaining some personal power and ability to move up corporate and social ladders. (I don’t mean to imply that all straight white males feel this way.  I know many who recognize moving forward is a positive direction)

But there is one thing that I see that was better back then.  Adults seemed to have the ability to be more respectful to each other, and not play immature games of putting each other down if they disagreed. These days, seeing others as equal human beings is being touted as “political correctness.”  By using that phrase, it seems to give the speaker permission to continue with racial and derogatory remarks.  Not that there wasn’t racism and inequality in the past.  We all know that has always, and will, in the foreseeable future, be an issue.  But I do wish we could go back to an atmosphere of decorum.

I believe we each need to take personal responsibility for our own lives, and I encourage that with my clients.

Some people get it pretty early and become active in confronting their issues – acknowledging and accepting the reality of what is going on. Once they accept reality, they can move on and feel better relatively quickly.

Others take a little longer, and I can usually tell if that is going to be the case during the first session. How? Much like our elected officials, they are more comfortable with “blame” than with “responsibility”. They blame others for their problems, or they blame themselves and continually beat themselves up emotionally, staying caught up in the intellectual violence of their story. They are more invested in being “right” than in being happy and peaceful.  This keeps them entrenched in the problem, and unless they get out of that mindset, the problem wins – nothing changes – or it gets worse.

Blame is defined as “the action of assigning responsibility for a fault”. The use of the word “fault” implies the negativity of blaming, whether it’s blaming someone else or ourselves.

Responsibility is “the state of being accountable for something; the opportunity or ability to act independently and make decisions without external authorization”.  Another definition: “a moral obligation to behave correctly toward or in respect of . . .”

Responsibility starts with the willingness to experience ourselves as the cause. Responsibility is not a burden, fault, praise, blame, credit, shame or guilt. As implied in the above definition of blame, all of these include judgments and evaluations of good and bad, right and wrong or better and worse. They are not responsibility.

Responsibility also begins with the ability to deal with a situation from the point of view, whether conscious or not, that we are each the source of what we are, what we do, and what we have. This point of view can even extend to include what is done to us – from the perspective that we all put ourselves into situations or around people that will take advantage of us – or around those who will respect and honor us. I understand that this can be viewed as a controversial topic, and won’t go too far into this aspect of it. Certainly I’m not saying that victims of abuse (for example) are responsible for their own abuse and the perpetrator has no responsibility. What I am saying is that we develop patterns from early childhood that draw us to specific situations and people that can eventually be unhealthy for us. In order to break these patterns, we must recognize this and work to understand what within us needs to change.

So again, responsibility is a context of seeing ourselves as the source of our attitudes, feelings, behavior and life. If we are the source, then we are at least able to manage how these turn out. We cannot be responsible for others, but we can be responsible to others, for who we are and for our response to others.

I want to believe that most of our elected officials started out responsibly wanting to improve things, regardless of their politics.  But somewhere many of them lost sight of the difference between responsibility and blame.  Maybe we need to require them to take an emotional stability test before they’re allowed to run for office?

Let me never fall into the vulgar mistake of dreaming that I am persecuted whenever I am contradicted.

-Ralph Waldo Emerson



As I reported last week, my recent experience of having to walk with a boot and occasionally use a walker or wheelchair has opened my eyes to the difficulties faced by handicapped people every day. I’ve always tried to be compassionate, and to imagine how it must feel to have to deal with the constant difficulty of getting around in a world that doesn’t always seem to care how things affect the disabled.  But when you’re placed in that role, even for a while, and you have to experience it, reality sinks in.  For instance (and I know this is a very small deal compared to what people have to deal with every day – but it woke me up), my husband and I have been season ticket-holders at the Kansas City Starlight Theater for years.  But when we attended a show a week ago, it was the first time I realized that there is not a level spot on the floor of the venue once you enter the audience seats.  It’s very difficult to navigate a sloping floor in a wheelchair, walker or a boot.

Those of us who are typically able-bodied experience life from a place of privilege, which means we don’t have to even think about how it feels to live with a body that is not as healthy.

This mindset can be transferred to any given issue – race, gender bias, women’s rights, poverty, the daily sacrifices by our military personnel and their families, first responders, etc.

We are still reeling from all the shootings and terrorist attacks in recent months, and there seems to be no end to it.  Everyone appears to be choosing sides, and many tend to see these issues as “black or white” (no pun intended).  Because they are all horrific acts, we react emotionally to them.  I’m no exception.  I have to confess to reposting something on Face Book this week from an emotional place because the story hit me where I have had a lot of loss. The message was appropriate, but the picture was taking a stab at “the other side” in a negative way.  Luckily, a couple of friends saw it, and helped me come back to my senses and I deleted it.

My usual stance on social media is to look for the positive stories, even in the midst of the hateful or sad ones.  The stories where people are coming together, showing love when they have every right to want revenge; stories about people stepping up to help victims; or articles that help remind us to stop and think before we act or speak.

All of these events stem from not being able to meet each other where we are; from not looking the other person in the eye with curiosity and compassion, rather than judgment; from not being able to at least wonder what it might be like to be in his/her shoes.

There was a show on cable T V several years ago called 30 Days by Morgan Spurlock that I loved.  He placed people in a family or group that had completely opposite views or belief systems for a month so they would become immersed into that group’s lifestyle.  It was amazing to watch the transformation.   One of my favorites was when a man, who was politically conservative, and didn’t trust anyone who didn’t look and think like him, was placed with a Muslim family for a month.  He had to practice the values of the family, go to religious services and actively participate in the family’s daily activities. By the end of the show, the man and the family understood each other better and he had made friends with others in their community.

I believe I’m fortunate because, as a therapist, I see my job as being able to crawl behind the client’s eyes to see the world the way (s)he does.  But I also have to maintain enough objectivity to be able to suggest alternative ways to look at things, to encourage that person to think outside the box. I’ve always tried to do this personally also, but it’s difficult when we don’t know much about that person’s experiences.

That’s where curiosity comes in.  It distances us a bit from the judgment we tend to jump to when something happens.  If we can be curious about what really happened and open to talking to AND listening to others who we know have dissimilar views, we might not feel so separated from each other.

When I work with clients on communication, I remind them that the purpose of an argument is NOT to prove who’s right or wrong.  It’s to come to a middle ground where we can both win.  Curiosity helps us do that. All any of us really want is to be understood.

If we attempt to understand the other person, what they have gone through prior to the argument or event, and how our actions or words might affect their lives, it’s more possible to come to an agreement.  Immediate judgment does not allow that.  Curiosity does.  It also takes good communication skills – actually being able to verbalize a view in a rational manner and then actively listen to what the other is saying, rather than thinking about how I’m going to defend myself the entire time we’re talking!

We’ve become a society of sound bites and memes on the internet.  Those don’t solve anything.  They might incite a reaction – and occasionally remind us we need to think before we react, but they don’t tell the whole story!

I hope you’ll join me in making every effort to stop and recognize when we might be coming from a place of privilege; think and question what is possibly under the surface of those in a different position before we act.



A Lesson in Humility

I’ve written about this before, but as we all do, I’m constantly learning lessons on this being human thing.

Many of you know that I had foot surgery a few weeks ago. It was originally scheduled for several weeks earlier, so I would be a little further along in my healing process by last weekend, because I had scheduled myself to be at a weekend spiritual retreat.  But, the surgery had to be rescheduled, and my doctor insisted when I was in crowds, I needed to use a wheelchair. So I rented one and went to the retreat, knowing only one other person who had registered – and we had only met on Facebook. I also knew the speaker prior to this, but I figured she might be a little busy to help me get around. I typically walked with my big heavy boot and a walker, but I knew we were to eat meals at a place that is approximately the equivalent of a couple of blocks from the conference room, and I also knew the boot & walker would make it difficult for me to get that far, especially considering I would have no way to carry a tray of food & drink, etc.

Anyone who knows me at all, knows that I am a very independent person who kids myself into believing I can be self-sufficient.  I also like to have my ducks in a row ahead of time.  I’ve come to understand that most of us rely on structure in our daily lives. We unconsciously believe that if we stay in our typical daily routine, we know what will happen.  That’s silly, of course, but we’re creatures of habit and feel safer in the familiar. As Suzanne Giesemann, our speaker for this retreat, would say: That’s our own BS (Belief System) that has been pre-programmed.

I think most people have difficulty asking for help – and going to the retreat only knowing the one person (kind of), the old Patti would have been very anxious about “How am I going to do this?!” But I have at least partially learned my lesson about the need to allow myself to be vulnerable enough to just take my chances.  I kept saying, “It’s a spiritual retreat! Someone will step up to help me, and I know if I were on the other side of this I would LOVE to be there for someone in my position. So I need to allow the other participants the opportunity to give from the heart.”

I’m not saying it was easy. That helpless feeling swept over me when I was sitting there in the wheelchair, either trying to get through a door, or while holding my dinner tray, etc waiting for one of my new friends to step up. (I don’t know anyone who enjoys feeling helpless). And then there were the times when I was being pushed and the “driver” apparently couldn’t see that we were heading right toward a huge wastebasket full of stuff – or the wall! Total powerlessness!

But the weekend was probably more fun than it would have been if I’d gone with friends. I met more people from all over the country, and got to know them at a much deeper level than I would have otherwise.  Everyone who offered to help gave me a piece of themselves as we talked on the trip to/from the dining hall or the outdoor closing ceremony; and I shared a piece of myself with them.

I’m reminded of a quote I read years ago in Tuesdays with Morrie.  “Accept what you are able to do and what you are not able to do.”  So many of us feel “less than” when we are the ones who “need” instead of the “giver.”  But again, one of the discussions in our retreat was that all those human emotions are just that – human.  If we learn to change the channel to our center, we step into the spiritual side of ourselves, where there is no fear, anxiety, helplessness, etc.  There is only Love.

We can’t be responsible FOR others, but in being compassionate and responsible TO EACH OTHER, we generate love.  So do whatever you can to help someone.  The smallest thing can make their world a better one.  When they are able, they can pass it on and help someone else. And if you are the one who needs help, remember don’t think of yourself as a burden.  You might share a piece of yourself with the other person that they may need more than you know.

If everyone was there for everyone else, we wouldn’t be fighting terrorists and hateful, narcissistic politicians who want to isolate us from the rest of humanity.  We would just be Love.





Since we celebrate Independence Day this weekend, I thought I’d elaborate on the quality of independence.  This time of year, especially in an election year, there’s a lot of talk about patriotism.  While I am extremely grateful to be a citizen of the USA, I don’t agree with many who seem to believe that one simple fact makes us better than anyone else. We have a lifestyle of abundance exceeding that of people in many other countries and even though the economy has had it’s dips in recent years, most Americans have more material goods than we need.  We have the most powerful armed services and our constitution has influenced many other democratic nations – the list of what we have goes on.  And yes, I’m proud to be an American, but I see myself more as a citizen of the Universe.

While independence has always been extremely important to Americans, I believe it’s another of those values we tend to assume without really considering what it means. Many of us live in such privilege, that we are not able to see the more intricate facets of how others have to struggle just to gain or maintain equality. My purpose today is to focus on each of us as individuals, and then look at how that relates to our societal memes.  (Not to be confused with images and comments on the internet, what I’m referring to here is a cultural concept that is replicated to the point that it is taken on by the masses as truth).

Our society values independence and separateness. While I strongly encourage my adult clients to avoid allowing themselves to be dependent on others whenever possible (financially, physically, emotionally or spiritually), that doesn’t necessarily mean they should be independent. From a distance, an independent person appears powerful, free and strong.  But independence is not necessarily a strength. On the contrary, it typically stems from a wound.  Independence is inspired, not by love, but fear; and not by wholeness, but aloneness.

Independence is unnatural.  We’re easily fooled, because we look like individual people, with different backgrounds, lifestyles, color of skin, beliefs and experiences.  But independence is unnecessary – and it doesn’t work.

So how how does someone look who is too independent?  She becomes exhausted because she insists on being self-sufficient.  He’s too proud to accept help and would never ASK for help.  Intimacy is unfamiliar and scary.  (It’s impossible to be independent AND intimate).  He may look “cool”, but that’s because he’s cut off from his feelings.  She thinks being single is being free, but in reality she’s lonely and fears commitment.

If an independent person has a problem. she tries to fix it or heal on her own.  She might buy a self-help book, but God forbid she should open up to another person!  He’s in competition with everyone because he won’t truly join with anyone to reach a goal.

So if we don’t want complete independence, and we don’t want to be totally dependent on others, what do we do?

The healthiest stance is interdependence.  Interdependence implies connection and partnering.  It means being open to other ways to look at a situation and not always insisting on being “right.” Interdependence requires at least two whole people who can stand on their own, but they come together because they want the connection – and they see that they can accomplish more together.  There may be times when one has to totally rely on the other, but the primary mindset is that they are equal partners.

Our primary purpose for life on earth is to experience the contrast of this dimension; and to live fully. It’s through relationships that we learn best about ourselves.  In the discomfort of misunderstandings with others, we can learn about our own issues and mistakes.  That is if we are brave enough to get outside our comfort zone and look inward responsibly, rather than always at our partner for blame.

Our predecessors felt constrained and wounded by the rule of the British Empire so they fought for independence.  They had a vision of how they could thrive with a different set of values that encompassed coming together for the common good, voting and paying their fair share to support each other so the country could continue to grow. Those values are what keep us strong still, but we can’t lose sight of those original life-affirming and non-divisive values (not only for each other, but as the world has become more interconnected to partner with others around the globe).  If we each seek to do that individually, our country  and the world will naturally continue to improve as a safe-haven for everyone.

I hope you each have a safe and happy 4th – collectively!