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From Scared One to Sacred One

The ‘scared one’ inside the psyche is in a state of constant vigilance.  He/She is constantly scanning the environment, both external and internal (inside the mind) for potential attackers.  Therefore the ‘scared one’ expends large amounts of energy maintaining a secure perimeter.  Should someone get too close, an automatic alarm response is triggered and defenses are fortified.  This reaction allows the ‘scared one’ to stay safe behind the walls built to protect him/her.

This also means, however, that we often feel alone, isolated and separate even though we are around other people.  The walls built to provide us with safety and security, to protect us, are in fact, prison walls.

We survive our lives in psychological cells tapping out sounds that we hope someone, someday will decipher as an S.O.S.  But when a liberator comes, when someone listens past the words, we hear ourselves say; “Did I say that?  I didn’t say that!  I didn’t mean it that way.  I’m fine.  I can handle it!”

But what we mean is tap, tap, tap tap tap, tap, tap. . .don’t believe me, keep probing, just don’t let anyone else know.  Ask me another way.  And we just keep putting out the Same Old Shit!!

To compensate for our feelings of inadequacy, we project images of adequacy.  The ‘scared one’ doesn’t want to be seen as inadequate so to compensate, he/she projects a (+) plus so as not to risk being seen as a (-) minus.

So we dress for success as we act like we’re on top of things, showing “no fear” even though our knees are knocking, and we don’t have a clue what to do next.  This adolescent approach to life can last until a significant emotional event shatters the status quo.  Even then, it’s amazing how long we can hold on to the old habitual response patterns.

A dear friend told me about a family tragedy.  His brother’s son committed suicide.  When he talked to his brother, who, by the way, never even called him after this loss, said, “I’m doing all right.  In my line of work, I’ve had a lot of experience with this.”  His brother worked in law enforcement.

The ‘scared one’ inside always stays safe.  Even people we see as powerful, people that are leaders in their fields have a ‘scared one’ trying to maintain a public posture that compensates.  We see them as confident and secure when, in actuality, they are hiding behind their protective facades. 

To risk exposure, to let down their guard, could open the flood gates and the world would rush in to take advantage of their vulnerability.

I recently did some consulting work with a Fortune 500 company.  Prior to doing a presentation, I was visiting with the leader of the group that hired me.  He was in charge of the largest group in the country and had earned his position through results obtained in former roles.  He is a driver and a star performer.

We were discussing the agenda for the day.  I suggested some risk-taking on his part, letting people see another side of him.  His response was interesting.  “These people have never seen the real me.  I’m not like this.  In fact, my own family has never seen the real me.  It is only with a few people that I feel safe enough to relax and let down my guard.  Most people don’t know what I’m like.”

He feels trapped and stressed out to the point that he wonders what effects on his health might accrue.  His company recently reorganized, and he is feeling the pressure of his increased responsibilities and the need for results.

By the way, when I queried about results to date, he said they were at 97% of goal in one area and exceeding goal in all other areas.  But, he said, for the first time in his life he questioned whether it was worth the price he was paying.  He also said that his family had noticed the strain, and he questioned the job he was doing at home as husband and father.

He had not taken more than a week’s vacation in many years though his position and tenure with the company provided him with much more time off.  Here is a man who grabbed the brass ring and is making the “big bucks,” yet he hasn’t reached a critical mass of success that would allow him to break out of his self-constructed prison and feel safe enough to reveal himself to the world.

I don’t think this business leader is that different than many successful business people.  I think a great deal of wealth has been built by people compensating for their ‘scared one.’  The drive to succeed, to prove value and worth to the world often comes from the ‘scared one’s’ need to compensate for feelings of inadequacy.

The problem is, that vacuum inside the psyche can never be filled from the outside-in.  He will never reach the critical mass of success, wealth or notoriety needed to allow him to open up.  As long as it’s a matter of how much, it will never be enough. 

It is only when you quit caring about the score, that you win this game.  Then you can do what Rumi suggested, “Go start some huge foolish project like Noah.  It makes absolutely no difference what people think of you.”

When we quit defending the perimeter, when we let go of our concern for our image in the eyes of others, we discover how much energy we were consuming.  The leak plugged, that energy now becomes available for “huge foolish projects.”

Although we all have feelings of inadequacy, it doesn’t mean we’re inadequate.  When we stop being paranoid and defensive, the energy available is enormous.  We tap into a reservoir , or better yet, a stream, a flow of something life-giving, nourishing, potent.

You see, we not only have a ‘scared one’ inside, we also have a ‘sacred one.’   The ‘sacred one’ has limitless possibilities for growth and development.  Seeded within each of us is a radiant core that we can mine.  This ore is not “fool’s gold.”   It is the real thing!  Though, when tapped and brought forward into the field of action, the world may see us as foolish.

This type of leader sees him/herself as a servant.  This leader doesn’t win by intimidation using the evil twin of the ‘scared one,’ ‘the Big One,’ to squeeze performance out of people.  This leader knows who is in hiding in his/her own psyche and so knowing has learned much about those he/she leads and serves.

This dual knowledge, the knowledge of the paradoxical nature of the human psyche allows this leader to serve with awareness.  With this awareness, no interaction with another is aimed at reinforcing feelings of inadequacy.  To the contrary, the energy exchange is aimed at connecting to the ‘sacred one,’ creating a psychological and social space for the expression of giftedness. 

This leader does what Goethe suggested:  “Treat people as they are and they remain that way.  Treat them as though they were what they are capable of becoming and you will help them move toward that which they are capable.”









The Dizzyness of Freedom

Our Best Kept Secret part 4

Although we all have feelings of inadequacy, that does not mean we are inadequate.

But if we are unaware that all people have those secret feelings, those feelings can have a great impact on: our behavior, on choices that we make, on our relationships and risk management in general.

This is a key concept as we continue to explore this secret we all share.  The secret is, that part of being human means having feelings of inadequacy and insecurity.  And we named that part the scared one.

The scared gal/guy inside us is risk averse.  He/she likes to repeat familiar behavior sets because doing the familiar downsizes risk.  You see, the scared one dislikes change and avoids risk.  The motto of the scared one is safety and security at all costs.  The safety provided by repeating familiar activity in the field of action equates to security for the insecure.

In doing so, he/she stays safe, hiding behind behaviors in which adequacy has been established. She/he resists change and is quite content with the status quo.  OK, maybe not content, but too scared to risk doing something new.

Doing something new, unfamiliar, or something we failed at in the past evokes anxiety.  The scared one, driven by fear, is concerned with being exposed as inadequate.  He/she is scared about not doing or saying the exact, right, perfect thing.  That anxiety is logical because we are risking being seen as inadequate if we fail.  So why take the chance?

Good question.  Why not stay safe and avoid the anxiety?  Why stress ourselves by doing things that cause such discomfort?  Why?  Because human beings are more than human animals.

We have the animal part of our nature which is concerned with any threat to survival.  But survival is not enough and animal consciousness is just one aspect of human consciousness.  It is not the whole ball of wax.  But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Let’s come back to anxiety and risk avoidance.  Kierkegaard said, “anxiety is the best educator.”  Those things that cause anxiety have something to teach us.  And, we really do want to learn.  That’s also part of human nature.

So learning is necessary if we want to have healthier relationships with others: our kids and others at home as well as others at work.  We want also to have a healthier relationship with ourselves.  We, most of us, want to be more effective at what we do and have more fun while doing it better.

One definition of insanity is to repeat the same behaviors and expect different results.  It’s nuts !  But because the final common pathway of learning is mistake-making, the scared one is anxious.  But that anxiety is what Kierkegaard called the “dizziness of freedom.”

We are no longer trapped in the metaphorical prison of the familiar.  We hold the key to unlock ourselves and experience the freedom that is unique to our species.  We are not like the panther Rilke wrote about in his poem.  Rilke visited a zoo and observed a panther over several weeks.  He saw what many of us have seen.  What does the caged jungle cat do when not sleeping or eating?  It paces back and forth in the cage.

And what does that caged cat do if a visitor tries to get his attention?  It keeps pacing.  Here is the poem, The Panther translated by Robert Bly.

        “From seeing and seeing the seeing no longer sees anything anymore,

         The world is made of bars, a hundred thousand bars and behind the bars, nothing.

         The lithe swinging of that easy rhythmical stride that slowly circles down to a single point

         Is like a dance of energy around a hub in which a great will stands stunned and numb.

         At times, a shape enters, slips past the tightened silence of the shoulders        

         Enters the heart and dies.”

The panther knows, has leaned, not to pay attention to the world outside the bars.  He has to wait for someone to unlock the prison door.  But we, fellow “scaredy cats,” live within the limits of our own choosing.

The door that connects us to our freedom opens from the inside.  There is an adventure to be lived, our own unique adventure, but we cannot have an adventure without risk.  And with risk comes stress and anxiety, the “dizziness of freedom.”

You say, “yes, but, . . .I have tried stepping out there, and fell on my face.  I took the risk of getting into a relationship . . .

. . .I took the risk of telling the boss my honest opinion. . .

. . .I took the risk of becoming vulnerable . . .

. . .and all I got was my feelings of inadequacy reinforced.”

“So, I would be crazy to try it again.”

“Maybe so, but . . .”

“But what?”

“Do you want to spend your life as a ‘scaredy cat?’”

Just kidding.  Honor that part of you that is scared.  Don’t deny the anxiety.  Accept it as part of the price of freedom.  But your feelings of inadequacy and your fears don’t have to keep you from trying again and again and again.

And if you end up with egg on your face, eat it willingly.  It is soul food.  It is fuel for growth.  You are growing as you attempt the new.  And the effort you expend, even if you get shot down, is not wasted.  It is energy spent earning new learning.

We earn our learning the old fashioned way, one mistake at a time. 

Don’t use your failures as excuses to reinforce your feelings of inadequacy.  Give yourself a break!  Use my line.  “I’m slow, but trainable.”  It may take me longer than most, but there’s nothing I can’t learn.  Just because I have feelings of inadequacy, doesn’t mean I’m inadequate.

Maybe William Blake is right, “Even the fool that persists in his folly, will become wise.” 



Avoiding Risk

We have been discussing a secret we all share, yet rarely reveal to anyone.  That is, we all have feelings of inadequacy / insecurity and we have named that part of us, the ‘scared one.’  We all have a ‘scared one’ inside.  All males, regardless of age or achievement, have a ‘scared guy’ inside.  All females, regardless of age or achievement, have a ‘scared gal’ inside.

The ‘scared one’ inside us is fully formed once we learn to be ashamed of ourselves.  This was learned from those we were dependent upon early in our development.  We learned to do things the “right way” by trial and error.  When we erred, we got our feelings of inadequacy reinforced.

“No, don’t do it like that, stupid, do it like this.”  “Come on now, pay attention.  You know better than that.”  “Come on.  You’re not using your brain.  Did your brain fall out?”

To compensate for our feelings of inadequacy, we want to show how adequate we are.

We, as parents, show how adequate we are through the performance of our children.  I mean, how many of us heard our parents say, “Now remember, when you go over there you’re a reflection on our whole family.  So don’t pick your nose or scratch yourself.  Stand up, for Pete’s sake.  Don’t slouch around like that.  How many times do I have to tell you to stand up straight?  And look at those shoes.  Aren’t you ashamed of yourself.  I told you to polish them yesterday!”

Because our children demonstrate our competence as parents we have seen bumper stickers appear on the scene.  “Proud parent of HONOR ROLL student at Maplewood School.

The unwritten message is “I am an adequate parent. Just wanted you to know so I put it on the car.”  You may have seen the take-off on these.  “My kid beat up your honor roll student.”  The unwritten statement is “I’m adequate too!”


I thought we needed another bumper sticker.  “Proud parent, regardless of their grades, my kids have an “A” in my book.”    “A” for love and acceptance, regardless of their performance on the world’s stage.  So I had them printed.( if interested)

Can we affirm, affirm, affirm our children unconditionally?  I’m not saying catch ‘em being good.  I’m saying remind them and ourselves, often, that they are radiant gems that have come through us into the world.  We have them for a short time on their journey.

We need to do everything we can to create a safe, loving environment for learning.  For learning is required for them to be able to take their place in the larger community.  Learning is required for them to have the internal where-with-all to thrive in the jungle that is the world.

And the final common pathway for learning is mistake-making.  When mistakes happen, we need to focus on the learning that is gained rather than the mistake that is made.  We don’t want to reinforce our child’s feelings of inadequacy, but we do want our children to learn new things.  And anything worth learning, is worth failing at.

You see, the ‘scared one’ inside us feels safe when doing what is familiar.  Repeating behaviors in which we have already established adequacy allows the ‘scared one’ to feel secure, to feel safe.  Safety and security are the most important elements to the risk averse ‘scared one’.

To do the new or novel is to put the ‘scared one’ in a position where there is a high risk.  If we risk failing at the task or if we try a new behavior in response to familiar stimuli, the ‘scared one’ risks exposure.  So there is a great deal of psychological inertia that has to be overcome to break out of old patterns, even if they don’t work anymore.

As for children, their gaze is upon us.  They watch us and model what they see.  How much healthy risk taking do they see?  Let’s say some change happens at work.

By the way, have you noticed there are a few changes happening at work?  Oh, I know, there are also plenty of changes happening at home.  Change is everywhere apparent.  In fact, it is the one constant in life.  Yet dealing with change is stressful.

Eric Hoffer said, “In times of change, it is the learner who inherits the earth, while the learned finds himself beautifully equipped to deal with a world that no longer exists.”

How do our children see us responding? In fact, how did we see our own parents respond when they were stressed?  Was the stressful event used as an opportunity for learning something new or an excuse to go for an unhealthy coping strategy ?  Here’s one from the past:

“Boy, you wouldn’t believe what those idiots did today!  With that kind of management, this company is in for big trouble.”

“What happened?”

“Well, everything has been going along fine.  The business is growing.  We’re making more money.  And now they want to gum up the whole works.”

“What do you mean?”

They want us to change the way we do things.  They actually want us to put everything on computer.  Do you know how long it’s gonna take.  It’s crazy.  If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.  This whole computer thing is just a fad.  It won’t last.  So we’ll switch everything over then be stuck switching back to the way we’re doing business now.  It’s nuts!

“So, what are you going to do?”

“What am I going to do!?  I’m going to fix myself a drink.  Then I’m going to fix another.  In fact, I think I’ll just mix up a pitcher.  Care to join me?”

“Sure, but dinner won’t be ready for a while, so take it easy.”

“Don’t try to tell me what to do.  And why isn’t dinner ready, yet!?  You sit around all day, the least you could do is have a man’s dinner ready when he comes home.  I’m gonna watch TV.  Call me when it’s time to eat.

“Okay.  I’m sorry.  But you don’t have to yell.  Just go in and try to forget about it.  You’re all upset.  I’ll call when dinner’s ready.”

The child observing this interaction watches in innocence.  The grownups act out unaware that their performance demonstrates psychic compensation and risk avoidance.

The father is at-risk at work because he will have to learn how to do something new.  His ‘scared guy’ felt safe doing things in which he has established adequacy.  Now he’ll have to learn something new and what if he fails?  He risks being seen as inadequate.  His anxiety is masked to others by his anger.

Feeling small, he acts out with a big voice as the evil twin of the ‘scared one’, the ‘Big One’ appears.  The ‘Big One’ only appears when we feel little.  His fears are then medicated away with alcohol after he reinforces his wife’s feelings of inadequacy by putting her down.  The TV also serves as an entertaining distraction from his interior discomfort.  It also puts control back into his own hands, albeit remote control!

Mom tries to placate her husband by apologizing even though she may have done nothing wrong.  By doing so she avoids a confrontation and models a behavior for the observing child.  The ‘scared one’ within the child needs to feel safe at home and when there is tension between the grownups invisible sensors in the child’s psyche make note.  The child feels the tension and learns from mom to avoid the risk of confrontation.  No healthy risk taking here!

There is learning, however.  First, change is bad.  Second, when change happens hold on to something familiar, that you can count on to help you cope.  Third, deny the actual reality of the situation and then you can avoid the risk of doing something unfamiliar or new.  As a good friend of mine says:

“I have two constant companions, two friends who never desert me.  No matter what happens they are always there.  I have never faced a problem, crisis or situation I couldn’t handle with their help.  Even in the middle of the night, they are there to comfort me. Those two friends?  Denial and avoidance.”

Know  ‘em?  I do.  Next time we’ll explore looking risk in the eye and see how anxiety may be the “dizziness of freedom”.



Naming Our Best Kept Secret

When last we visited, I brought out into the open a secret that we all share, regardless of our unique differences.  That secret is: we all have feelings of inadequacy and insecurity – regardless of age or achievement.  I would like to name that part as the ‘scared one.

The ‘scared one’ inside the psyche is very concerned with being exposed to the outside world.  His/her fear is that, if constant vigilance is not maintained, someone may discover the truth.  We are not what we seem.

In other words, the persona, the mask we display to the world hides the real us below, just out of sight.  We expend energy maintaining the facade to protect the ‘scared one’ within.

Here, we can see the exquisite logic of many relationship problems.

When we plumb the depths of the psyche we find the ‘scared one’ projecting images to the surface of life that compensate.  Example:  the ‘scared one’ has an evil twin, the ‘Big Guy/Gal.’  The‘Big One’ is shown to others only when we are feeling small, ie: inadequate.  The bully picks on weaker kids because they are “safe” targets.  When the bully runs into the older sibling of his/her victim, who is bigger than he/she is, the bully disappears and the ‘scared one’ is revealed.

The bully’s treatment of another is not a reflection of feelings for the other, but rather reveals feelings for self.  When I am feeling great about me, I am meek, tolerant, patient with my children.  When I am not feeling so great about me, the ‘Big Guy’ pops out of the psyche.  I hate it when that happens!  But hey, it’s just psychic compensation.

Let me give you an example.  I am the father of four children, four daughters!  They are incredible treasures.  My vocation includes traveling and working with others around the planet. I had been on the road quite a bit and returned Friday evening feeling guilty about being away from home. 

“What kind of husband and father am I anyway?!”

So, I made a plan. Saturday morning I got up with the youngest two, Jordan and Brynn, 4 and 7, and went downstairs.  I planned to occupy the young ones downstairs while Alice and Hope, the older two girls and my wife, slept in upstairs.  Then, later on when the late-sleeping beauties came down to begin their day, they would see what a great father and husband I was!  After all, I kept the little girls out of their rooms so they could enjoy awakening from their slumber at their own pace.

Things went along smoothly for a while, then the worm turned.  Brynn and Jordan had been playing quietly after eating their breakfast.  My plan was working well, when all of a sudden their play stopped and they went at each other!  Their loud battle was going to wake-up the sleepers.  So I quickly moved in to separate them.

As I was saying, “you guys need to play separately for a while, to calm and quiet down, so you don’t wake anyone up.  Then you can play together again,” Jordan walked over, picked up a bucket of Brynn’s stuff and dumped it on the floor.

I said, “hey, Jordan, I saw what you did.  It’s one thing to spill something by accident, but what you did you did on purpose.  So here’s the deal.  You can play anytime you want, after you pick up what you dumped on the floor.”  (Pretty hip parenting, don’t you think?)

But I had to add this caboose… “So why don’t you pick it up, now?”

Jordan folded her arms and stuck out her chin in defiance.  Then I knew the game had changed.  But, I also knew I had to win!  I said “Jordan, did you hear me?”

She turned her head away and stood her ground.  My voice got bigger.  “Jordan, get over there and pick up that stuff!

She didn’t budge.

With a bigger voice I heard myself say the same thing with a bigger “NOW!” at the end.  She turned her head toward me, looked me in the eye and gave me the finger!  That’s right!  She gave me the bird!

At that point, the ‘Big Guy’ in me grabbed her off the spot she defiantly held, carried her in the other room and placed her underneath the dining room table.  We didn’t spank our children.  We  could shame our children in other ways!

I couldn’t believe it.  She gave me the finger.  If I had given my father the finger, I wouldn’t have the finger!

I was justifying my abrupt handling of my daughter because of the seriousness of the offense.  But a nagging voice from inside began to force its way into my awareness.  It said, “Gee, she’s only 4 years old.  I wonder if she knows what that means?”

Do you think I wanted to hear that voice?  Heck no!  I wanted to rationalize my actions as an appropriate response to my child.

But the voice persisted.  “Gee, she’s only 4 years old.  She probably doesn’t even know what that means.”

As this voice repeated itself, I finally relented.  You know, she is only 4 years old and she probably does not know what she just did.  She is probably just repeating a gesture she has seen other kids in the neighborhood give or on TV.  Uh Oh! I just screwed up!

I walked in the other room and crawled under the table.  Jordan was sitting there holding her blanky and sucking her thumb.  I said, “Jordan, do you know what that means?”  My fingers displayed the protruding third digit.  She shook her head revealing her ignorance. 

By now I was feeling quite small anyway, but when she signaled her not-knowingness, I became minute.  I said, “Jordan, I am so sorry.  I over-reacted.  Someday I’ll explain what it means.  But it’s not nice.  I love you and I am so sorry.”

With that, the thumb came out of her mouth, a wall of tears came down her cheeks, and we embraced there under the table. 

Tears were running down my face also as we connected.  The warmth of that moment stood in stark contrast to the frigid temperature of the previous exchange.

When I thought about it later, I wondered about my behavior and how I love my children dearly, so why would I treat one so? 

Well, guess what?  It didn’t have anything to do with them.  My treatment of Jordan was a reflection of how I was feeling about me.

Remember, I wanted to be seen as a great father and husband for taking care of the youngsters Saturday morning.  Why did I need to be the hero?  Could it be I was feeling guilty about my recent absence? And, furthermore, didn’t that have something to do with my treatment of Jordan.  Feeling small, I acted Big.  If I had been feeling great about me, I would not have added the caboose.  I would have just said, “. . . you can play anytime you want, after you choose to pick up what you dumped on the floor.”

Then, if she would have begun to play prior to picking up Brynn’s stuff, all I would have had to do was clear my throat and she would have probably altered her behavior, secondary to the “observer effect.”  Her behavior would have changed just by her noticing my observation of her behavior.

Alas, I was not feeling good about me.  Worse, I was not observing myself!  But that happens.  The ‘scared one’ / ‘Big One’ has no self-observation skills.  So, he acts out on the world stage, what is unresolved in the psyche.  He is not awake.  He is asleep at the wheel.  Running on automatic pilot he will swerve off course in his relationships and can end up causing harm even to someone he loves.





Our Best Kept Secret

There are many folks talking about not just how polarized we are but how different.  And we grew up hearing that different is bad.  “Three apples and a pear.  Which one is different and doesn’t belong?  Which one is wrong?”

Hence, there is no real dialogue, no meeting of meanings.  Conversations then involve talking past each other and little listening.  After all, why listen when you’re sure you’re right?

Why?  When you’re sure you’re right you’re stuck with what you already know!  And being stuck, you can’t learn anything new.

With that in mind, now that we’re grownups we’ve heard messages telling us to honor our differences, to even learn from those different from us.  That is well and good.  It is even needed. 

Nonetheless, I want to discuss what we share in common regardless of our differences.  I will paint with a broad brush stroke a picture of human development. The vehicle is imperfect but, so is the artist.

Space limitations necessitate taking only one characteristic that we all, regardless of sexual orientation, political affiliation, gender, race, ethnicity, etc. share in common.  That characteristic I call our best kept secret.

This secret that we can’t tell anyone, save perhaps our closest friend about, can even be hidden from ourselves.  We are so close to it our own breath fogs the mirror.  So we’ll step back to allow what is, to be seen without distortion.

Imagine a newborn child, a radiant little being arriving on the scene.  This infant is totally dependent.  In fact, this beautiful child begins the longest period of dependency of any animal upon parents or parental figures.

We are not like the wildebeest.  We can’t run with the herd an hour after birth.  It takes us a couple of decades to be able to run with the herd.

This infant is born into a world where there are acceptable and unacceptable behaviors.  As an infant we don’t arrive with a script in the psyche for the social ammenities.  We have to learn our lines mistake by mistake.

Early on no one minds if we poop in our pants, spit out our food, dribble when we vocalize or even pee on people.  But over time this all changes.  And we begin to learn that there are right ways and wrong ways of doing things.

Because of our long dependency upon the grownups, because we’re not adequate to care for ourselves in the jungle that is the world, we are all going to have feelings of inadequacy.  Every little one has feelings of inadequacy and insecurity.  Every toddler, preschooler and grade schooler has these feelings.  When do they go away?

Do they go away in adolescence or in our twenties?  I know, they go away when we become parents, right?  Wrong. I bet you can see where we’re going.  Middle age is no cure nor is becoming an older or even an elderly person.  Why?

Because our feelings of inadequacy and insecurity never go away.  They are part of the fabric of being human.  And they are permanent because they were woven in early in our development when the fragile psyche was vulnerable to all environmental input without filters.

How did this happen?

Well, use your own data base of life experience.  How do parents show how adequate, how competent they are as parents?  That is demonstrated through the behavior of their children.  Therefore, the child’s behavior is put under a microscope and is expanded in importance relative to the relationship with the parental figure.

Because there is only one way of doing things in most cultures, the right way, what do parents do when children do things wrong?  They correct them, of course.  Now does this radiant little child learn to do things right upon the first correction?  Of course not.  We need repetition, repetition, repetition to learn most things.  And, guess what?  We get it.  “If I’ve told you once, I’ve told you a thousand times” (Gee, she’s told me a thousand times to chew with my mouth closed. I must really be stupid!)

Eventually, we learned the socially acceptable behavior sets.  When we performed the right behavior, perhaps someone even caught us being good, once. “Your mother and I are proud to see you chew with your mouth closed.”  Then they could focus on another flaw!

Why?  So we wouldn’t be an embarrassment to the entire family!

So, growing up, we do it wrong, we do it wrong, we do it wrong until eventually we do it right!  In the process we received much more specific negative feedback than specific positive feedback.  The grownups didn’t realize it, but they, and we, have reinforced feelings of inadequacy in their/our children just by correcting them.

Getting more specific negative than specific positive feedback, we all got our feelings of inadequacy reinforced.  The grownups / we didn’t know any better.  They / we did the best possible job we could with the information at hand.  And we all learned that anything worth doing, is worth doing well / right!

In fact, how were we taught to feel when we did things wrong, when we made mistakes?

“Bad boy!  Get your hands off your brother!”

“Bad girl!  That’s a bad girl!  Don’t ever let me see you do that again!”

“Aren’t you ashamed of yourself!”

“We are very disappointed with these grades.”

“We give you everything and this is what you do!”

It wasn’t just parents.  There was a conspiracy amongst the grownups to teach us the right way to do everything.

We eventually learned the right way ‘to do.’  In fact, many of us learned how to do many things well.  But how did we learn to feel about ourselves?  Once we learn to carry shame of self, no matter how well we ‘do’ anything, we still can feel bad about ourselves.

As Jung said, “the psyche always seeks to compensate.”  To compensate for feelings of inadequacy, we project to the world an image of adequacy, or even better, an image of superior competence.  To compensate for feelings of insecurity, we may project an image of a secure, confident person.

So, much of our psychic energy is consumed with image projection reflected in achievement, status or success in a material sense.  But no matter how much we achieve, it is never enough to transform the interior minus into a plus.  But we keep trying.

This secret that we all share, yet rarely discuss, has all sorts of implications for human relationships.  Why?

Because the way we treat others is a reflection of how we’re feeling about ourselves.  How others treat us is not about how they feel about us.  How people treat us is a reflection of how they are feeling about themselves.   So, we have all taken many things personally that didn’t have anything to do with us.  And others have taken personally many things from us that didn’t have anything to do with them. 

Perhaps, if we could talk about this secret we could address relationship problems from another perspective.  One that is inclusive of our own baggage.  Then, perhaps our differences would be less of a barrier because our best kept secret would be a bridge that connects us together.






The Gift

It's the beginning of a new year.  e. e. cummings has a poem about new beginnings which I cannot find at present.  It's about partings and new beginnings and with each beginning, new meaning.  We can look at the new year as a new beginning, a fresh start.

We cannot change anything that has happened up to this moment.  But we do have this moment and the unfolding adventure of the rest of our lives.  "New meaning" may be something we discover as we spend more time doing what is most important to us.  Most folks don't spend their energy and attention doing what is most important to them.  Most live their lives on automatic pilot acting out the role they were given to play on life's stage.  

It was the role that was programmed in by their family, local culture and environment.  The status quo of that life has it own inertia and momentum.  Changing that is difficult.  It can be broken but it's not easy.  Unless you have a world stopping event that breaks that status quo for you: like cancer, the illness of a child or the loss of a close loved one.  Then everything changes rapidly.  Want to change your life?  How about a near death experience or a devastating diagnosis.

See the three minute TED talk "The Gift" by Stacey Kramer for example.  It may not be such a big change but one that you cannot ignore.  And that change provides an opening for you to see clearly what is most important to you as well as appreciate the blessings you do have.  Discovering what is most important to us and giving our lives to doing that, whatever that is, gives new meaning to our life adventure.

Without the "gift" of a world stopping event it may be more difficult to discover what is most important to you.  So just pretend.  Pick out something like finding out you have been given that devastating diagnosis.  What would you stop doing?   What would you keep doing ? And what would you change?  In the process of answering those three questions you might discover what is most important to you.  If not, you may still get a clue and the discovery may happen later.  

Happy New Year !

Sometimes the small things…

Ok, so the other day I’m working away at home and I’m startled by the sound of what I know to be a bird crashing into the glass doors going out on to the deck. We have placed things from the bird store on those doors to let our feathered friends know that they do not represent a flyway.

Nonetheless, some continue to occasionally think otherwise and smash on into them. So it’s a familiar sound. Knowing that, I rushed to the doors to see a young female Downy Woodpecker tilting to one side, dazed and I hoped, not dying.

We have had both things happen. The dazed and dying birds and the just dazed birds look the same initially. You look and hope to see the little feathery bundle before you snap out of it and fly off.

As I watched I worried about the neighbor cat that routinely makes rounds through the yard on the prowl. We know this cat to be a great chipmunk hunter and bird eater. Watching from a few feet away, should needs be, I could open the door quickly and scare that cat away.

A few minutes passed and there was no positive sign that the little treasure was mustering a recovery. No positive sign is a bad sign. Usually, by now, a few minutes post glass door encounter the just dazed critters, are showing signs of a comeback.

Not so this little one. The sun was bright on the deck on the way to bringing us the hottest day of the year. As a few more minutes ticked by without any encouraging changes I began to worry about the heat and the hot deck.

What to do? My wife is a bird whisperer but she was at work. My cell was by my computer. I could go call her in hopes that she would be available for a consultation. However, I decided to make an executive decision not wanting to leave the scene where I could quickly defend the vulnerable young bird.

What I did was open the door and gently take the little woodpecker in my hand and
sat on the bench, holding the dazed darling in the shade. Her beak was open, her eyes slowly opened then closed and she seemed to be quietly panting.

This young Downy Woodpecker was so small in my hand I could easily enfold her without harm. I thought, perhaps wrongly, that she might feel safe in that human nest as she did in her own nest shortly before our encounter. Now and then, I would open my hand, flatten out my grip and gently stroke her to see if she would then fly safely away.

She didn’t.

I wanted her to yet I also cherished that moment holding that precious little life in my hand.

What now to do? I made another decision. I did not know if my hand would soon also be too warm a place for her, should she be able, to recover. So I took her around the side of the house to the front yard, which is totally shaded. Shade is good but I couldn’t just set her down in the grass. It would be cooler but she would be in danger of becoming a feline feast.

Therefore, walking by the recycle bin I grabbed the green soon to be bird shelter to protect little Donna Downey. We name our yard birds. The male Downy Woodpeckers are Dudley Downey and the females Donna. The male cardinals are Carlos and the females, Carlita. You get the idea.

Anyway, after placing Donna gently down upon the cool, shaded grass I placed the recycle bin upside down over her for a safe perimeter. Should she begin to recover, she would have room to move about to get her bearings.

I then went inside to text my wife. “Call me, bird news….” Surely you’ve noticed, time goes by more slowly while waiting to share certain experiences. This wait was one of those.

When she did call, which she did immediately upon getting my text, I related the story you have just read as I walked outside to the front yard toward the bird hospital.

I stood by the green upside down recycle bin as I finished my tale. She, as I was, was curious as to the current state of Donna’s health or lack thereof. Not knowing yet hoping for the best, I shared with my wife the moment of truth.

I lifted off the bin to find there to be no change with my little charge. Donna had not moved from the spot upon which I placed her. Was she still breathing? She hadn’t moved, was she still with us?

My neighbors from across the street had seen me place her under that green cover, stopped their yard work to see if there had been any change.


I say nothing because I did detect breathing and some eye movement.

All of us waited, fully attentive, holding our breath to see what, if anything, would happen. Nothing, nothing what so ever and then…………….

That little rascal, in one fell swoop, alerted and quick as a wink, flew up into the maple tree. WHOOPEE !

What a treat. There she was, in profile on the trunk about 15 feet up. And there we were, pretty high ourselves. By phone and by yard, smiles all round.

Such a small thing in the larger scheme of things. No matter. Having a chance to participate in the natural world reminds us of our connection to all that is and provides a sense of perspective about what makes a good day. Sharing that experience may remind others.

Lead by Doing

We recently had a very hot and humid day after a really cool July.  Guess it's just balancing out.  And just for fun our air conditioner broke.  Not good. Then it rained and a cold front came through.  Excellent timing.  The air was fresh the next morning and healthy support was requested from our "nutwork" of friends.  One of them knows everything about fixing stuff or the person to call if he's stumped or busy.  We all need each other.  Our problems call forth their gifts and their problems call forth ours.  We all get to serve.  I heard a term recently, The Church of Each Other.  I like that.  I didn't know the the term yet I see we're all members.  We can all delight in the joy of serving and experience the "fun factor".  That means it's fun and it feels good. 

I've felt for a long time that we "feel" each other, that we have an antennae system to tune into others in a psychological sense.  But that has been a subjective statement.  Because it is subjective and not verifiable by the tools of science, many question it's veracity.  Then in 1996 Italian researchers studying grasping made an interesting discovery.  The details boil down to this finding: primates have neurons in the motor cortex that mirror the actions of others.  Watching another perform an action, initially grasping an object, triggers firing of motor neurons in the watcher as if he were doing the action himself.  And, in fact, he is not moving although his brain is mirroring said action as if he were. 

Long story short, human primates have been found to have more and more highly developed mirror neurons than other primates.  And they code not only for actions but also action sounds and the intentions of others.  Therefore, in evolutionary terms, mirror neurons have been selected.  Why?  Doesn't it have to do with the importance of facilitating social cohesion and the relationships necessary for our own survival and transmission of our genes ?  We can't survive alone and therefore cannot pass on our genes.

Our fitness is enhanced through cooperation and interdependence.  But we have to be able to trust the other with whom we are interacting to see if they are someone with whom we want to work/play.  This is true not only for sexual selection but also for classical Darwinian natural selection.  How can we discriminate?  Mirror neurons may provide the mechanism by which we decipher the answer.  And this would often happen unconsciously.  One may not be able to find the reason for their choice in the rational cortex.  "It's just a feeling" is said.  "I just don't trust him".  Then comes the rationalization to explain the choice.

It really is “follow the leader”, not so much by what he/she says but by what they DO.

Since our brains have neurons that mirror what other people DO, we have a “wireless” connection to those folks that we lead and serve. Whether we are aware of it or not our mirror neurons tune into the emotions of others through their ACTIONS.  And those actions then reproduce their emotions in us through our mirror neurons.  Empathy then results which allows us to identify with and understand another’s situation, feelings and motives.  

Remember, “the media is the message”?  How we give feedback is more important than what we say.  The quality of the emotional energy that we DISPLAY sets the tone not only in us, but in them !  So the mood of the leader infects those being led.  A leader that DISPLAYS a light, friendly, playful and positive mood infects those being led with a positive contagion.  You’ve heard “a bad apple can spoil the whole barrel”.  We’re not apples.  But the metaphor holds.  And the reverse is true.  A friendly, caring leader doesn't always tell people what they want to hear.  Yet that caring is "felt" and allows the listener to feel safe enough to hear what is being said and take personal responsibility for changing.

I've been known to say we need to focus on the people piece of the work place puzzle, i.e., on relationships and increasing Relational Intelligence, RIQ.  Everything gets done through relationships.  How people lead, serve, communicate, team, sell, parent, love, care for others and, get this, care for themselves gets done through relationships.  And I start from the premise that we don't know how to do them very well.  

In order to improve RIQ, focused attention is on four factors with an emphasis on personal responsibility.  Not surprisingly then, the first thing is to help individuals develop a better relationship with themselves instead of being their own worst enemies.  Why?  Because how we treat others is a reflection of how we feel about ourselves.  Second, speaking of "others" we want to help individuals develop better relationships with others both at work and at home.  What happens at work affects what happens at home and the reverse is true.  What happens at home affects what happens at work.  Third, we have another premise.  We are all underachievers.  No matter how well we do anything, we can all get better.  But we can't get better alone.  We need help.  Even Tiger Woods has a coach.  And finally, how can we have more fun getting better?  If we're not having any fun we won't keep getting better.  It's the fun factor.

So we come full circle to the fun factor.  It's fun to get to participate in a meaningful way in the lives of others.  Leaders get to do just that every day,  even Monday. TGIM !

A Suspiciously Healthy Elder

Last week I got a chance to
work/play with a very wonderful man named Bill Fay. Bill lost his first wife to
Alzheimer’s 12 years ago and the experience caused him to see first hand a need
that wasn’t being met.  Those patients need help.  As a result he started
a non-profit called Alzheimer’s Helpers.

Bill is “retired” in north
Florida although retired is the wrong word.  He is very far from retired.
 He is fully engaged in life and the lives of Alzheimer’s patients at 9
nursing homes in his area.  Not only is he a perfect example of what
active aging is all about, he is a wonderful example of a suspiciously healthy

The definition of health I use is
the ability to work, love, play and think soundly.  I stole this
definition from Ashley Montagu’s book GROWING YOUNG and used it in WHY NORMAL
ISN’T HEALTHY: How to find heart, meaning, passion and humor on the road most

Bill has a passion to give those
folks afflicted with a devastating disease a loving, joyful and playful
experience on a regular basis.  He and his wife AnnaMarie together with a
small group of volunteers visit Alzheimer’s patients with an openhearted,
compassionate hand. They play with them, take them out for adventures and
create positive experiences for everyone present.

He came to a presentation I did
in his area in January.  I used my alter ego, Dr. Jerko for that talk.
 We had a great time and his initial response was to have me come back and
do something for his Alzheimer’s friends.  However, as he thought about it
he decided that it would be even better to do something to honor the Certified
Nurse Assistants.  After all, these good folks are the ones that spend the
most time and give most of the care to Alzheimer’s patients.

And that’s what we did last week.
 He had me come down to Mt Dora, Florida and do a presentation for CNAs to
honor and celebrate them. In the hierarchy of status in health care facilities
CNAs, those in the trenches with Alzheimer’s patients who clean their bodies
then their sheets before they can even be sent to the wash, don’t get much. Well,
Bill turned that around at least for a day.

He used Lake Receptions, a very
nice meeting facility and invited CNAs from the places he serves to come to
a continuing education program and be served a delicious lunch.  There
were party favors and door prices.  The entire atmosphere was festive
orchestrated by Bill and AnnaMarie. I had the honor of surprising them as the
instructor in my clown character, Dr. Jerko.   And 96 invited guests
and Dr “J” had a ball talking about the importance of healthy support.

Afterwards, one of the managers
of a facility told me that Bill was a godsend.  For example, she related a
story about a patient who needed a chair and there was no money available.
 She talked to Bill, he worked his wonders and came up with the $3600
chair.  If health is the ability to work, love, play and think soundly as
one follows a path that has heart, meaning, passion and humor then Bill is
indeed “suspiciously healthy”.  And if you want to send him a donation,
apart from the fact that he spent some bucks to bring me in, he'll spend it


TGIM: Turning Work into Play

When was the last time you heard TGIM?  Better put, have your ever heard anyone upon arriving at work Monday morning say, TGIM?  Perhaps not.  But I’d wager that you’ve heard TGIF on many Fridays at work.  There’s even a restaurant chain that exploits the sentiment. Why is that? 

Could it be that on Monday morning one sees five more days of work ahead.  OMG !  Five more days until the next weekend.  Shit !  ( That’s a medical term ) And on Friday, for those of us that are M-F workers it’s, Whoopee we’re almost there.

I think that’s a good example of normal-not being-healthy.  If that is so, how can we move toward a healthier approach to work?  How can we capture some of that TGIF lifting of the spirits and infuse it into M-Th?  Perhaps we’ll have to break the rules. If we simply do what we were taught to do on the road to becoming grownups, we’ll do what the grownups did that came before us. We’ll replicate the status quo. And I don’t think we are here to replicate the status quo.

I think that we are here to take the best of what we got and make it better. After all, we are the people we used to complain about. We are them; the leaders, the parents and yes, the grownups ! We carry the culture on our shoulders.  It’s our turn. What are we going to do with our turn? Ah, there’s the rub.

 Let me give you an example. Right now you hear about the importance of having balance in your life, i.e., work life, personal life balance.  Which I think is funny because aren’t you a person at work? And when you go home is all the work over? No way. So we have work to do at work and we have work to do at home. Well what did we hear from the grownups that was the secret to success? Hard…..…………………………….. work!

That’s right, hard work’s the secret to success. So guess what we know how to do? Work hard. That’s right. Work hard at work. Work hard at home.  When does the fun start? After work?! You see the problem.  We’re just doing the best job we can with the information we got about how to do grownup. I mean how many people do you know that had parents who said, ” forget your homework, get out there and play” or “forget your chores, if you want to get ahead in this world get out here and play”… 

So we know how to work hard but have a problem being playful.  As a culture we don’t honor play. We don’t value play and it’s a shame. Why?  Because much of what we do as grownups is problem solving.  Serious problems require serious solutions.  Right?  Wrong! Serious problems require creative and innovative solutions.  And being playful, playing with a problem, frees up our creative juices so that what we cook up surprises and delights.  

And don’t you think work places that create an atmosphere of playfulness are more fun places to both work and do business?  And families where the parents are playful with their kids are healthier so that children feel more relaxed to be themselves and share their concerns?  So, I agree, we do need balance in our lives.  Work life, personal life balance?  

No! Work/Play balance.  Part of normal not being healthy is we get way out of balance on the work side of the fulcrum.  And when we do play it’s competitive play in zero sum games with winners and losers.  So we turn play into work ! What I’m interested in is doing the reverse.  That is, turning work into play.  That way we don’t have to wait until after work to have fun.  TGIM !