Simple and Direct

The problem of distinguishing what we are and what we are not responsible for in this life is one of the greatest problems of human existence.” – Dr. Scott Peck

We were at a community swimming pool the other day when we walked by a grown-up forcefully saying to a boy who looked about 12 years-old, “Stop talking. All I hear from you is blaming others, saying how they made you do what you do instead of taking responsibility. Stop talking.”

It was easy to have great sympathy for both of them. The grown-up who also had 3 other children younger than the boy with her and the boy who looked stunned to have a grown-up yelling in his face.

Thinking about it, it reminds me of the quote for this post, a great line from psychiatrist and author, Dr. Scott Peck, “The problem of distinguishing what we are and what we are not responsible for in this life is one of the greatest problems of human existence.

We all personalize or project. When we personalize, we think that everything happens has to do with us. If the boy at the swimming pool personalized, perhaps he thought that the grown-up’s mood was his fault. And when we project, we take our feelings and color everything around us.  In the swimming pool scenario, the grown-up could have been tired and frustrated after the effort to get four children dried off and changed after swimming so she projected that frustration onto the boy.

Dr. Peck wrote that we all exist on a continuum between neurotic and character disordered. When we are neurotic, as I tend to be, we take too much responsibility for things and when we are character disordered, we take too little. We see it all through our lens and then it’s a struggle to find a way to just own our part.

It’s a hard thing to teach to my kids since I’m still working it out myself. But I’ve been practicing just being direct – not embellishing either why it happened or owning too much or the scenario. When I step on the cat’s paw when she is winding her way around my ankles as I feed her, I try to model just saying “I’m sorry I stepped on your paw” instead of “I’m so sorry, it’s all my fault” or “you made me do it, you shouldn’t have been underfoot.”

At the swimming pool, I walked by the intense scene and then went out the double doors just past them. I’ll never know if the boy was able to say, “I’m sorry I did that” and the woman to say, “I’m sorry I took my frustration out on you” but I hope so.


24 thoughts on “Simple and Direct

  1. To me, what was most troubling for me about the scene was not that the child got dressed down as much as the adult’s making it into a public humiliation. In counseling others, I discovered that even many who did not readily take on guilt could be overwhelmed to the point of considering suicide when they were shamed in the form of organizations of whom they were prominent and well-known members discrediting them. There are things you should say in private if you must state them. An audience enlarges the impact enormously for many. Loss of face is a terrible thing.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. What a sobering comment, Dr. Stein. On just a feeling level, I could sense exactly what you are saying in a more eloquent way. It was uncomfortable to witness so I could imagine how hard it was for the child. Yes, I hope that the grown-up had the wherewithal to mend what she did even as I have compassion for how hard parenting can be. I’m praying there’s a good outcome there.

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  2. The wisdom lies in acknowledging and accepting without blame life’s “accidentally”s written in precious child’s scrawl. Self blame fosters shame that brings us down, and guilt keeps us there.
    Defrocked Franciscan priest’s p Brennan Manning addresses our self-blame/shsme

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  3. Brennan Manning said, “No one is as they should be, but God loves us just as we are, not as we should be.” That’s my solace for all my ” accidentally”s . . . such as my inability to send texts correctly😃
    Be Blessed!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I’m loving the “accidentally”s. They made the point so much better. Yes, yes, yes, Fred! What a beautiful quote from Brendan Manning. I had to look him up but now I remember the Ragamuffin Gospel. Beautiful!

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  4. We (my daughter and I) had an experience with my grandson this weekend and we all stayed up until 2 am, talking, trying to unravel what he (15 years old) was trying to say. Unfortunately, kids don’t always express themselves very well, so figuring out what they’re trying to say, and what they actually need is REALLY difficult! The 10-year-old was forcing herself to stay awake and kept nagging us to go to sleep, since they were staying over in my small apartment, she couldn’t just go to her room to sleep. We kept telling her no, we needed to finish this discussion with her brother to help set his heart and spirit at rest because he was bothered by something he had interpreted we were doing. (He had interpreted that since we were ultra-careful with his 2 sister’s safety in certain situations, particularly after dark, it meant that we just didn’t care about HIM!

    This was a very important conversation to unravel, his feeling loved and cared for was on the line because of how he was interpreting events. Our group conversation went down a couple rabbit holes because we hadn’t understood what he was saying. When we finally got all our signals straightened out, we had to ask him what he needed to hear from us or what actions we needed to take for him to FEEL our words were true! Kids don’t always listen to our explanations and feel okay with our answers unless our behavior also MATCHES! (Just like we tell THEM they need to change their behavior because just saying sorry isn’t going to be enough if they keep doing the same things!) PS, we all ended up laughing and hugging, once we were able to get the miscommunications out of the way!

    Many parents react to what their kid says, vs. trying to figure out what they’re trying to say. Yes, kids misunderstand and misread social cues and how to behave or know what to say, which is frustrating for parents to deal with. When we add the parent’s own unresolved triggers to what they perceive the kid is saying, well that adds even more complication!

    Teens and preteens are still trying to figure it all out and aren’t the best at finding words to express themselves. Sometimes they express something but actually mean something entirely different! It’s up to us to help them figure it out!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I love the scenario you paint here, Tamara – talking it out to the wee hours of the morning, laughing and hugging by the end. You are amazing for your ability to help people work it through. What a great example you are for your daughter and grandchildren — and me!

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  5. Oh I feel such empathy for both the parent and the child. I’ve certainly been, we all have, been in that’s parents shoes – and I only have 1 to deal with. 😆

    The most important thing, as you noted, is to try to role model the calm response (poor cat!) and hope that the calm takes control especially during the most challenging frustrating moments.

    Happy Monday!!!

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    1. Hope that the calm takes control — well said, Ab!! Yes, if we can keep ourselves cool, let’s hope we can model something or at least get through it without biting our tongue! Happy Monday to you!

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  6. When Pirates of the Caribbean originally came out, I met a manager who explained his management philosophy by using quotes from the movie. I initially found it funny, but eventually learned how insightful this gentleman really was. One of his favorite quotes was not unlike the quote you started this insightful post with: “The only rules that really matter are these: what a man can do and what a man can’t do.”

    It took us, my colleague and I, many hours of discussions to bottom out on the meaning of this, but at the end of the day, I believe there’s much wisdom in it, if we care the pause and think it through, like you have. Thank you for bringing this up!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. How I would have loved to be a fly on the wall for those conversations! That sounds fascinating. Kinda makes me want to spend the day watching Pirates of the Caribbean to find life lessons. 🙂 I’m going to have to ponder that quote as well – “The only rules that really matter are these: what a man can do and what a man can’t do.” Hmm…

      Thank you, as always, for such a thought-provoking comment, EW!


      1. What a nice compliment! Especially coming from you who I love to discuss with. Here’s my question about the Pirates of Caribbean quote: is it really a rule, or is it a rule or is it an attitude? Or all three?


  7. It may not be that an adult does something wrong, it seems to me that it is how the adult handles the situation that sticks with the child. That’s what I remember the most, for better or worse, but lessons learned.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes – same for me, Ally. It’s a little hard for the child to take in that they should stop talking when it’s the adult in their face that should consider stopping. Hard situation all the way around – but you are right, what children learn often is not the thing the adult intends.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. I agree with the skepticism about adult and kid just owning their stuff, particularly on the grown-up side. But I hope.

      I tend to like being on the neurotic side – so I’m glad to have company! 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

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