Thursday, February 02, 2012

What would you suggest?

I know a guy, I'll call "Mike" (not his real name) who I really respect, probably more than he knows.

We were talking and he brought up that he was able to get a real handle on his personal weaknesses by looking at his resentments.  Every resentment was a key to a personal weakness.

Now if you've read Leadership and Self-Deception: Getting out of the Box by Arbinger Institute or The Anatomy of Peace: Resolving the Heart of Conflict the idea of resentments being a guide to where you have gone wrong is not new to you.

But about the same time, I had a real wake-up call when I asked for some feedback on a short essay I wrote on how to prevail with those above you in a religious hierarchy (back in 1996 or before).  I was trying to suggest spiritual tools to use in religious conflicts.  I've always thought about reworking it.

The response I got was "gee, so the real problem is that we are defective" -- or words to that effect.  The reader got the message that I was blaming them for having an issue.

That made me realize that while reflecting on resentments is fine if you are brilliant and competent like "Mike" -- if you are overwhelmed and feeling mundane that sort of advice comes across as "I've been ground down by life, and now it is my fault too if I feel hurt because of it."

I know, I know, the Al Anon mantra that resentment is like drinking poison and expecting the other guy to die.  I know, resentment binds people together in chains of co-dependency.  But resentment is also what the powerless feel when they've been wronged and can't do anything about it.

I've been reflecting on this because I know people who are powerless.  Not people who have transitory feelings, or who aren't as privileged as they would like (the type who "oh Lord won't you give me a Mercedes Benz, my friends all drive Porsches, I must make amends" was written about).  But people for whom getting a job as a greeter at a Wal-Mart is a real step up, who have been ground down and ground up by life.

It is hard for people in those circumstances to find voice.

It is one thing for a professor friend of Chauncey Riddle (a BYU professor of philosophy who I admire) to spend seven years praying an hour a day to get an answer from God.  It was great advice when Dr. Riddle passed that along to freshmen in college as a guide.  Or for Alma to have the Church gather together to fast and pray for his son, Alma the Younger.

But what if I'm Anne Without Gables, or starving adjunct with a problem?  A harried mother with children and without five minutes to call her own, not an hour or more a day to pray?

I'm not sure what advice to give them on how to seek spiritual guidance and help with religious problems.  What would you suggest?  If you are privileged, I can give you lots of suggestions.  But you probably don't need them.  But what if you are not?  What advice is there to give?

I've been struggling with variations on that, ever since reading of some problems Annegb had.  It was reflecting on what Mike said (which was very, very valuable to me) that made me realize I still don't have an answer to what advice to give the dispossessed that isn't as likely to feel like "blame the victim" or "it is really your fault" than to help them find a voice and prevail. 

Which is why I'd appreciate thoughts from readers.


SilverRain said...

I think, when people are there, they don't need advice. They need love.

". . . Mourn with those that mourn . . . comfort those that stand in need of comfort . . . stand as witnesses of God" (or give advice.)

In that order.

Stephen said...

SilverRain -- we need you to send us a guest blog post for Wheat and Tares (or I'd take it for my personal blog if you don't want to do W&T).


SilverRain said...

Give me a topic, Stephen, and I will.

Thanks. :)

sb said...

I don't believe in giving advice. I have found it is rarely solicited and seldom heard. Much better to listen and ask pertinent questions that will help a person arrive at their own solution. This helps them empower themselves.

Paul said...

That AlAnon snipet -- Nelson Mandela said it, too... :-)

There's a reason one doesn't really get to resentments in 12 step programs until about Step 8. There's a lot of work to do before one gets to that point. That work can help anyone (even Anne Without Gables) to find a relationship with God and to find comfort there.

One reason studying resentments may work for Mike is because Mike decides to do it and is ready to do it himself. No one is telling him to go there.

In the end, we each will find our own path to peace, and it is not something we can do for another.

But, as SR says so well (and she says many things well), we can mourn with those that mourn as they seek to find their way.

In the end, we are all defective. And we only become less broken through the atonement of the Savior, not through retribution or compensation.

annegb said...

Hmmm......I'm wondering which of my "Perils of Pauline" problems that could be. I heard the term "walking character defect" once. That pretty much describes me.

You have a point, Stephen. I've never been able to understand how it's my choice to be upset or mad when a person wounds us. I can't even make it make sense intellectually. It must, since so many experts say it's so, but I really think sometimes people make me mad.

I do want to share something that the Lord revealed to me during a time of personal anguish. I was terribly upset about the way my sister's life had gone downhill. I loved her so much. I was obsessing, trying to think of all the things I could do to change her life for the better. Take her home, sober her up, help her get a job, go to college, a home.

And that still small voice said to me "YOU can't change her life." For a moment I felt such despair and hopelessness, but the voice went on: "SHE can. It's completely within her power to have a better and fulfilling life. But she must make that choice."

I knew it was true. I couldn't buy her way to happiness. But, were she to turn to the Lord and try her best to live in righteousness, her life would improve.

It's the same for anyone, in any situation (think Man's Search for Meaning). That person in the concentration camp whose eye was set on the Lord and serving others in as much integrity as possible was happier than the one who "cursed God and wished to die."

Inmates in prison, many many others who think the circumstances they are in--and often because others have been terrible to them--give them no choice are wrong.

You can even have a resentment (I have myriads) and be happier because you are trying with all your heart to work with the Lord than that person who just sits and steeps until they drown in self-pity.

Stephen said...

annegb, you know you are always inspiring.

Paul -- good point.

annegb said...

Well, that was all God, nothing I came up with. You asked what to say when people have a resentment? Things like "that would bug me, too" (if you mean it), uh, validations can reassure a person. What Silver Rain said. Advice usually doesn't help anyway.

Paul, I forgot about the 8th step. My inventory of resentments was so long and in that one column where you list where you're ready to forgive (can't remember exactly, sorry) I wrote a lot of "hell, no, they deserve it!"