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Wednesday, November 30, 2016

The Walking Wounded: 99 sheep meet the prodigal family

Something I've witnessed has bothered me for a long time and I'm finally putting it in writing what I've seen/felt for a long time.

I've witnessed time and again among family, among friends, among friend's family and within different group a consistent problem or issue.   We see this issue in society at large and often there is only relief from it when a tragedy larger than everyone strikes and sometimes even that isn't enough to prevent this issue from evidencing itself.

So, what is this issue?  People who face and/or are hurt by the same or similar circumstances often turn on each other, rather than uniting and work through the hurt together.  We often are so focused on our own hurt that we fail to see, accept, validate, take seriously or even take into account the hurt of others.  Sometimes it is even worse than that.  Sometimes people actively comparatively negate the hurt or injury of others in an attempt to put their own hurt to the forefront.  Why do people do that?

  • Do they feel that their own pain or hurt is being ignored and they have to 'raise their voice' and say "But mine is worse" or "That's nothing compared to my situation"?  Does that mean:
    • I don't trust others to help me through the pain.
    • I've been let down so often.  
  • Are they so injured that they cannot see the injury in others?
  • Are they just crying out for help?
You tell me.  But those are things that I've seen.  (YMMV) "Your mileage may vary" or put less subtlety not everyone's experiences are the same as to how much and why their family/group turns on each other when facing hurt or crisis.  As I indicated above, some of it is just plain selfish/self-centeredness, but much of it is effectively a trust issue.  Instead of allowing themselves to step back and see the larger picture, there is a tendency to draw each other into a circular firing squad.


Let's get concrete.  
  • Say a close family member dies--sibling, in-law, parent, child, etc.  All tied to him or her suffer pain and loss.  But we suffer it in different ways and to different extents. 
    • If it is an in-law, perhaps I don't suffer the loss to the extent that my spouse does, but that doesn't mean that it didn't significantly impact me.  It is wrong to act if I don't have the right to hurt significantly in that situation.
    • A kid may experience the loss of a parent, but remaining spouse experiences the loss too.
      • In many/most cases, a kid hasn't had the chance to develop the tools and gain the maturity to grieve as an adult would or see beyond their own hurt.
      • The remaining spouse is hurt too and due to the different nature of the relationship his or her grief/loss might not be viewed as quite severe.  You can replace a friend/spouse, but a mom or dad is THE mom or dad or so the thinking might be.  While it usually true the kid will hurt worse and longer, it doesn't mean the spouse's loss is nothing or they've gotten over it.  It's important that all parties reflect on their loss rather than 'competing'.
  • Say multiple kids of a family suffered abuse at the hands of a 'family friend'.  One kid may get the 'brunt' of the abuse. 
    • The person(s) who as a kid got lesser abuse aren't 'lucky'.  Lucky would have mean that they wouldn't have been abused.  What they are is just not victimized as much. But they are still victims of abuse and as such need to have their trauma recognized and taken seriously.
    • The person who as a kid got the brunt of the abuse isn't the 'winner' at the who was hurt worse 'contest'.  While he/she may need more attention/counseling to deal with their abuse than the other that doesn't give him or her the right to dismiss the trauma of the others.
    • I believe a goal in this situation is for each victim to step outside of their hurt for a moment and realize others were hurt also.  If each victim can show empathy for each other rather than 'compete' for who got the most abuse, then I think their own healing would benefit as well as healing of the family at large. 
  • In our country, many have suffered in many different ways.  Some have suffered the indignities of blatant discrimination based on race.  Some have suffered extreme poverty.  Some have suffered loses in war.  Some have suffered in other ways and some have suffered in more than one way.
    • Instead of having a little empathy for others who've suffered, sometimes we get caught up in our own brand of suffering and dismiss that of others.
    • Once again this minimizes the chance we to relate to and help each other.  In fact, doing so can cause a cycle of resentment where nobody heals effectively, nobody wins and in some ways everyone--except those who exploit the suffering--loses.
In each of these cases with the right spiritual focus we can get past ourselves and see the pain in others and reach out.  This doesn't mean ignoring our own hurt, but offering to help others who are hurting.


Why I titled this The Walking Wounded: 99 sheep meet the prodigal family was the shepherd just like the prodigal dad was mourning the loss of one of his flock--albeit in each case it turned out to be temporary loss.  When we lose someone close to us, we can seemingly abandon those closest to us while dealing with the loss (or in the case of the prodigal family, the return).  Others in the picture are affected by the dynamic of the loss.  The 99 sheep temporarily were without their shepherd and were less protected therefore.  In the case of the prodigal family, the dad was likely mourning the loss of the prodigal son that turned his back on him.  When the prodigal son returned he threw all his attention on him.  The son who was loyal and stayed behind was hurt.  In each case, someone or something was affected by a loss (sheep vs. dad & other son).   Each experienced a loss differently and reacted very differently.   The other son instead of looking at the big picture looked strictly at how it affected him.  He probably felt abandoned as his dad mourned the 'loss' of the prodigal son and then felt abandoned again as his dad gave all his warmth to the returned prodigal son.  I can imagine if the 99 sheep could talk they'd tell the other son that your dad has loved you all along and he knows that you are hurting too.  They would say, "When our shepherd left us to find the one missing sheep, he wasn't abandoning us, he was always aware of us and thinking about us, but he was doing what was necessary to make our herd (or family) whole again.  He was always going to be there for us and meet our needs, he had a job and a role to play and we had to be supportive in that role for the better of our herd."   The father represented the Holy Father, the prodigal son represented the lost child of God and the other son represented the one who is at peace with God.  The father in the "Prodigal Son" explained to the other son approximately what I imagined the 99 sheep that weren't missing would have explained from a different perspective.

We all have faced hurt in our lives, some of it directly shared hurt and some of it hurt that we can relate to.  What I've come to understand is that we would all do best to find a way to see beyond ourselves and into the bigger picture.  I may have gotten a smaller helping of hurt than you, but that doesn't mean my hurt is nothing.  Likewise, I know I'm hurting, but there is someone probably close who is hurting too and hurting more.  Therefore, I need to find a way to step away from my hurt to recognize and try to comfort them.  When we compete in this arena, nobody wins.  The original hurt is still there for everyone and on top of it, we have pushed each other apart by trying to "win".  We may not see it as 'trying to win', but instead may see it as making sure to get what we need.  However, like in a food riot, we are so busy competing for what we need rather than trying to find a way to best meet the needs of everyone that we likely will end up destroying some of the life-giving food in the process.

I wrote most of this on Thursday, November 24th, 2016 that is Thanksgiving day.  So, I guess a takeaway could be that we need to be find a way to look beyond ourselves.  Be thankful for the things we have and while recognizing concerns/issues in our own lives, not to focus on them, but instead to give some focus on those less fortunate--spiritually, emotionally and physically.

Parable of the Prodigal Son

Parable of the Lost Sheep


Sunday, November 13, 2016

Failing doesn't make you a failure

I am glad that this election cycle is winding down.  In my 47 years, this election was probably the most hostile/tense election season we as a nation have even witnessed.  As with any elections there were winners and losers.  I think it's pretty clear the 'winners' and the 'losers' in this election cycle and analysis thereof is being repeated ad infinitum.  So, I won't focus on that, but it does lend itself to the following concept:

Failing doesn't make you a failure.  

For anyone who has ever had a significant failure in their life such as:
  • Falling short of being elected.
  • Failure in marriage.
  • Falling of short of winning the big game.
  • Not getting the promotion/losing your job.
  • Failing in school.
  • Broken friendships.
it is hard to separate a particular failure or failing from the overall sense of being a failure.  It is akin to shame vs. guilt.  Shame focuses on self (and has a sense of at least semi-permanence), guilt focus on poor choices (and can be more passing).  Similarly, labeling oneself as a failure, implies feeling broken in a permanent way, whereas noting a failure implies limited--in scope and permanence--damage.

If one is labeled a failure, he or she has effectively had their successes negated or overwhelmed by the label.  If one is said to have failed, it is feasible that their successes before are still respected and that their chance of success after is recognized.


It is easy to say tell someone who is in the midst of a particular failure that they aren't a failure, but it can harder for them to accept it.  What they've got to realize is that 
  • Everyone has failings in their life.  After all, if that weren't the case, why would we have the need for a Higher Power (God)?
  • Some of the people we consider 'successful' failed time and again before they hit on their life's success. Successful people who have failed:
    • Henry Ford went broke 5 times before succeeding at Ford Motor Company
    • Bill Gates dropped out of college and failed in his first business (Traf-O-Data) before starting arguably the most successful software company (Microsoft).
    • Oprah Winfrey was born poor to a single teenage mom, was abused as kid and became a teen mom--child died in infancy--before she landed a radio job which ultimately led to her billion dollar production company.
  • Not everyone wins 'the big game/election/promotion', but that doesn't nullify their accomplishments.
    • Ernie Banks never made it to the World Series, but his Hall of Fame induction gives lie to the concept that this made him a failure.
    • Tim Tebow had limited success in the NFL, but no one can take away his Heisman Trophy and National Championship at Florida.  Additionally, he has carved out success in broadcasting.
    • Adlai Stevenson is remembered by many as losing the Presidency to Eisenhower twice, but no one can take away his time as Governor of Illinois, Ambassador to the U.N. and his efforts in making a JFK presidency possible. 
  • That it is okay to visit (mourn) a particular failure/failing, but it is not okay to live there.  Visiting or mourning failure appropriately and moving forward can strengthen us.  Living in failure can be very disabling or debilitating. 
  • Our faith can be a strong guide, however, we are not born with an individual instruction manual.  Our Higher Power and true friend and family in our lives understand that we will at times not make the best choices of ignorance or maybe even hubris.  That doesn't mean that we are stupid or a bad person, it just means we don't always have all the answers.  See my post on the Fog of War and Decisions/Choices.  

One final note: We've all heard the term 'narcissist', but I'm convinced of a concept that I call 'negative narcissism'.  The idea being that a negative narcissist finds it easier to live in the concept of being a failure than having a more balanced view of their lives.  If you label yourself as a failure, it makes it easier not to accept responsibility for individual failings.  It also, makes it easier to justify not taking steps to try to succeed.   After all, if you are a failure (or destined to it), then well, you couldn't help it anyway and why bother trying?

Anyway, whether our candidate or team wins or loses, they don't have to be considered a failure.  If a particular endeavour in our life ends in success or failure, we can own a failing, but we don't have to own being a failure.  Just some post election musings.

-- Rich