Taking Responsibility

2013-06-14_2335Most of my writing addresses the truth that children have no control over the negative events that happen to them and the resulting negative self-beliefs that are formed from those events. When a child is overly criticized, rejected, ignored or abused, he holds no responsibility for that event. Most of the time, however, he concludes that he is somehow to blame. He may conclude that he is inadequate, unimportant or defective. That conclusion is inaccurate and can be tremendously self-destructive. The child assumes responsibility, but in reality, is totally innocent.

However, negative childhood events do not remove our responsibility for our later choices or actions. A bad childhood doesn’t give us permission to be hurtful or inappropriate. Even the child who has been abused has to have boundaries, limits and consequences. She has to learn to behave appropriately, despite the fact that she has been hurt. To do less would be unloving.

Sometimes, compassion is confused with compromise. We may feel compassion for the person who had a bad childhood, and mistakenly compromise our expectations and withhold the natural and appropriate consequences for bad behaviors. The danger here is that we may unwittingly teach them to be irresponsible. This actually sets them up for future painful events.

Sometimes people will try to excuse their inappropriate or hurtful behaviors on the fact that they had a “bad childhood.” Most of the time, however, the person who experienced childhood rejection, harsh criticism or abuse puts too much responsibility on herself. She feels responsible for every negative outcome. In a sense, these people become blame magnets.

The key here is to objectively determine whether you have responsibility or not. Would you assign responsibility to someone else, who was in your shoes? If a friend experienced the exact same situation and exhibited the same behavior and created the same outcome, would you place blame on them? Think about your assumptions about responsibility and learn to treat yourself as you would treat anyone else in your situation.

Question: Do you feel that most people tend to take on undeserved responsibility for negative events, or that most avoid responsibility when they rightfully should take it?

The Violin Nobody Wanted

ImageThis post is a little longer than most. I have had several requests to share the following story from my book, “Parables for a Wounded Heart.” I hope you enjoy it!

Once there was a family that bought an old house. The prior owners had moved out of the house some time earlier, so this new family never met them. On the day they moved in, they had some items that they wanted to store in the attic. When they climbed up the attic stairs, they found that the previous owners had left some junk piled in one corner. The new owners didn’t have time to go through the stuff and throw it away, so they just stacked their things around the leftover pile. They didn’t think of it again.

After several years, the family decided to do some spring cleaning. They planned to have a yard sale to get rid of some of the things they had stored in the attic. When they went up to get their items, they saw the pile of things left by the previous owners. They decided they might as well try to sell those things too. Perhaps they could make a little extra money.

As they sorted out the pile, they found several items they could sell including an old violin in a case. The violin looked in pretty good shape, but the case was very dusty and all scratched up. They decided to put a $20.00 price tag on it and see what they could get.

On the day of the yard sale they put all the items on tables, and  people began to stop and browse. They sold many of their items and were about to call it a day. There were a few stragglers milling around the tables checking for any last minute buys. A car pulled over and a tall, thin older man got out. He too browsed the tables for a while.

He came to the table with the violin in the opened case. It seems no one had needed a fiddle this morning, not even for $20.00. He leaned over and studied the dusty violin for a couple of minutes before he spoke to the owner behind the table. He inquired, “Do you mind if I take it out of the case?”

“No”, the owner replied, “Help yourself.”

He picked the violin up very slowly and carefully, as if it were going to fall apart in his hands.

“May I tune it?” the old man asked.

“If you can,” the owner answered.

The old man slowly tuned the violin until he seemed to be satisfied with each string. The owner waited patiently since most of the crowd had dispersed; and this seemed like the most promising chance of getting rid of the instrument.

“May I play it?” the old man asked.

“Sure, see how it sounds,” was the owner’s reply, now feeling that a sale was in the making.

The old man slowly placed the violin under his chin and began to play. The straggling shoppers stopped and stared as the notes drifted across the yard in the spring sunshine. The old man crafted the most beautiful music for several minutes before he stopped. He lowered the violin from his chin and placed it very gently back in its case. The owner moved in to make the sale. “You make that thing sing, mister” he said with a grin. “You can have it for only $20.00.”

The older man’s face was somber. “I can’t give you $20.00 for that violin,” he replied.

“Well, how about $15.00?” said the owner, now thinking a sale was slipping away.

“Sir, you don’t understand.” noted the old man, still serious. “I can’t take that violin from you for $20.00. It wouldn’t be right.” Looking directly into the owner’s eyes, he lowered his voice and smiled slightly, “I don’t know how you came upon that violin, but you don’t know what you have there. You see, that violin is a Stradivarius. You can tell from the markings in the sound hole. It was made by Antonio Stradivari in Cremona. His instruments are the best in the world. You see, his mark is there in the sound hole. This violin is worth at least $1,000,000 and probably much more. It’s a very, very special instrument and very precious. You just didn’t realize what you had.”

The violin had always been precious. It was valuable because of its creator. The violin was valuable because its creator only made precious instruments, and it carried the unmistakable mark of that creator. The earlier homeowners who left it in the attic obviously didn’t know what they had and treated it like trash. The new owners didn’t know what they had either and left it in the attic with the trash. The yard sale shoppers who left it on the table didn’t know what they were leaving behind. They treated it as if it was not even worth $20.00. It took the old man to recognize the violin’s value. He didn’t have to play it to recognize that it was precious. The old man knew it was precious because he knew about its creator. He knew that it had the mark of its creator.

You may be like the violin. You may have grown up in a family that wasn’t able to recognize your true value. They may have acted as if you were in the way or just something to be tolerated. Or they may have made you feel that you couldn’t do anything right or were always messing up. Later in life, you may have dealt with others who also acted as you weren’t worth much, who acted as if you were trash.

It’s important to remember that the violin never actually lost its value. It was just as valuable when it was left in a corner of the attic as it would have been in a symphony hall. It was still valuable when it was passed over by the rest of the customers in the yard sale. The creator had left his mark on it, and that made all the difference.

Every child is valuable. Each child is as valuable as any other child. We all know this to be true. There is no defect, deformity, characteristic, or behavior that can make a child less valuable. We also know this to be true. A child’s actual value is not diminished when her family doesn’t recognize or act as if she is valuable. You know this to be true.

The child is hurt, of course. The child learns to believe that she is not valuable. Such lessons are learned deeply. Such beliefs are hard to change. Just because a belief is deeply learned doesn’t mean that it is true.

Question:  Share your thoughts about the meaning or moral of this story. Do you agree that all children are valuable and deserve to be treated as such? Can you apply that truth to yourself? Can you begin to do that now? What do you think?

This story was inspired by the poem, “The Touch of the Master’s Hand” by Myra “Brooks” Welch (1921).

You’ll Never Guess What I Did Today!!

ImageToday has been a truly magnificent day! This day has been filled with a long-awaited and long overdue activity. The day was exactly what I needed. The day filled my spirit and nourished my soul.

Today, I did nothing!

I didn’t vegetate in front of a TV (not my thing). I didn’t sleep (naps make me feel groggy). I didn’t travel, entertain, educate myself, exercise or explore. I had plenty to do, of course, but I chose to do none of it. It could wait. It did wait, and the world didn’t alter its rotation at all, as far as I could tell.

I did sit and look at the beautiful view from my house. Actually, I gazed, which is much better than looking. I did have brief, pleasant conversations with family, but even these were not intended to be productive or purposeful. I listened to some quiet music, more as background for the gazing than anything. I did a little reading, punctuated by more gazing.

I don’t have days like this very often. I don’t try to have days like this very often. I have too many things that I like to do, too many interests, too many projects to have many do-nothing days. My usual wish is that I could pack 48 hours in every 24 hour day. I usually enjoy activity.

But, sometimes I need a time to do nothing. We all do. We need a time to slow down, contemplate, and perhaps, to gaze. Time moves more slowly. We experience the moment, then the next moment. We recharge, perhaps we recalibrate our internal motors.

The demands of life often postpone such times. We (at least me) tend to squeeze the most we can get out of every minute. It’s usually an okay choice, but, not today. Today I did nothing, and it felt good.   

If you’re like me and most of your days are filled to the brim, you might like to schedule an appointment to do nothing. It won’t happen by itself. You’ll have to make it happen. Who knows? It might also be good for your soul!

Question: What is your favorite way to spend a “do-nothing” day? What benefits do you see when you slow your life down?