By Monica A. Ross, LPC
We had a great class last night. The energy of class flows better some nights than others. I smile a little as I look at the tired and weary faces of my colleagues and then glance at my own image on screen also looking a little tired and weary. Many of us have full-time jobs in addition to attending class. It’s a lot we’re tackling here--this business of changing the world.
Last night the discussion went from Beverly Schwartz to Mr. Rogers to seed funding. Beverly wrote a book called Rippling: How Social Entrepreneurs Spread Innovation Throughout the World. In one of her lectures which we watched outside of class, she talks about the stickiness of past experience—"for each of these entrepreneurs there was something with their past that collided with their present and set their future in motion—the problem sought them out and stuck to them by virtue of their past experience.”
It’s the stickiness of past experience that has brought my colleagues and me here. For some of us that past experience starts in childhood. There was an influential event or an influential person in our lives that caused us to take the actions that we took that led us here today. We saw problems that made it easy for us to see because we've experienced them in some way ourselves.
I was thinking yesterday about choices—the choices we make in life. How we make choices based on values. True to my INFP nature, I put a high value on education and on meaning-making.
Different people, different choices. If I do a values-based exercise with a client I’m truly wanting to know—what are your values and how will you make choices based on those values? I wouldn’t attempt to give guidance to someone else based on my own value system.
There’s not a book that I’m going to pull down from any shelf and say “well actually according to this, you should do this….” while others have tried. That book, if it existed, would be the book that my clients write. All of these psychological tools that are available are there to promote the free and responsible search for one's own truth and meaning.
There have been people I have come across who have commented on the commitment I’m making to student loan debt to complete this program. Yes, it's quite a commitment. If I had put a higher value on other things in life they would have led to other choices, outside of an advanced education, no doubt.
Schwartz throws out another great quote, this one comes from a friend of hers—“When you invest in human value there are never any taxes and you come out richer no matter what happens and when you speak from your soul you speak from a universal language that everyone can understand.” I liked that one too.
I have made a commitment to human value. I’m doing my best to speak from my soul. Mr. Rogers? He comes into play because there is the new documentary coming out soon. He spoke before the Senate in 1969 to defend federal funding of public programs like his own. In this clip of his testimony found here, he read the poem below.
What do you do with the mad that you feel? This thinking is very much in line with Viktor Frankl and with existential psychotherapy—stimulus versus response. Between every situation or every stimulus and every response, there is a space. That space is the power to choose. What I sometimes tell clients is that we can register our feelings about a situation very quickly—within milliseconds.
The limbic or primitive portion of our brain that is also connected to the amygdala or our fear center makes it hard sometimes not to react immediately, especially when registering an event as threatening in some way. This actually happened to me the other day at a social gathering. Ugh. It happens to us all, right?
Before we know it we let some snarky comment get to us before we even know what happened. Snarky comments can feel threatening. And before you know it you can get caught in a kind of back and forth tit for tat.
To be able to work on the ability to handle things tactfully when that happens is a real skill and so hard when our systems are down--when we’re stressed out to the max--all the more reason to implement acts of self-care.