Posts by Jim Roy

Epiphany at the Urinal

The single page flyer taped to the wall above the urinal caught my attention with the headline – Can We Choose to Be Happy? Part of a wellness emphasis on campus, flyers like these were not uncommon, and placing one above a urinal certainly would get someone’s undivided focus. I contemplated the message before me. Is it that easy? Can I choose to be happy?

Standing there, the porcelain receptacle and shiny, chrome flushing hardware barely inches away, I had an epiphany. Choosing to be happy, I concluded, is like choosing to have an ulcer, or like choosing to be thin. I can’t choose to immediately be thin. I can just make choices and behave in a way that results in my losing weight. Similarly, I can’t choose to be instantly happy. I can however make choices and behave in a way that results in happiness.

Eating the right kinds of food, in the right amounts, at the right time of day will lead to my losing weight. But what about being happy? What kinds of thinking and behavior will lead to happiness? How about –

+ Choosing to be grateful.
+ Choosing to nurture a forgiving spirit.
+ Choosing to really love people, especially the important people in your life.
+ Choosing integrity, and being the person you want to be.
+ Choosing to include fun in your life? Go to the movie. Go on the bike ride. Meet a friend for tennis.
+ Choosing not to procrastinate. Get the project or assignment done, whether it is organizing the garage or doing your taxes. Whatever your tough task is, it may not be as tough as you think if you just get started. And once completed you will smile as a burden is lifted from your shoulders.

You don’t have to do all of these things to be happy, but you have to choose to embrace some of them. The list isn’t comprehensive, but it still is a pretty good list. The more of these ways of being you choose, the happier you will be.

The flyer above the ‘you know what’ wasn’t asking a bad question, just a question that easily misleads us. We can’t choose to be immediately happy because happiness is a feeling, and human beings cannot directly control feelings. What we can control is what we think and how we act. And yes, what we think and what we do will have an effect on what we feel, so in that way the flyer is on the right track.

Some might say this is a technicality, but this distinction is much more significant than a mere technicality. A person can become focused on and mired in his feeling state and then become driven to affect or change the feeling. This is what drives all self-medicating behaviors. Whether the behavior involves alcohol, drugs – both legal and illegal, food, porn, shopping, gambling, or sex (to name a few), it is about changing brain chemistry in a way that affects how the person feels. Self-medicating does indeed provide a high or moment of release, but it is temporary, and always increasingly so, which leads to the self-medicating habit cycle repeating, again and again, the never ending habit becoming a prison of addiction and private shame. This distinction is vital to understand!

Happiness is an inside job.
Don’t assign anyone else that much power over your life. 

Trying to achieve the feeling of happiness is illusive and confusing. It is as undoable as my choosing to immediately self-clean my arteries of plaque. Feelings and physiology are in the realm of the “not directly controllable.” Feelings are important, mind you, much more so to some than to others, but they come out of and into alignment with my thinking and my actions.

Who knew urinals can be the sites of such epiphanies?

Controversial or Not?

Even people who haven’t heard of Choice Theory relate to the Caring and Deadly Habits when first introduced to them. Through the nodding of their heads and the chuckling sounds they make you can quickly see that they “get,” on a personal level, what it means to criticize and blame and threaten and punish and to anger, in general. And as people identify how deadly their behavior has been to the important relationships in their lives, they also become inspired to know more about the Caring Habits and how these kinds of habits can show up in their interactions with others.

I recently had a possible epiphany when considering a passage of the Bible through a Choice Theory lens. I say possible, because maybe what I am thinking is controversial. It doesn’t seem controversial to me, but I am interested in your reaction on this point.

It started when I read the April 18 passage in Jesus Calling, the devotional book by Sarah Young. The emphasis is on the gift of peace that God gives to us for each day, no more and no less. Since she is basing the emphasis on the instruction the people received about the collecting of manna, she writes that “Just as the Israelites could not store manna for the future but had to gather it daily, so it is with My [God’s] peace.”

This brought me back to the passage from Exodus 16:15-20 that reads –

Moses said to them, It is the bread the Lord has given you to eat. This is what the Lord has commanded: Each one is to gather as much as he needs. Take an omer for each person you have in your tent.”
The Israelites did as they were told; some gathered much, some little .  .  . Each one gathered as much as he needed.
Then Moses said to them, “No one is to keep any of it until morning.”
However, some of them paid no attention to Moses; they kept part of it until morning, but it was full of maggots and began to smell. So Moses was angry with them.

It is that phrase, “So Moses was angry with them,” that got my Choice Theory attention. This is what some would call a natural, and maybe even appropriate reaction. But did Moses need to be angry here? It seems to me that a matter-of-fact response would have been more helpful, to both the people and to Moses himself.

Spoiling of the manna as punishment vs. natural consequences.

Instead of anger, his response could have been marked by –

  • You were told to take what you need for each day and don’t try to store it.
  • So this is what happens when you store it.
  • Reminder: Don’t store it.
  • There is a lesson here about hearing and trusting God.

This got me to thinking and wondering if Moses’s tendency toward anger (this same anger led him to kill the Egyptian earlier in his life) bled into his interpretation and writing about God. Moses himself got angry in certain situations and he pictured God being angry, too. I don’t say this about Moses’s tendency toward anger as a criticism. I still respect him deeply and hold him in very high esteem. Remember that while he had the ability to get angry he was also described as the “meekest man on earth.”

What the passage does alert me to is the possibility that God may be different from how the Bible writers were able to capture and to represent Him. Am I off here? I can see danger in edging toward a view like the one I have just described, yet I keep coming back to Jesus – the beliefs He taught and the way of life He modeled – and Him saying clearly that if you have seen Me, you have seen the Father. There is no difference between them. NONE! And so, while the Bible writers of old could not do this, we now have the advantage of seeing God through the lens of Jesus. There doesn’t seem to be much danger in that.

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Does the Bible misrepresent God, and if so, how often does this kind of thing occur?
What do we do, for instance, when in 1 Sam. 19:9 it refers to the “tormenting (evil) spirit of the Lord coming upon” Saul? And yet, in 2 Timothy 1:7 we are assured that “God has not given us a spirit of fear and timidity, but of power, love, and self-discipline.”
For me, such discrepancies, rather than causing doubt or discouragement, invite me to become a Biblical detective on the hunt for clues of understanding. Such a view does create a shift in how I see the role of inspiration, but it does not weaken my faith in Jesus or my drive to seek His character.

For everyone who asks, receives.
Everyone who seeks, finds.
And to everyone who knocks, the door will be opened.
Matt. 7:8

The Key

Choice is a big deal in Scripture, although the writers of the Bible at times seemed to be expressing quite a different view. Choice is a big deal in the Bible because choice is a huge deal to God! To create human beings with an incredible system of internal control and then place them on a planet marked by free will is a clear demonstration of God’s character and an important indication of the way the universe operates. In spite of these clear markers of God’s way of being, Bible writers sometimes characterized God as pouty, arbitrary, and angry.

For instance, when we see wording like – “The Lord will stay with you as long as you stay with Him!” and then “But if you abandon Him, He will abandon you.” (2 Chron. 15:2) – it is tempting to see God as a simple IF/THEN God. If we love Him, then He will love us, which is a classic way of describing a very conditional love, a love with manipulative strings attached. Several writers in the Bible echoed this kind of wording. “If you return to Me, I will restore you,” Jeremiah proclaimed (15:19), and “Return to Me and I will return to you,” Zachariah wrote (1:3), and Malachi added “Now return to Me and I will return to you” (3:7). Maybe you are getting the picture. When we read passages like these it is easy to see God as controlling and manipulative.

This brings up questions like – How accurate is the Bible?, and What is the nature of inspiration? I am pretty sure that God is fine with us reflecting on these kinds of questions, but the thing is, do we really get the predicament we are in? I think, for instance, that it is hard for us to grasp the size of the chasm that sin created between heaven and earth. Where once Adam and Eve enjoyed face to face communion with their Maker, now we “see things imperfectly, like puzzling reflections in a mirror” (1 Cor. 13:12). In spite of this chasm, God set about restoring mankind and the planet. Some people were inspired to write their thoughts and impressions and, in quite a few cases, their visions. I don’t think we can be sure of the extent to which the writers’ backgrounds and personal views affected their writing. Nor can we fully understand the extent to which the context of their cultural circumstances affected their writing. We do know, though, that over a period of 1,500 years, 40 different writers picked up the pen or quill or stylus and tried to share what God had given them.

I think it is safe to say that all of the Bible writers were to some extent affected by their culture, and often their phrasing captured more of that culture than they may have realized, including the texts shared earlier that seemed to reveal an arbitrary, and even capricious god. Since the beginning of mankind, cultures have placed a high importance on worship and appeasing the gods, even going as far as offering human sacrifices to please their god or to ward off his displeasure. To what extent then did the writers of the past fully understand the character of God?

A text in Isaiah sheds light on this topic. Indeed, it is like a key to me that opens my understanding of the “controlling-sounding” texts with which I have struggled. Isaiah worded it like this – “So the Lord must wait for you to come to Him, so He can show you His love and compassion” (30:18). Think about this wording – the Lord must wait for us to come to Him. Again – the Lord must wait for us to come to Him. What pictures arise as you think about this wording? What feelings wash over you as you picture God yearning for you to seek Him? Another text comes to mind, a text in which John described Jesus standing at our front door and knocking, all the while hoping that we will answer the door and invite Him in to share a meal together (Rev. 3:20). Now, instead of seeing God as wanting to control my affections, I realize He is respecting my power of choice. It has always been about choice, and it always will be.

The chasm that sin and selfishness have created
between heaven and earth is great,
but God has spanned the chasm and provided a way
for us to commune with Him and enjoy Him.
God the Father, Son, and Spirit have teamed to span the distance
and bring us into intimate contact with each of them. 

My personal view is that our little, speck of a planet is the focal point of a cosmic conflict in which the character of God has been on trial. As citizens of this planet, we must choose the side of the conflict to which we will be loyal, the side of the conflict that we think offers the universe the best future, an eternal, sustainable future. Conflicts often have rules of engagement, guidelines that set rules and boundaries of behavior. I think God set up rules of engagement for the conflict as it played out on earth. The adversary, satan, could not impose his will on humans, unless they put themselves on his ground or gave him a handhold into their lives, and on the flip side, neither could God. Humans were not to become victims of powerful, supernatural forces, instead God would put into place rules of engagement that uplifted and endorsed the power of choice. Humans must be free to choose.

Hence, Isaiah got it right when he wrote –

So the Lord must wait for you to come to Him
– so he can show you His love and compassion.
For the Lord is a faithful God.
– Blessed are those who wait for His help.

Isaiah 30:18


It isn’t that the other Bible writers got it wrong. Technically, what they wrote is accurate – God will restore us if we come to Him. Isaiah’s wording, though, reminds us that God isn’t about controlling and manipulation. Rather, He aches for us to come to Him. He yearns to connect with us, to fill us, to heal us, and to restore us to our original peace and joy.

Rather Be Right than Married, Pt. 2

The assignment in the August 31 post, Rather Be Right, than Married?, asked you to comment on the statement that “90% of couples would rather be right than married.” Several of you did offer ideas on this topic, including –

“The solving (marriage) circle concept comes to mind. When focusing on improving the relationship becomes the main issue, right and wrong could be less relevant. Thanks for asking, Jim.”

“Those couples have a bigger need for controlling than belonging. It is sad that the love is not stronger than the personal need.”

“I would rather be right AND Married. I think it is a classic example of needs not being met and frustration building to a point of argument. Feeling like you have won the argument gives a sense of power and freedom which may be highly desirable if you are not experiencing the other basic needs being met in the relationship… I will be thinking more on this. Thanks!”

“This topic reminds me of the amazing power of our quality world pictures. Our lives really do revolve around the pictures we form and place in our mental picture books. It is fascinating how, once a picture gets into our picture books, we go into action to get that picture to become a reality. When the picture is a good one and we use the caring habits to achieve it the process is healthy. When the picture is less than good, or maybe even an unhealthy picture, and we use the deadly habits to achieve it, the process is destructive. A preference for being right over being in relationship to your spouse sounds like some combination of the deadly habits with a less than good quality world picture.”

So, was curious and looked this up: statistics say that 41% of first marriages end in divorce, and that 60% of second marriages end in divorce. Apparently, the marriage relationship is a challenging one to successfully negotiate. You’d think that the rate of divorce for second marriages would be better than that of first marriages. I mean, wouldn’t we learn something during the first marriage about what we really need in a partner, which would then lead to an informed choice for a second-marriage partner? Nope, doesn’t happen. (Third marriage statistics are even worse than second marriage failures.)

Every human being is blessed with a personal internal control system. One of the qualities of an internal control system is that it doesn’t like being controlled by another system. If a person would rather be right than married, he (or she) needs to look at the whole control thing and shift the focus to themselves, rather than trying to control their partner.

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Just noticed this quote taped to the side of the filing cabinet next to my home office desk –

The greatest conflict is not between two people,
but between one person and himself.

Garth Brooks

Rather Be Right, than Married?

A therapist I knew shared with me that “90% of the couples I counsel would rather be right than married.”

This conversation took place over 35 years ago, yet I still remember this pithy, say-a-lot-with-few-words statement stopping me in my mental tracks. Now in my 42nd year of marriage, this statement continues to stop me in my tracks as it simultaneously encourages and accuses me.

90% of couples in therapy would rather be right than married

It would seem this statement relates to Choice Theory, but how? How does the idea of wanting to be right rather than being married relate to the elements of Choice Theory? I would appreciate your help with this. I think this topic deserves a blog post, but your insights will make the post better. Consider the following prompts and then share your thoughts. You can answer one of them or both of them.

Question 1: How do you respond to the statement that “90% of couples in therapy would rather be right than married?”

Question 2: What elements of Choice Theory come to mind when you consider the statement that “90% of couples in therapy would rather be right than married?”

Use the Leave a Reply box below to share your responses.

If you want to share anonymously send your response to thebetterplan@gmail.com and I will remove any identification before using it in a follow-up post.

A Chair, a Glass of Water, and a Microphone – We Still Miss You, Bill

It was six years ago today that William Glasser passed away. (b. May 11, 1925 – d. August 23, 2013) For all who knew him it was a deep loss that we experienced at a heart level. His ideas impacted us in such tangible and meaningful ways and we wondered if we had thanked him enough and acknowledged the influence he had, and continues to have, in our lives. As part of my reflection today, which for me has included a few tears and many more smiles, I looked back on some of our almost 50 interviews together. I share this excerpt with you, not because of it’s earthshaking significance, but instead because of it’s joy-sparking simplicity.

Bill Glasser, a chair, a glass of water, and a microphone

An excerpt of interview #4 on November 28, 2003

Roy: Ok, you were back in . .  .

Glasser:  I was in Akron.

Roy:  Akron, yeh.  How did that go?

Glasser:  It went very well. That was the University of Akron, it was a really good talk.  I’m really honing my talk on mental health.  And, actually I’m now planning, we’re trying to set it up for the 18thof January, which is a Sunday, I’m trying to, uh, we’re gonna record some very fancy DVD recordings and bring all my work up to date with the new book Warning and everything.  And so, you’ll get those tapes, you’ll have that [stuff, too].

Roy:  Ok.  Seeing you there with the microphone (for this session I had him holding a hand-held microphone) is such a, uh .  . .

Glasser:  A common way to see me?

Roy:  A common, yeh, a very common way to see you, and actually, I’d like to maybe ask you, I was actually thinking about this on the way down today, uh, I’ve seen you speak a number of times.  In fact, it would be hard for me to count how many times. I’ve actually arranged a few of those and prior to one of your talks that I arranged, uh, I don’t know if it was you or Linda Harshman, uh, just pointed out to me that all you needed was basically a comfortable chair, a small table with a glass of water on it, and a microphone and you were ready to go.

Glasser: Right.  Still am.

Roy:  Still am.

Glasser:  I never use overhead projectors or things like that because that to me doesn’t work.  The audience doesn’t, it just doesn’t work.  They’re reading an overhead or .  . .  To me it’s foolish, Powerpoint and all that stuff.  For me it doesn’t work.

Roy:   Now you, you have, uh, I’ve seen you give talks that pretty much last the whole day, other than the break for lunch  .  .  .

Glasser:  Yeh, I have lots of material.

Roy:  I’ve seen you given talks that last, oh, approximately an hour and a half.  I’ve seen you give talks to maybe, you know, small groups of thirty people, and I’ve seen you give talks to a group exceeding five thousand people and every, every time it’s the same for you as far as your, uh, microphone, a glass of water, no notes.

Glasser:  I never use notes.

Roy:  I just have to, when you, when you, ok, like the one I saw where you spoke to over 5,000 people, I mean a gigantic auditorium .  .  .

Glasser:  People even I didn’t see, they were recording .  .  .

Roy:   No, you were on closed-circuit television.  Uh, I mean, prior to the talk, do you, do you have things clear in your mind or do you kind of feel like I know this stuff well enough that I’ll go up and start talking and see how it goes?

Glasser:  I know the stuff well enough, but I usually figure out how to start. I have the first couple of sentences in my mind to get it started.  And then after that, sometimes I’m surprised what happens after that, because I believe that if I have the talk too rehearsed then I lose all the creativity that’s available to me in this subject, so I figured this out a long time ago, so I just start talking and I, it works.  And, I’m not nervous before a talk.

Roy:  Yeh, I was wondering about that, too.

Glasser:  It’s just the opposite.  I’m anxious to go.  I can’t wait til the introduction is over, you know.  (laughter)  And you know, I like the Johnny Carson introduction where somebody says, “Here’s Bill,” and that’s good enough for me, and uh, because I’m so, I’m not being .  .  .  I’m not bragging or anything, I’m just so bursting with information I want to share that I, that I, you know, when people like something I’m gonna do, they want me to do it in an hour and I suggest that it won’t cost you any more money if you give me maybe an hour and a half to start, and then, so something I was asked to do recently, we tried to schedule something .  .  .

Roy:  How .  .  .

Glasser:  People that hire speakers they, they think that no one is going to sit for an hour, you know (laughter), but my audiences sit there for longer.

Roy:  That’s true.  How much after a talk, how much do you self-evaluate or how much do you critique yourself after a talk?

Glasser:  No, I don’t really do that.  I just say it was a good talk.  Sometimes I remember that I forgot to say something I wanted to say, but the audience will never know and I don’t worry about it.  If anything, I give the audience more information than they really can deal with easily, so I don’t worry about leaving something out.  But talking is what I do.  Writing is not .  .  .   I love to write now .  .  .  writing, though, has been learned.  But talking, I started talking in 1958, when I started lecturing for the California Youth Authority, I started working there in 57, and, 56 actually. I started working at the Ventura School, and then the lectures were so interesting that Miss Perry said, you know, to other superintendents when they met me, you ought to have Dr. Glasser, so I talked all around the Youth Authority, and then, I started talking to educators also, after I published the book, Mental Health or Mental Illness.

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Indeed he did start talking to educators, and what an impact he had and continues to have in that field especially. So many of the current trends – social/emotional learning, mastery learning, focusing on relevance, restorative justice, and the importance of positive relationships – can be traced back to him.

Reading this short excerpt reminds me of his energy and the commitment he had to his beliefs. He was a relentless force, a gentle force, but a force in every sense of the word. Discouragement did not derail him and doubt did not slow him. Ultimately, the excerpt reminds me to buck up and be like Bill! On this important day, may you be invited and inspired and persuaded to buck up, too. The ideas of Choice Theory and Reality Therapy are as effective as ever.

Glasser during a talk in Ventura, CA.

Paper Tigers, Self-Help and Choice Theory

A school in Walla Walla, Washington, and a researcher in Canada, have recently impacted and challenged my thinking.

I finally had a chance to see the movie, Paper Tigers, a documentary about an alternative high school in Walla Walla, Washington. For years after it came out it was shown in sponsored venues, usually a community or school setting, and always accompanied with follow-up discussion. I occasionally looked at their website to see if a showing was scheduled within driving distance. A few days ago a showing of the film took place in Napa, a half hour from me, and I jumped at the chance to attend. I was not disappointed.

And then this morning I came across* an article by Michael Ungar, a professor of Social Work at Dalhousie University in Halifax, Nova Scotia. He is also the Canada Research Chair in Child, Family and Community Resilience and besides overseeing projects around the world, has authored more than a dozen books, including The Science of Resilience and the True Path to Success. The title of the article I read this morning – Put Down Self-Help Books. Resilience Is Not a DIY Endeavor – caught my eye. (Click on title to access article.)

Ungar explains that there is a huge industry right now aimed at helping people fix their own problems. From mindfulness to neuroplasticity to cognitive behavioral coaching to career coaching to Kripalu yoga, the options for advice, guidance and inspiration are endless. These approaches, Ungar continues, place the task of becoming motivated and, indeed, transformed, on the individual. His view is that most people fail when it comes to transformation, whether it be keeping the weight off or doing better in that next relationship. Self-help emphasizes that everything we need is already inside of us. Ungar states plainly, “The notion that your resilience is your problem alone is ideology, not science.”

He goes on to say that –

“Resilience is not a DIY endeavor. Self-help fails because the stresses that put our lives in jeopardy in the first place remain in the world around us even after we’ve taken the “cures.” The fact is that people who can find the resources they require for success in their environments are far more likely to succeed than individuals with positive thoughts and the latest power poses.”

Toward the end of the article he summarizes the data complied from his research –

“The math was daunting, but what it showed was the relationship between risk exposure, resilience and behavioral outcomes for almost 500 young people, all of them facing serious challenges. We later verified these results with more than 7,000 young people around the world, but this was the first proof that let us say with certainty that resilience depends more on what we receive than what we have within us. These resources, more than individual talent or positive attitude, accounted for the difference between youths who did well and those who slid into drug addiction, trance and high-risk sexual activity.”

Time and again as I read the article I stopped and wondered about Choice Theory. Is the “ideology” of Choice Theory an example of what Ungar is talking about? Is Choice Theory just another DIY self-help opportunistic resource? I don’t think it is. I don’t think Ungar was taking aim at a Choice Theory set of beliefs.

I don’t think Choice Theory is the kind of problem Ungar writes about for the following reasons:

+ I believe in and benefit from Choice Theory and I resonate with the author’s key points. 🙂

+ Choice Theory acknowledges the frustration, the pain, and even the devastation that tough circumstances can bring, and doesn’t suggest that different thinking will fix someone or their circumstances.

+ Choice Theory explains that we only have direct control over our thinking and our behavior, and then asks a person to begin to identify the kind of thinking and the kind of behavior that will move her/him forward.

+ Choice Theory ultimately focuses on a plan, which very likely will involve accessing resources.

What other reasons should I have listed here? Please let me know.

I very much agree with Ungar when he states that agencies outside of an at-risk person – whether school, community, church, city, or government agencies – must work to provide reasonable and tangible supports that prevent an/or solve unforeseen emergencies or systemic problems. I agree that too many people are struggling to make it with almost no resources at their disposal. I don’t think there is anything in Choice Theory that wants to overlook this or sugarcoat it.

The movie, Paper Tigers, is such a good example of what can happen when two important pieces are included. First, the school recognized the value of positive relationships combined with expectations for competent performance. Insightful and firm leadership was implemented within an environment of warmth, love, and respect. Second, the school recognized that students who lack resources are placed at an unfair vantage point and they took steps to provide students with access to health care, counseling services, and even transportation across the state to a college to which a student applied.

Choice Theory explains that a person’s Basic Needs must be met, with survival and safety needs being as basic as it gets. I feel that the teachers at Lincoln High School exemplified the non-punitive principles of Choice Theory, while seeking to provide the resources that Ungar describes.

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* I came across the Ungar article while taking a look at the Mad In America website. I can’t say enough good things about this resource and the community that contributes to it. Glasser was very impressed with Robert Whitaker’s book, Mad in America: Bad Science, Bad Medicine, and the Enduring Treatment of the Mentally Ill (2002) and bought a hundred copies of the book to give away. You can access their website (which I recommend) here – Mad in America

+++ NEWSFLASH!! – The movie, Paper Tigers, is now available on iTunes.

We Live the Feeling of Our Thinking

 

IMG_0517

This picture just captivates me.

On one level I am drawn to its wonderful creativity. I bought the door stop pictured below for my office door out of sheer respect for whoever the person was who thought of it. This kind of creativity needs to be rewarded.

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I have to tip my cap to this artist of the chain link fence picture as well. On another level, though, this picture goes so much deeper than just creativity. What is it saying to you? The chain link fence, ubiquitous, a comparatively cheap and efficient way to keep something in or keep something out, strong, you can see what is on the other side, yet you cannot reach it. The design of the fence itself is a model of conformity and permanence. Its tightly wound wire states very emphatically that “you can’t get out.”

Yet in this picture, not only can someone get past this fence now, the fence itself is breaking free. The very instrument of control, force, and restriction is itself becoming instruments of freedom. Dead weight has become helium. Anchors have become wings.

It is easy to see ourselves in the picture, both in the lock-step control of the lower part of the fence and in the links breaking free in the upper part of the fence. Optimism spills out from the picture, even if only to feel good for the links flying into the distance. “Good for you,” we whisper. “Good for you.” So powerful are the images of the links as wings that even the total grayness of the picture cannot keep us feeling gray.

Of course, we need not only whisper, good for you. The links taking off to who knows where can be us. Those freedom loving links can represent our new way of being, our new view of the world, our recognition that we can choose to leave a tightly wound focus on control.

IMG_0517 - Version 2

It would be interesting to use this picture as part of an assignment in school. I can see it easily being used in creative writing for Language Arts, or for activities in Health class, or Social Studies, or Bible. What are some thought questions that could open the discussion in a class setting? Such questions might include –

What is this picture saying?
What did the artist want to convey?
The caption under this picture said that We Live the Feeling of Our Thinking. What does that mean?
Did someone need to cut the links to free them or did they free themselves?
Does this picture suggest that fences are bad and that being free of them is the goal?
Is there such a thing as a good fence?
What would make a fence less good, or even bad?

What do you think? How could this picture be used in a classroom or in a choice theory workshop? How could the picture’s creativity and insight really be plugged into? What questions would you add to those listed above?

* This post is reprinted from January 31, 2015

The Power of a Friend

In a recent blog (3C’s – Connection, Community, Companions) I shared a quote written by Adam Smith in 1759 in which he stated that “The mind is rarely so disturbed, but that the company of a friend will restore it to some degree of tranquility and sedateness.” There is a lot of truth in this insight and the story you are about to read will underscore the impressive power of simple friendship.

As part of my research for writing the Glasser biography, I became familiar with the work and writings of Dr. Peter Breggin, the author of Toxic Psychiatry (1991), an important book on the dangerous realities of psychotropic drugs. At the beginning of the book, though, Breggin shares a story of an experience he had as a young, undergraduate future psychiatrist, a story, it turns out, that I have never forgotten.

Dr. Peter Breggin

Early in college Breggin got involved with a student-led program that focused on volunteering at nearby psychiatric hospitals. This was in 1954, the same year that thorazine came onto the mental illness scene and also the same year that Glasser began his psychiatric residency in the neuro-psychiatric veterans’ hospital in Southern California. Breggin quickly observed the inhumanity and even horrors within mental hospitals of the day – intimidating and abusive staff overseeing patients who were treated more like animals, more like hopeless cases of permanent dysfunction, housed in cold, colorless cement. He questioned that these hospitals needed to function this way and that patients were viewed as hopeless vegetables.

Breggin rose to a position of leadership within the volunteer program. His questions about how patients were treated — why were patients forced to endure freezing cold temperatures in the winter and stiflingly hot temperatures in the summer; and why were insulin comas and electric shocks forced on patients – were answered unsatisfactorily. The volunteer program grew, though, and as it did it began to have its own effect on hospital’s atmosphere. There were fewer cases of staff abuse and the hallways began to take on color and life.

Feeling like more could be done, as a sophomore Breggin came up with an idea and approached the hospital superintendent. “Let a dozen or more of us,” he began, “have one patient each, assigned for the duration of the year. We would work with the patient one afternoon a week,” he continued, “and meet as a group with a social worker.”

Instead of responding with interest and support, the superintendent responded with outrage. How could untrained undergraduates in college even entertain the idea that they could work with back ward schizophrenics? The president of the Boston Psychoanalytic Society also protested the idea and warned that the patients could be harmed as a result. Breggin explained that he could take the volunteer program to another hospital if they preferred and their ire turned calmer, given that the volunteer program was one of the hospital’s only bright spots.

And so began a simple, but powerful arrangement. Fourteen students were begrudgingly given a patient – all older, chronically ill, and hopeless – with whom to work. Hospital staff felt they were beyond harm or help. Breggin was one of the 14 students. Instead of me trying to describe his remarkable story I will let him describe it in his own words –

My own particular patient, an elderly man I’ll call Mr. Liebowitz, was diagnosed as psychotically depressed, overcome with feelings of worthlessness and hopelessness. It was impossible to motivate him to do anything. He was afraid of people and phobic about having a heart attack. When I introduced myself to him, he tried to shoo me away like some vastly annoying fly. I thought to myself, “He’ll never even talk to me!”

After a time he began to trust that I actually would show up each week and that I would be a friend to him. Like most inmates, he was absolutely friendless, and my attempts to establish a relationship must have seemed strange and inexplicable to him. Gradually he let me help him get better clothes from the dispensary and encourage him to work on some simple projects in the hospital carpentry shop. Soon he became willing to chat with me about what he might do to get out of the hospital.

Fearful at first about a heart attack, Mr. Liebowitz gradually allowed me to help him walk outdoors around the hospital, and then eventually around the hospital grounds. We became more able to talk about his actual physical condition, which was excellent, and to contrast his fears to reality. We chatted about his concerns about old age and put them in a more hopeful perspective. I am sure that the interest of a young college student did much to convince him that he still possessed some human worth.

Then I helped him select a home for older and retired people in town, where he was able to take advantage of going outdoors, shopping, and visiting in the community. It was more than a decent place to live and he was very pleased to be free of the hospital.

Other students in the program had more extraordinary accomplishments. Some worked with more grossly “psychotic” patients, those suffering from hallucinations and delusions, and helped them return to their families. While Mr. Liebowitz didn’t talk much, many of the other patients became quite involved in expressing their feelings and discussing their lives with their student aides. For many of the students, this once-a-week supervision with the social worker became as intense as graduate training in psychotherapy. Nor did medication play any role in the outcome. Our patients were not yet receiving the new “miracle drugs.”

Breggin’s story thus far is interesting and even touching, and the story could end there and still be worth every moment you have taken to read this far, but it is the next paragraph, the one that talks about The Results of this simple program that is truly informative and inspiring. Continuing on, Breggin writes –

By the end of the year, eleven of the fourteen patients had been released from the hospital. Only three of those eleven would return in the follow-up, which lasted one to two years.

This story strikes me as incredibly profound. Men viewed as hopeless psychotics, tucked away in a back ward of an institution and tended to as some tend to vegetables, and sometimes worse than that, became sane enough to leave their confines and return to life with their families or venture out on their own. Both – the effects of loneliness and the effects of a supportive friendship – are powerful. Society tends to overlook or misunderstand these effects, though. May this story serve as a gentle reminder of the importance of positive relationships and connection, and further serve as a nudge toward being a friend to others.

You Make Me So . . .

A few months ago, students in a class I was teaching challenged me over the idea that other people can’t make you feel anything, and argued that another person could indeed make you feel happy. The tone of the class during this discussion remained positive, yet after the class I continued to think about what I thought and even felt about the topic. I wrote out my thoughts a couple of days later and shared them with the class on a discussion board. What follows is the note I wrote.

I have continued to think about our class discussion this past Wednesday, which really got me to thinking about my beliefs and reviewing the concepts of Choice Theory. Several of you felt that another person could indeed make you feel happy. My explanation of a different way of looking at that process seemed not to gain a foot hold. Or maybe I should say .  .  .  a mind hold. In my thinking and reviewing, though, I contemplated this  .  .  .

What if during my attempted explanations during class I looked at you and said, “You make me so frustrated!”

In that moment you might think, Oh, I’m sorry, I don’t mean to make you frustrated, but fairly quickly you would probably arrive at thinking I am not making you anything.

Your thought process would then continue with – If you’re feeling frustrated because I asked a question that’s your problem. Your “frustrating” or “choosing to frustrate”, as Glasser would say, is about something inside of you, not made to happen from something in the classroom.

And if that was your thought process you would be right. My frustration would be the result of a picture in my head not being satisfied. Common teacher QW pictures include – being able to answer student questions insightfully and accurately; all students listening attentively; and giving assignments that students pour themselves into, to name a few. When a specific picture isn’t being met a teacher would very likely choose to frustrate.

What about the phrase you make me happy? Well, you make me happy is as accurate as you make me frustrated. When a picture I have placed in my head is satisfied it is easy for me to happy or to choose to be happy.

The language we use can make a big difference in our habits of mind. We use the phrase you make me so easily and so quickly that over time we come to believe it. You make me so mad we might think. And in so doing we plant the idea or support the idea that our being mad or our being happy is not up to us. It is instead up to someone else. This habit of mind, that is, the idea that someone or something outside of us can control us, drains or robs us of so much of our power. We go from a person being responsible for our Total Behavior (which includes our feelings) to a person being a victim of external circumstances. We go from creating our future to simply following the tide of events; from negotiating our QW pictures to trying to manipulate the QW pictures of others.

It is freeing to not be at the mercy of others behavior.

We may like it when someone in our life surprises us with a gift. And if this happens it is fine to think or say I love it when you surprise me with an unexpected gift. I feel valued and appreciated when you go to the trouble of planning something like this. This language reflects my choosing what I value.

It may seem like a small thing, the words we use, but it isn’t really. It is a big thing when we get in the habit of owning our Total Behaviors, and then using language that reflects this ownership. Recognizing that we directly choose and nurture our thoughts, and that our feelings are a part of this process, actually empowers us. This power brings with it responsibility, which basically eliminates criticizing, blaming, and complaining as ways to make things better. But this power, with the Holy Spirit’s help, puts our past, our present, and our future into our hands. It is freeing to not be at the mercy of others behavior.

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I am so open to your comments and feedback. So many times you have responded to one of my posts and helped me to see things more clearly and accurately. Could I have said things better in the note to my class?

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