Taking, Not Taking the Blame

A million years ago I was an English Lit major and still have a passion for it. Yesterday morning I listened to a scholar discussing the origins of the facts/myths about The Whipping Boy, connecting this historical reference to present-day politicians. The backstory — acted out in The Prince and the Pauper, by the way– of the W.B. is that a princeling who’d misbehaved and deserved the punishment du jour – a whipping – was spared. Another young man in the court was forced to take the beating for him. The belief was, royal blood could not be spilt; royal tears could not be shed. “Noblesse Oblige”.

Later on in this same day, I heard from another woman – a healing practitioner this time –about the same theme (this is how The Universe’s ‘downloads’ come to me:  taps on the head on the same topic):  whipping boys, scapegoats, “being thrown under the bus” by a co-worker. Taking a ‘whipping’ of some kind, because someone else needs to avoid blame for a bad situation or outcome. Not only ‘taking’ it, but allowing it.

About this point in my day, I had an uneasy epiphany. When we start digging-around, searching for reasons why things ‘happen’ to us, we’re faced with an uncomfortable truth. Sometimes we’re betrayed, totally blindsided by a friend, a spouse, a colleague or family member who’s pointing the finger of blame in our direction, without real cause (other than avoidance and denial).

But too often we allow others to use us as their personal scapegoats, for whatever’s gone wrong. We let ourselves be victimized; we suffer in silence and in guilt; our sense of self-sacrifice is hyper-inflated. To explain-away what, deep down we know is ‘off’, we think of this sacrifice as ‘love’, ‘commitment’, ‘duty’. Our adult children can really do a ‘number’ on us; so can our spouses and other family members. For many years, my ex-husband blamed me for his ‘anger issues’. True to my nature of being compliant (at that time, anyway), I not only allowed it, but internalized the gaslighting. My ‘ex’ eventually ‘owned’ his problems, but I’d already taken-on a boatload of bad feelings about myself.

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Any well-lived life has periods of heartache and trouble. I understand and accept that it’s a natural human instinct to want to avoid – at all costs -appearing responsible for any wrong-doing, or short-comings. But as I grow older and wiser, I’m becoming more discerning and proactive, when certain people in my life actively seek a scapegoat and are looking in my direction. I’m shedding my tendency toward too much self-sacrifice in my roles — especially easy to do with people I love — and definitely watching for big, fast-moving buses.

When You’ve Painted Yourself Into a Corner…

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There’s a time-worn idiom in the English language that I’ve always loved (English Lit. undergrad, I love all forms of word-play). This idiom is a verbal visual of someone painting a floor (I guess that was common, back in the day of rough-hewn floors) ‘blindly’, not realizing that his back’s against a wall: no way to leave the scene without stepping on wet paint and ruining the floor.

“Painting oneself into a corner” means, You did this to yourself; a blind move; a stupid move. The kind of move we all make in our lives – some of us many times over. The actual mistake can be harsh words that can’t be taken back; it can be bluff and nonsense about our skills; it’s very often a lie told that is sure to be discovered as a lie. Finding yourself in a corner, with no way to back-out unnoticed (without paint on your shoes and having to re-do the floor) is embarrassing on many levels:  it’s feeling exposed and foolish. For a minute, it’s hard to know just what to do. Then, the urge to get out of that corner becomes critical and there’s just no choice. You’re going to leave a mess, and be stuck with paint on the soles of your shoes.

nottingham.ac.uk

As human beings, we all say and do things that are ignorant, or that reveal our “tunnel vision” toward a situation. Our ego gets in the way and the resulting ‘corner’ we find ourselves in escapes our attention until it’s too late. Then, we  immediately feel the absurdity and humiliation of our predicament. (Anyone who’s ever embellished their resumé and then been asked about a particular aspect of it during an interview has lived through this idiom.) It’s clear to everyone watching or participating what’s happened. It’s usually pretty clear, also, what needs to happen next. But this is what’s so very hard for most of us (unless we’re toddlers, then it’s totally easy-peasy denial).

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Acknowledging that the predicament we’re in is of our own making, and reconciling this within ourselves is awkward. Even though making mistakes and ‘owning’ them is part of Life’s process of learning and growing, self-forgiveness — especially with a harsh Inner Critic –requires reflection and peace-making. But that’s only Part I. Part II is the way in which the person or people we’ve hurt or deceived react.

I had the opportunity today to watch and listen to someone – an older family member – realize he’d ‘painted himself into a corner’ — with snarky words aimed at a much younger relative who in no way deserved them. Within a matter of moments it was clear to me that – at his mature age (almost 70 years old) – the older man was still nurturing an ancient wound ; a grudge, to be exact; and had no way to explain (or back out from a painted-in corner with any dignity) his misplaced anger.

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What needed to happen right then?  “I’m sorry” would have been really good — perhaps even preventing the need for any further explanation. And what was the response from the other ‘side’? Sadly, but wonderfully, even though an apology never came, the recipient of the nasty words responded with grace by not acknowledging the misplaced anger. The younger man left the older man in his ‘corner’. Like a few people I’ve known in my life, I’m guessing he’ll stay in that corner until the garish red paint he splashed all over the floor with his words dries completely, and he can slink away. Even when Grace is extended, sometimes people don’t recognize it, or don’t feel they deserve it.

The Truth is, we all deserve Grace. We can wait, and hope it comes somehow, or, we can summon the courage in ourselves to ask for it.

Searching for the Words

I love poetry, and admire all poets:  established, fledgling, and even those who’ve yet to put  their feelings into words. Reading poetry, for me, evokes the same kinds of emotions I get from almost all artistic expressions:  I intuitively understand that the Artist is hoping to reach some deeper part of me. And I submit, willingly; enthusiastically; with relief.  Poetry is like an intimate conversation between the Poet and the Reader; but one that allows the Reader to step away, take time to process and absorb, then come back. As many times as is needed, or desired. Some poetry (much of it, really) is so poignant and eternal in its power that it can’t be felt or withstood by the human heart in just one ‘dose’. Instead, it begs to be read, over and over again, as time passes and our perspectives change.

bookriot.com

To some, classical poetry, prose, sonnets, etc. might seem way too “dated”. Awkward speech, elusive references – so difficult to access, and find meaning in. But, like music, painting, sculpture, photography, and almost any other artistic expression you can think of, poets have their own unique ways of connecting with our hearts and minds.

Think of it this way:  in our daily experience of living, many of us have intimate friends; as well as  acquaintances, work colleagues, and a bazillion ‘superficial’ connections. Only our intimate friends might hear our innermost thoughts and feelings. In times of great loneliness and despair – or during utter jubilation — the right poet can touch , and comfort your heart in ways that even a dear friend can’t.  A poem can ‘speak’ your exact emotions as you’re searching for the words; or, searching for the courage to express them. ( Enter the mega-million dollar industry of greeting cards).

Today I was reflecting on – and trying my best not to feel discouraged by – recent horrific episodes of gun violence in the United States, which now seem to happen on a daily basis here. Exhausted by the chatter ( so much Talk, so little Action) on social media, I turned to a poem. Brace yourselves, younger readers:  it was written in 1802.

The very first line, etched in the minds and hearts of all English Literature (my undergrad) students – is so applicable as to be heart-breaking, in the context of our seemingly disconnected – from what truly matters – collective State of Being. Although this poem was written to express the writer’s despair about the Industrial Revolution in the United States – a time of huge unrest and economic upheaval for the majority of citizens – it also aptly describes our 21st century conundrums and terrors in a bold, yet tender, and deeply prescient way:

“The World is too much with us; late and soon. Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers. Little we see in Nature that is ours. We’ve given our hearts away…This sea that bares her bosom to the moon; the winds that will be howling at all hours, are gathered up now like sleeping flowers. For this, for everything, we are out of tune:  it moves us not.”

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William Wordsworth continues his lamenting in this poem. I’ve only included the lines that express my own feelings of helplessness on this day, contemplating the grief that survivors of two mass shootings, in 48 hours, must be feeling.

Poetry is a quiet place to turn, when the World is too loud, too oppressive, too chaotic. It’s also a gentle reminder to reflect:  have we laid to ‘waste our powers’ and ‘given our hearts away’ in certain aspects of Life? Are we so ‘out of tune’ with Nature that its beauty and grace pale, compared to so many distractions?

thehardtimes.net

Some might tell me, “Get over it; that’s how Life is!” They might scoff at the very idea of trying to make sense of senseless acts. Clearly, there is no “sense” in random acts of hate and cruelty; that’s not the point of my reflection today. More importantly,  since Wordsworth’s 1802 poem (and even much before that), there’s plenty of evidence that human beings haven’t yet ‘given our hearts away’ as a species. I’m focusing on that today, taking comfort in a very old poet’s thoughts; hoping they’ll be shared and felt in countless ways; in ways that make a difference, as we all continue searching for words.

poet Maya Angelou, 1929-2014

Aging is an Attitude: When forgiveness feels impossible

There’s a human behavior that completely confounds my ability to get my head — and heart — around it: When a victim or survivor of a heinous crime chooses to extend forgivenessto the one who inflicted emotional pain, injury, or even caused the death of a loved one. It’s not that I don’t understand the choice; I’m simply amazed by the grace and resilience of the human spirit.

Those who’ve been damaged by another human being — the kind of damage that takes years, and a lot of therapy to mend — have every right to shut-down, curl into a ball, and retreat from the world. But, as we see within stories in the media, some people take an alternate route to healing, even after horrific harm has been done to them: the path of Forgiveness.

I’ve been thinking about the emotional injuries I’ve sustained over the years. It’s hard to live into your 60’s and not experience rough moments and rough people. In most instances, ‘Forgiveness’ was not in my repertoire. Lately, however, I’ve paid more attention to the words of those who’ve suffered much more than I, at the hands of vile, or just ignorant people. As a result, I’ve come to a completely different understanding of the Power of Forgiving.

First, the Act of Forgiving does not condone, excuse, or honor in any way the injury or the person who committed it. It does, however, acknowledge and recognize the depth of hurt and suffering caused, but in a way that restores power back to the injured person. When someone hurts you deeply — say, a severe violation of trust — besides the emotional pain that comes with the sense of betrayal, something else is actually taken away from you. What is temporarily lost or, more accurately, ‘eroded’ is your confidence, sense of security, sense of personal safety, and a host of other things (depending upon whatever the injury was). When we Forgive the person or people who’ve caused us harm in some significant way, we take back our power and strength so that we can begin to heal, regain balance and perspective, and avoid becoming jaded or cynical.

The Act of Forgiveness doesn’t need to be a public declaration: it can be as silent and as peaceful as a prayer sent up into the skies, as in those beautiful Japanese and Thai lantern festivals in which problems and worries float away in a swirl of golden light.

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