“Our Fortunes and Lives seem Chaotic when they are looked at as facts. There is order and meaning only in the great truths believed by everybody in that older and wiser time of the world when things were less well known but better understood.” — Roderick MacLeish
The psychiatrist Eric Berne (“Games People Play”) wrote in one of his books that when confronted with a troubled patient, he would ask himself what one would have to do to a person while they were a child to make them turn out the way they did, needing the help of an analyst. Answering that question was often the beginning of treatment.
Berne’s statement had a great impact on me, especially while I was working at state facility for the developmentally disabled. We could see, in many of the residents’ histories, the effects of abusive, inept and often criminal events in their “upbringing.”
When we compared our residents’ current behaviors to their case histories, we knew the answer to Berne’s question.
Unfortunately, asking Berne’s question outside the world of psychology and mental health has led us all down some bad roads. They are roads of blame and excuses. Ask anyone why his dreams for his own perfect world never materialized, and more often than not, he will have a list of people and events from his past that “created” the world he is now experiencing.
He may have, filed away inside his mind, a mental dossier complete with facts, eye witnesses and the testimony of experts that proves he would be happy/rich today, if his parents hadn’t thrown his bike in the trash when he was 15…or if his former spouse had let him finish college…or if his boss hadn’t fired him at a financially precarious moment.
We take great comfort in such blame and in the fact we are using pure reason when we gather the facts that prove we are totally innocent when it comes to the slings and arrows that comprise our current lot in life. However, these facts seem to obscure the real truths, those we’re afraid to consider.
How odd that the very truth that presumably should empower us to fix everything that we claim is broken in what could have been our perfect worlds, is the one truth left off the table. If we could walk into a courtroom and sue everyone on our list of nasty people responsible for how we ended up, a wise judge might explain to us the meaning of such terms as contributory negligence, co-conspirator, and accessory.
Hearing such explanations might show us how to fix what we don’t like. Yet, ask anyone if he played a role in the way he’s ended up. Ask if he believes he created his present reality in any way, shape or form, and he will laugh off such ideas. It’s less personally devastating that way.
It’s far past time, I think, to stop asking Eric Berne’s question. While it’s a helpful question to ask, it’s skewed our thinking away from essential truths about why things are as they are. These days, I’m more inclined to ask questions based on James Allen (“As a Man Thinketh”) approach:
The aphorism, “As a man thinketh in his heart so is he,” not only embraces the whole of a man’s being, but is so comprehensive as to reach out to every condition and circumstance of his life. A man is literally what he thinks, his character being the complete sum of all his thoughts.
That leads to a far different question: “What have I done with my life so far to end up in the place I am now?”