My Search for Meaning:

September 3, 2012

Pete’s Personal Philosophy Paper

Here is the conclusion of the matter:  Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man.  For God will bring every deed into judgment; including every hidden thing, whether it is good or evil.   -Solomon (Ecclesiastes 12:13-14)

Ever since I began to think for myself, I’ve been searching for some kind of meaning in life. Coming from a modest but comfortable background, I was never spoiled by material things, but I never really knew what true poverty was either. Life was often mundane, so I found myself escaping through imagination and comics and later through horror and suspense novels. My parents had taken me to church when I was a child, but as soon as I was allowed to, I stopped attending, rejecting what I considered to be a dead religion. I never stopped believing in God, even in one who was good, but I felt that each person must find their own way to Him. In high school, I rebelled against most forms of authority and became involved in drugs. I was heavily influenced by music and poetry, and I continued to search for meaning through these new outlets. Jim Morrison, of the Doors, led me to William Blake and Fredrick Nietzsche and I eventually found Fyodor Dostoevsky. I began to see life as absurd and meaningless; however, I felt that it was our responsibility to give it some kind of meaning; I felt we all had a piece of God in us that called us to find our place in the world. Thus, I began to look for mine.

Around this time a very good friend of mine stopped getting stoned with me. He said that it was all about meeting Jesus. I laughed about it at first, but we continued to be friends and I saw that he really was different; he had acquired some inner peace that I couldn’t relate to. We had many deep talks and debates, and I began to read the Bible again to search for answers. It wasn’t too long before I no longer had the need to self-medicate. I found my own inner peace with Jesus. I discovered that Christianity is dead when it is seen as a religion, but that when you discover the Creator of the universe wants to have a relationship with you, it opens up an entire life of possibility, of adventure, of love, and of meaning. My relationship with Jesus is what determines how I view human nature.

I believe that everyone is conceived in a state of conflict. We are all made in the image of God: We have a desire for purpose; we want to be good; we want to love and to be loved. Yet, we all also possess a sin nature that we are conceived with: We are all selfish; we are all about pleasure, even at the expense of others; we deny responsibility and pass the blame along to someone else. These two aspects of human nature, what the Bible calls the spirit and the flesh, are constantly at war with each other. Which one wins out on a daily basis is determined by individual choice. At any given moment in life, we respond to our environment either through that God-like part of man, or we respond in selfishness and self-preservation.

Our choices are the result of both nature and nurture. I believe we are born with the personality tools and talents to fulfill a genuine need the world has. We have purpose, we even have some kind of destiny, but we also have the free will to deny our purpose. When we seek to fulfill that purpose, when we put the world’s, or others’, needs before our own, we are responding in the spirit. When we choose to only serve our own means, we are responding in the flesh. Even though we are born with this purpose, our environment is usually what teaches us what to do with it. Many people are born into hostile situations in which survival becomes their highest priority; others are born into healthy families that live and teach selflessness and purpose. So, we are born with gifts and talents and leanings toward certain beliefs, but our environment shapes how we decide to use what we are “given.” Environment doesn’t, however, have to determine who we are. We still can choose to be good (or bad). One of my favorite lines is from a children’s movie called The Iron Giant. A large robot falls from the sky, but has lost its memory. It is, at first, benign, and it befriends a boy. However, the robot was designed for warfare, and when it is attacked, instinct kicks in, and the robot begins to destroy everything in its path. The boy is able to get its attention and at a very emotional moment he states plainly: “You don’t have to be a gun. You can choose who you want to be.” The robot begins to fight his natural instinct of war, and ends up sacrificing himself to save the community (1999). In the same way, we have the responsibility to follow the spirit (selfless nature) rather than the flesh (selfish nature) no matter what environment we are shaped by. There are multiple examples of persons who have overcome adversity to become heroes and others born into all the comfort and support one could ever need who live at the expense of others. The choice to “do the right thing” is a daily struggle for all people.

Metaphorically speaking, we are all three people in one. There is our selfish and base nature that seeks only pleasure. There is the godlike selfless part of us that seeks to fulfill our purpose through serving others. And there is the person existing in the here and now caught between the two. Every time we make a choice out of selfishness, we move closer to our base instincts, yet pleasure is only momentary and can never be fully satisfied; therefore, if we seek to fulfill life through pleasure we will never find peace. Every time we make a selfless choice, we move closer to the spirit and fulfillment; true fulfillment is found in giving and having a purpose that meets the needs of others. However, no one can be good all the time, and often the attempt to be a good person can lead some to feel guilty when they make mistakes, or some will justify their bad choices and become judgmental of others; either way, they are in a state of dissatisfaction. It is impossible for a human to exist in a constant state of fulfillment. The closest we can get is a simple satisfaction while we all experience the highs and lows of existence. The key to consistent satisfaction is accepting that we have the potential to sometimes go to the highest level of goodness, yet we are also faced with the truth, that under the right (maybe wrong is a better word) circumstances we are no better than the worst of criminals. We need to always strive to be our best, but always be aware of our weaknesses so we can avoid them. We need to live in the moment, and decide for the here and now what choice we will make. The more we practice making good choices, the easier they become and we find a greater sense of fulfillment. The more we practice making bad choices, the easier they become, and we find ourselves never filled, never satisfied.

It is my personal belief that there is only one way to find true peace between the flesh and the spirit, and that is through the forgiveness of Jesus Christ. Believing in the power of his self-sacrifice for humanity enables us to live under grace, so when we do choose to be selfish and serve the flesh, we can be easily forgiven, and quickly move back into living for our purpose in life. Believing in the power of Christ’s self-raising from the dead gives one the advantage of receiving the Holy Spirit of God which empowers the human spirit to deny flesh and make the right choices. A nonbeliever can live righteously and practice good choices and find some times of fulfillment on earth, but as stated earlier, none of us can be fully good. Only God can be good. Without Jesus, we can’t reach our full potential in this life, and we won’t make it to everlasting peace in the next life.

I can’t pinpoint one psychological theory that supports my view of human nature on its own, but there are a variety of characteristics from a few that can easily be integrated together to form a solid base for me to work from. Of the theories I’ve studied, Adlerian Theory was the first one that really appealed to me as something truthful. I fully agree that the conscious is far more important than what is going on in the unconscious. I believe that exploring the unconscious can be a useful tool, even a doorway, into understanding what a person’s issues may be, but it is in a present state of consciousness that we live and deal with our issues, and that should be where we find practical solutions to cope and find healing.  I also agree that what we do with what we are born with is central to getting better. We do not have to be defined by our past. Additionally, I believe that all behavior is goal oriented, but we may not be fully aware of what our goals are, or the best way to achieve those goals. I think Adler’s theory of our need for significance and social connection is probably his most important contribution. I believe the two are dependent on each other. When we master a skill that is needed in society we feel valued and important. That leads to self-confidence, and others respect us for our abilities and for who we are, so we develop a social network we belong to which gives us a sense of meaning.

The search for meaning has been such a large part of my personal journey, there is no way I can ignore Existential Therapy. Much of my favorite literature was written by existentialists, but most of the literature focuses on the absurdity of life and states that life is essentially meaningless. It was very refreshing to find that Victor Frankl used the same ideas in his work to help people find meaning. I love his statement: “Man should not ask what the meaning of his life is, but rather must recognize that it is he who is asked…by life” (1963). This puts the responsibility on us to find our meaning, to find our purpose. We can look into the past to see what brought us to this point, and we can consider where we want to be in the future, but ultimately it is the right here and right now that we are exist in, and we need to be the ones who put meaning into this very moment: Carpe Diem.

Showing someone they need to find meaning in life is relatively simple. Most people already consciously year for meaning. Finding out how one individually fits into the great scheme of things can be a bit more complicated. Because so many of us live in a state of selfishness, there are many of us walking around damaged and unable to take risks. How can people find their place or purpose in life and additionally find the confidence to take the risks needed to achieve mastery and social connection? The answer may be found in combining Rogerian and Reality Therapy. The need for genuineness and empathy is essential for any real relationship; since all people have a need to become socially connected, we must find someone who is an example of a genuine, caring and understanding person. He must be a safe and trustworthy person. This is the most difficult in life, isn’t it? I have personally found these relationships in the church through Jesus. It is important to realize, that no human is perfect and able to be fully trusted, but we must learn to both accept grace and forgiveness and offer grace and forgiveness in our relationships with others. It is only through a relationship with Jesus (the only man who was and is perfect) and following his teachings that I have been able to do so.

It isn’t until an individual learns to trust, that he will be able to truly find meaning. This is when the techniques of Reality Therapy come into play. Each individual needs to focus on current behaviors and learn to see the consequences of those behaviors. This most often occurs through open and honest relationships with those we can trust. The next step is for the individual to understand that his behavior is chosen, and therefore, he can choose to behave in a way that will more effectively reach his goals of finding meaning. It must be emphasized that we can control our thoughts, and our thoughts lead to our actions and feelings. I believe the most important part of Reality Therapy, however, is making a plan. Once we see a need for change, we can be at our most vulnerable, and that is the time we need someone to help us step up to make the changes. However, it must be a plan that the individual takes ownership of. If others are over involved, the individual is not really taking responsibility for his life. Once he finds small successes in a few areas he will begin to develop a new pattern of thinking, and begin to make good choices on his own that build purpose and contribution to the world.

Although I often fail at my attempts to make good choices, I try to live my life by the values I have been taught by Christ through his Word and through the leading of the Holy Spirit. Once I gave my life to Jesus, I set forth on a path of self-discovery through the renewal of my thinking. As I began to deny my desires to put myself before others, and I sought to love my neighbor as I love myself (Matthew 22:39), I was able to see how the gifts and talents I possessed could fill needs in our world. Once I stepped out and took risks to help others, I began to develop stronger relationships and now have many concentric circles of friends and family that I can trust in and rely on when the randomness and seeming meaninglessness of life can drag me down. I am always striving to do my best, but it has been a long arduous journey and many of my choices have not always been positive. When I do fall into selfishness, I rely on God’s mercy, and I get up and continue on my way. Life is a refining process. The Bible states that “we move from glory to glory, and little by little the veil is removed from our faces” (2 Corinthians 3:18). In other words, when we make the choice to live righteously, by God’s grace we are able to become better people and gain more understanding of our purpose in life through our ever-increasing knowledge of our Father and Creator.

“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son. This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but men loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that his deeds will be exposed. But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what he has done has been done through God.”   -Jesus Christ (The Gospel of John 3:16-21)

Peter L Richardson
10/16/2007

References:

Brothers, Warner. (1999). The Iron Giant. Burbank: Time Warner Company.
Christ, Jesus. (~30). The Gospels of Matthew and John. Judea: The Holy Bible.
Frankl, Victor. (1959). Man’s Search for Meaning. Boston: Washington Square Press.
Paul, The Apostle. (~55). The Second Epistle of Corinthians. Some Roman Jail: The Holy Bible.
Solomon, King. (~930 BC). Ecclesiastes. Israel. The Holy Bible.

Anyone can fake independence, as long as the infrastructure holds up and the checks keep coming.  –Janie B. Cheaney

It’s easy to be independent when you’ve got money. But to be independent when you haven’t got a thing- that’s the Lord’s test.  -Mahalia Jackson

Anyone can tell you about the detrimental effect of poverty on families. Some may even be able to articulate the downward spiral generational poverty creates for the children being raised in environments lacking in nutrition and proper nurturing, and living under the threat of constant danger. It is easy for those of us on the outside to make quick, dismissal judgments on the parents and their lack of motivation and seemingly lack of care for their children. Despite our sympathy for these poor kids, we often fail to genuinely realize that without significant intervention, they will likely grow up to become just like the parents who are judged today. Studies indicate that children of low social economic status are more likely to underperform in school and become involved in delinquent behaviors such as drug use and sexual promiscuity. It is also well known that children raised in safe, caring, and stable environments have the greatest chance of success. So how do you bridge the gap and break the negative cycle of poverty? It is a daunting task that requires man power that just doesn’t realistically exist, even with volunteers of the biggest hearts and the best intentions. However, one program has found a way to gather workers right from the communities and neighborhoods that need the most help. The program is based on the simple but, in this case, profound idea of mentoring.

Julie O’Donnell, Elizabeth Michalak, and Ellen Ames present a study on inner-city mentoring in an article entitled: “Inner-City Youths Helping Children: After-School Programs to Promote Bonding and Reduce Risk.” The study identifies all the typical risk factors involved with inner-city neighborhoods in poverty, but they focus on the problems of peer bonding among friends who are involved in anti-social behaviors and therefore become negative influences. Rather than simply educating children about the risk of negative behaviors, the program involves collaboration between the youth, their families, schools and agencies within the community. It is based on the Social Development Model which “emphasizes bonding as a key protective factor in children’s resistance to problem behaviors.” This model theorizes that “Bonding is a sense of belonging…once children feel bonded to a social unit; they want to live according to its standards and norms.” Recognizing the strong influence of peer bonding, proponents of the Social Development Model screened older youth, who exhibited pro-social behavior, from the community and trained them to be mentors in after-school programs to younger children from the same community. Because mentors shared the same risk factors of the children they were helping, they received extensive training and support networks. They were also paid and they received consistent rewards and praise for their involvement in the program, which is called The Collaborative After-school Prevention Program. Mentors were assigned a group of no more than seven children, and while they focused primarily on social skills development, they also provided practical help with homework. Even though it was not required of them, most mentors became involved in other community activities like assisting in coaching sports teams, street clean up, and rebuilding community homes. In addition, more than 50 percent of mentors went on to college after graduating high school. And what about the younger children who were the focus of the program? They improved their study habits, stayed more focused on their homework, and improved their social skills. Equally important, it provided a safe place to be and kept them off the streets. As one mentor put it, “It gives them another place to be children. Out in the streets they can’t be children; they have to be part of the hood. They know how to load a gun before they know how to tie their shoes.” Perhaps the most successful result of the program was that the children also became bonded to the mentors and ultimately to the “pro-social units and began to internalize their standards for pro-social behavior. These protective factors should reduce problem behaviors,” which was the main goal of the Social Development Model.

In addition to the successful results of the program, research supports their findings. Studies show that children from low social economic status are at greater risk for many developmental problems. Often parents simply can’t be there for their children because they are forced to work extra hours to make ends meet, or they simply don’t have the emotional or mental abilities to care for their children. Kids who could otherwise be spending hours in front of the television or, worse, be out on the streets getting exposed to dangerous situations of drug use and possible violence, are in a safe environment learning both social and study skills. Another factor to consider, according to Kelvin Seifert and Robert Hoffnung in their book Child and Adolescent Development, families of low social economic status run a greater risk of child abuse (329). The emphasis on the bonding between mentors and the children in their groups would provide a safe place for a child to express his/her concerns to a trusted role-model; who could identify the problem and report it to the program directors. They also state that children from neighborhoods prone to violence tend to adopt highly aggressive behavior modeled by their peers (422); this program shows children, through their mentors, that they can make choices that result in positive consequences. Aside from family influences, children learn most of their social behavior from peers of their own age as well as a few years older (415).  This program offers children the ability to learn positive behaviors from older kids in their communities. The mentors have a higher chance of relating to their group members because they have shared common experiences and are working to overcome the same issues. Thus, the Social Development Model not only has proven results from its program, but the research also supports its effectiveness.

For those who take the time to implement it, a program like this could produce positive results for all members of the community. While students of both peer groups obviously benefit the most from this program with their new social and academic skills, and with the new friendships which will undoubtedly last for many years, teachers have a significant reason to invest their time in the program in any ways available. Students who go through the mentoring program will become more compliant and not only cause fewer disruptions, but with the training they receive, they will likely become positive peer role-models within their classes. These students, who may otherwise neglect homework, would receive regular help with it which would increase their ability and confidence in the classroom, and also result in better test scores for the teacher and school in general. Students and teachers are not the only ones who benefit; parents would have the confidence of knowing their children are in a safe place for at least a few hours a week. As their children increase in social skills, they will bring their new understandings of relationship to the home, and perhaps bring positive changes to the whole environment. The program could also identify areas of specific needs in the families, and point them in a direction to receive resources and help they otherwise might have been ignorant of. This program, if it is given the proper resources and funding, benefits the entire community.

Unfortunately, the biggest problem facing a program like this is getting the whole community involved: “The Collaborative After-school Program was a partnership among the YMCA, three elementary schools and one middle school, the department of social work at an urban university, a church, a child guidance center, an art museum, and the county probation department” (O’Donnell). That is a lot of support and a lot of collaboration. The task of gaining the support needed among local community centers is daunting in of itself, let alone coordinating and working together to make the program affective. I think it is possible to make it work; however, and very much worth the effort. This program brings together a vision I’ve been developing within myself for a few years now. I find myself disappointed and disillusioned by public school’s lack of ability to truly help out these neglected and abused children. We simply allow them to disrupt the educational process until they either shape up, or we ship them out, but there is no real help and evident care for them. On the other hand, I volunteer for an inner-city youth ministry at my church where we mostly just go and play with kids. While there is significant bonding going on, and I’ve seen very positive changes in many kids, we tend lose them in adolescence, especially the boys. A program like this would offer purpose for the older kids and give them a reason stay involved. I don’t know the best steps to take from here, but this article offers the direction I’ve been looking for in my desire to help out poor families in practical and lasting ways. I definitely plan to research this topic further.

Peter L Richardson
11/25/2006

O’Donnell, Julie, Michalak, Elizabeth A., and Ellen B. Ames. “Inner-City Youths  Helping Children After-School Programs to Promote Bonding and Reduce Risk.” Social Work in Education 19.4 (1997): 231-241. Academic Search Premier. 21 November 2006. http://search.ebscohost.com.

Seifert, Kevin L., and Robert J. Hoffnung. Child and Adolescent Development 5th Ed. Houghton Mifflin Company. Boston, 2000.

A certain degree of neurosis is of inestimable value as a drive, especially to a psychologist.  -Sigmund Freud

When I hear the name Sigmund Freud, images of his famous therapy couch always come to mind. But who is this icon of psychology who still has so much influence over modern Western thought? Just a basic understanding of Freud requires a study of his structure of personality, the defense mechanisms, and of course his psychosocial stages of development. The foundation of Freud’s work is the structure of personality; the id, the ego, and the superego. The id is what drives the unconscious mind; it is our animalistic instincts. Based on physical drives like hunger and sex, the id seeks only to please itself. The ego represents the conscience mind, it thinks realistically and logically, it makes plans. The ego knows how to satisfy the needs of the id, but it also knows when the needs of the id need to be repressed until appropriate times. The superego is the moral code that a person develops through the laws of society and the values of parents that have been instilled in the individual since birth. The superego influences and exists in both the id and the ego. Ideally, it creates balance between the two, but often there is conflict, which creates anxiety in the individual. The ego responds to anxiety by using various defense mechanisms. The purpose of the defense mechanisms is to reduce stress; everyone does this from time to time, but it can become a problem if an individual begins to rely too much on them and try to avoid reality. Examples of defense mechanisms are: repression, denial, reaction formation, projection, displacement, sublimation, rationalization, regression, identification, and intellectualization. Freud believed that the personality developed through the psychosexual stages of oral, infants exploring with their mouths; the anal stage, where toddlers are supposedly are obsessed with their feces; the phallic stage where young kids like to play with themselves; latency, where older kids get to just be kids, and finally the genital stage where adolescents begin to discover and pursue the opposite sex. If kids make it through these stages with minimal problems, they’ll grow up into healthy adults.

Freud obviously is invaluable to modern psychology, as he laid the foundation for many forms of therapy that have helped generations of people overcome multitudes of problems, but I find many of his ideas outdated to say the least with some bordering on the absurd and can only come from a worldview that rejects God as an ultimate authority of morality. While there are many details of Freud’s theories I have trouble with, his psychosexual stages are where he and I most significantly part ways. I believe that human beings are sexual in nature, and we all need to develop a healthy understanding of our sexuality. However, I don’t think our sexual natures are truly awakened until adolescence unless there is some kind of abuse or neglect which results in early exposure. Kids aren’t obsessed with their poop, nor are they trying to get off when they play with themselves, they are just exploring their bodies. Boys don’t want to have sex with their moms and girls don’t want to be with their dads. Thankfully, Erik Erikson offers his take on the stages of psychosocial development which are much more realistic and reasonable.

According to Freud, the development of personality, including the formation of the id, ego, superego and defense mechanisms, depends upon an individual’s “psychosexual” development during his/her childhood. What happens, or doesn’t happen, to an individual during five important stages greatly determines who he/she becomes as an adult. Freud believed that each stage is based on biological drives and the child needs to explore and satisfy sexual needs through the pleasure principle in order to successfully move on to the next stage. Erik Erikson, a student of Freud’s sister, Anna, who took up her brother’s work after he died, supported the idea that individuals each have stages they must work through, but he rejected Freud’s pleasure principle and emphasized that success in each stage is dependent on how the individual relates to the outside world, calling the stages psychosocial; in addition, Erikson has added three additional stages into adulthood and old age. Following is a short comparison of each stage.

Freud called the first year of life the oral stage, in which a child explores his world and seeks to find gratification through the mouth; their basic needs are founded in nurturing mothers. Erikson calls this stage trust vs. mistrust. He states that if an infant does not get his basic needs met during this stage, he may develop an attitude of mistrust later in life. Freud considers ages one to three to be the anal stage, when a child’s focus in on the anal zone. Erikson calls this stage autonomy vs. shame and doubt, in which the child begins to test her limits in the world around her. How her parents respond to the testing, and where they place the boundaries on their children, can greatly influence the child’s ability to be autonomous as adults. Freud calls the ages of three to six the phallic stage. This is when the child supposedly has unconscious sexual desires for the parent of the opposite sex, and therefore considers the parent of the same sex to be competition; this is called the Oedipus complex for boys and the Electra complex for girls. Erikson calls this stage initiative vs. guilt. During this stage, children begin to develop a sense of competence in the tasks they choose to perform. If they are given freedom to experiment, they will develop a positive self-image and take initiative later in life; however, if they are not permitted to make their own choices, they may develop a sense of guilt over any decisions they make as adults.

During the school years, ages six to twelve, what Freud call the latency stage, kids finally get to stop unconsciously thinking about sex, and just enjoy being kids; this is when they begin to develop relationships with others outside their immediate family. Erikson calls this stage industry vs. inferiority. This is when a child learns the basic skills for success, and what is expected of him or her through society. If the child does not feel he is learning at the expected rate, he may develop feelings of inferiority that last throughout adulthood. Freud’s final stage occurs in adolescence, ages twelve to eighteen, and sometimes continues through to adulthood. This is called the genital stage, when children work through the struggles of puberty, and they begin to focus their sexual energy on members of the opposite sex. Erikson calls this stage identity vs. role confusion which is the transition from childhood to adulthood. It is when individuals search for identity and try to discover their true selves. Many individuals spend years discovering their role and place in the world. Erikson also added three additional stages in adulthood which are intimacy vs. isolation in young adulthood when the goal is to form intimate relationships, generativity vs. stagnation in middle age when the focus is providing for the next generation, and integrity vs. despair in later life when one should be able to look back at life with few regrets. When compared side by side, Erikson’s stages of development just make more sense than Freud’s and offer us a much more healthy analysis for determining childhood issues.

What Freud and I do agree on is his theory of defense mechanisms. I can see a lot of those in myself and in others as well. Freud states that the ego copes with anxiety by using defense mechanisms. Individuals will unconsciously deny or distort reality to reduce stress. The infrequent use of defense mechanisms is normal; however, often the consistent use of defense mechanisms becomes a problem as some individuals use them to avoid reality altogether. There are many types of defense mechanisms; however, the following four are often the most common.

Repression is a defense mechanism in which individuals will repress, or bury deep into their unconscious, traumatic events that occurred during childhood. The individual is unable to cope with remembering the experience, so it is pushed deep into an unconscious level in order to avoid reliving the pain. Often the pain will resurface in some form in adulthood, as psychological issues or in a physical manifestation.

Denial is a defense mechanism in which an individual refuses to accept the reality of some kind of traumatic event. Rather than experience the pain of the trauma, the individual will pretend he doesn’t care, or even pretend it hasn’t happened. Another form of denial is when an individual refuses to admit problems that are obvious to everyone else.

Projection is when an individual has feelings or thoughts she considers unacceptable, and rather than dealing with reality of the negative parts her personality, she projects the negative behaviors on others and becomes judgmental towards them, because she unconsciously is punishing herself through judging the others.

Rationalization is the defense mechanism when an individual tries to explain away an area of themselves, or an event or action they committed in which they feel inferior. Rather than accept the responsibility of the mistake or lack of ability. The individual will make excuses for himself and rationalize the problem away in his mind.

As a teacher, it helps to be able to identify some of these behaviors in my students, so I can deal with them and the problem in an appropriate way, but we all should become familiar with them so we can recognize if we might be using any of them in an unhealthy way. After all, the whole point of seeking to gain a better understanding of ourselves is so that we can have healthy relationships with others.

After taking the time to study his work, I have a better understanding of Freud’s importance in the foundation of psychology that he laid down. Personally, I have always loved the concept of free association. I have an artistic background and have created many of my best paintings, poems, and songs by just letting my mind and hands wander through my imagination. I think that is part of why art therapy is so successful. And although I don’t agree with Freud’s specific interpretation of dream symbols, I do think exploring dreams is an important part of therapy and can be used to discover many unconscious issues a client might be having. Therefore, even though I disagree with many details in his theories, I recognize that if it wasn’t for Sigmund Freud, we may not have the knowledge and understanding of the human psyche and personality that we have today. However, despite my renewed respect for him, reading up on his specific theories has only led to reinforce what I can accept and what I think should be rejected.

Peter L Richardson
9/5/07

In “Blending Native American Spirituality with Individual Psychology in Work With Children,” the authors, Darline Hunter and Cheryl Sawyer, discuss the many ways that counselors have been successfully integrating techniques based on Native American philosophy to help children who feel disconnected from society develop healthy social  connections. They begin by emphasizing Alder’s theory that in order for individuals to be emotionally whole and healthy they must become fully integrated in and feel connected with society as a whole, and they must become a contributing member of society. They continue to discuss various ways children feel and  become disconnected from society, and the negative impact on their behaviors and emotions. They state that when the “basic needs of all humans (belonging, mastery, independence, generosity) are not being met…children become alienated and act out their senses of disconnectedness” (Hunter and Sawyer, 2006).

The authors follow up discussing the need for an effective therapy for disconnected children with stating the similarities between psychotherapeutic goals and Native American philosophies. According to Adler, individuals need to have “a sense of harmony with the universe…contact with others…[and] empathy for others” (Hunter and Sawyer, 2006). This is similar to Native American philosophies of being “in harmony with nature…[being] valued above and beyond possessions…emphasiz[ing] self-sufficiency…and respect for the elderly” (Hunter and Sawyer, 2006). Hunter and Sawyer go on to describe how certain Native American values and beliefs coincide with many of the goals of psychotherapy. One example is the Medicine Wheel which teaches children the need to be connected with the self, with others, with the natural environment, and with the spirit world. Next, therapists use Pet Therapy to help children learn how to safely bond and empathize with other creatures, and to teach them how to be responsible and take care of others. Therapists also use Nature Therapy where children learn gardening. They get the experience of putting their hands in the dirt, and they learn the value of patience while waiting for the fruit and flowers to grow. Children are encouraged to share what their gardens have produced with others, helping them to experience being a contributor while learning the value of purpose. The therapy emphasizes a need for belonging and the need for mastery.  Children learn to belong through “talking circles” where they learn to accept and respect others, and they learn the value of listening to others as well as expressing oneself. They are taught to value mastery through the Native American belief that “someone with more competence is not a rival but a resource and that achievement is sought for personal reasons, not out of competition” (Hunter and Sawyer, 2006).

Hunter and Sawyer support their findings with research from a variety of authors and experts. They present the need for disconnected children to receive effective therapy to help them become integrated into society. They show the various links between psychological goals and Native American values. They spend time stating details of the different techniques therapists use that are based on Native American teaching and rituals. The authors show the effectiveness of the techniques by stating the results of specific case studies to let the reader know the practical application of the therapy. The only weakness in the article is that Hunter and Sawyer never make it clear which specific age groups are best served by the therapy. Some sessions seem very juvenile, and are not likely to appeal to teens, while others seemed to deal with complex ideas that might be over the heads of very young children. Despite these weaknesses, however, the article is a valuable resource for anyone who works with children who are at risk and may be dealing with issues of isolation.

Peter L Richardson
9/17/2007

Hunter, D. & Sawyer, C. (2006). Blending Native American Spirituality with Individual Psychology in Work with Children. The Journal of Individual Psychology, 62, 234-248.

Alcoholics Anonymous

February 25, 2012

As soon as I walked through the door of the old brick church she saw me. “Oh my,” she stammered. “It’s so nice to see a familiar face here; although I never would have expected you!” I didn’t know how to respond, so I just smiled. It was a Saturday afternoon, 3:00. “Is this your first meeting?” She asked, “You look nervous.” I paused with an “Umm, yes, but…” and she cut me off: “Well don’t worry; everyone here accepts everyone. We’re all struggling with the same thing. That’s whole point of AA!” By this time, I didn’t have the heart to tell her I was there on assignment. I was working on my masters in Guidance Counseling, and my professor required each of her students to observe a group meeting and write a paper on our observations. I decided to simply thank my greeter for her kindness, and we were called in so the meeting could get started.

Even though I knew the reality of this fact before I walked in, I could not help being surprised by the variety of people who were seated around the circle of the Alcoholics Anonymous meeting. There were definitely all of the stereotypical alcoholics in the room, some were even obviously under the influence, but there were people from every walk of life: a young man right out of high school, a successful businessman, a teacher and even a sweet little old grandmother. Everyone seemed to be in a different place with their recovery, but there was an atmosphere of acceptance and support throughout the whole meeting.

When the meeting started off, however, I found it to be a little dry. The leader, an alcoholic herself, began by reading off AA’s mission statement and purpose, then someone read a summary of the twelve steps, and another volunteered to read something about the need for a higher power, all very formal and non-motivating, but what happened next changed the direction of the whole meeting. The woman leading asked if there were any new comers. I nervously shrunk in my seat because I didn’t want to admit why I was there. Fortunately a woman put up her hand and stated, “This is my first time at any meeting.” What happened next made it clear to me why the Alcoholics Anonymous Program has been so successful for so many people for so long. One at a time someone in the room welcomed her, told her how they understood where she was coming from, shared their experience of their first time, talked about what it took for them to overcome their addiction, and finally how their lives had changed for the better since they’ve made the commitment to stay sober. Their stories were very real, and therefore very touching and inspiring. While individuals were sharing, a list was going around for the ladies in the group to put their phone numbers on so the new member would have someone to call and talk to “whenever you need it, any time of the day or night.”

From my brief perspective, it seemed that the power behind these meetings was not really dependant on the program itself, but on the people in the program, their willingness to be transparent, their ability to accept anyone, regardless of their outward differences, and their determination to help each other stay focused on their goals. They obviously cared for each other and they shared a bond that goes beyond the common experience of addiction; it was a bond that is made through joining together in the struggles to overcome the addiction not just in themselves, but in anyone who is willing to make the change. A bond that reveals what any group of humans can accomplish when there is a willingness to accept one another for who they are, give each other support and encouragement during their weakness and trials, and celebrate together their successes and accomplishments, all while acknowledging a higher power with humility and submission. It was no surprise to me when I found out that the Twelve Steps are originally based on Biblical Principles handed down to us through the Lord Jesus Christ.

Peter L Richardson
May, 2007

Children’s needs should come before our rights.

from the 1983 movie, Mr. Mom:
Jack Butler: My brain is like oatmeal. I yelled at Kenny today for coloring outside the lines! Megan and I are starting to watch the same TV shows, and I’m liking them! I’m losing it.
Caroline: Honey, I know what you’re talking about. I’ve been there myself, alright?
Jack Butler: Well, if you’re so unhappy, why don’t you say something about it?
Caroline: Because I wasn’t unhappy! Look, maybe I was a little confused, maybe I was a little frustrated, but I knew what I was doing was important, because it means something to raise human beings. What saw me through was pride.

Before the Feminist Movement was in full swing there were many unrealistic expectations for women, some that forced them to try to achieve impossible standards and some that denied their abilities, particularly in the areas of work, fashion, homemaking and marriage. In Nancy A. Walker’s book Women’s Magazines 1940-1960 she has reprinted many articles from and about women of the time. One from Ladies Home Journal in 1944 is entitled “You Can’t Have a Career and Be a Good Wife.”  The author laments that it is no wonder that couples get divorced when the wife goes off to work. Women were expected to stay home, and if they wanted a career, they were selfish. Of course, ideally, it is best for children to have a parent in the house; especially during their youngest years, but we don’t live in an ideal world. Women were always expected to look and smell their best no matter what the circumstances, perhaps the best expression of this is Elinor Goulding Smith’s mocking article “How to Look Halfway Decent,” in which she uses humor to counter the ridiculous expectation that a woman’s best asset is her looks. Our modern perspective of these articles makes many of them seem humorous (or maybe horrifying if you’re a woman); however, there is some real wisdom we can glean from a time when strong families were still the norm in America. Apart from some radical opinions, many articles on marriage had good advice for women. Most spoke about how to reach the ideal for trying to please your husband while acknowledging that women simply can’t always achieve that ideal, but they should at least hold it in mind and make the effort. The problem, like a California resident complained to Redbook in the 1945 column, “What’s on Your Mind?,” is that no one focuses on the woman’s needs and what the man can do to please her. Even in the article, “What Makes Wives Dissatisfied?,” women are given validation for their frustrations, but then the burden of change is still on them to fix their man; only submissively of course (in other words manipulatively). In my opinion, a husband and wife should look at their marriage as a partnership, each valuing the strengths of the other, while forgiving the weaknesses of the other, and mutually submitting to each other’s needs. When technology advanced with the mass production of new appliances, women began to have it easier, as Robert J. Knowlton testified in “Your Wife Has an Easy Racket!” This gave women the ability to move out in the world and experience new things, but it is ironic that the more toys we get to make life easier, the busier Americans become and the less time we have for our families. It still takes parents who are present to raise children. Two career families put more strain on the family, but they are possible if both spouses are willing to share the burden of the household and both are consistently putting their family’s needs before their own. My favorite article on homemaking was Dorothy Thompson’s, “Occupation–Housewife.” It is a real job, she argues, and a real testament to the women who do it well. There are many women who find complete satisfaction in simply raising a family, and they should not be mocked. Families who produce kids and then ignore them are not families.

Make no mistake. I am fully supportive of equal rights and opportunity for all women. As a man, I have, and will continue to if placed under their authority, submitted to women in higher positions with absolutely no reservations. So I feel women’s liberation has been good for America in many ways. But many feminists take their gripe too far. Some make staying home and raising kids sound like a jail sentence. I have kids, and I am divorced, so when my kids are over, I have had to be mom and dad at the same time. When my sons were younger and woke up in the middle of the night with nightmares, I had to comfort them; I had to cook and clean for them and clean up their puke; I had to teach them how to be men while at the same time learn how to be sensitive to their needs and understanding of their boo-boos. Taking care of the house and the family can be monotonous and boring work, but my boys are also the most wonderful aspect of my life. They still have years to grow, but I am proud of the men they are becoming. I can testify that being involved and raising them despite my divorce held me back in my career goals and dreams; I did not achieve my BA until I was in my thirties, and I simply still do not have the time to prove myself as a writer to anyone who might pay me. But these are just some of the many sacrifices I gladly make to put my sons’ needs before my own. Hopefully they won’t make the same mistakes I’ve made in life, but I know I have done all I am able to help them succeed. And that is a great satisfaction in my life. 1950s society was too restrictive for women, of that there is no doubt, and the effort to make the job of a housewife seem glamorous seems pretty ridiculous to me; no job is without weaknesses, and no job can bring complete satisfaction. However, some feminists make the job of raising children out to be a meaningless and pointless existence. What a blasphemy to the value of human life! The issue here is not the role of a woman, but the role of a parent. I am friends with a couple who have chosen for dad to stay home with the kids, and he is a man in all respects, and he has a great relationship with both his wife and his kids. And as I said earlier, if a man and woman can cooperate with each other and raise a family with two careers, more power to them. In our economy, many families are forced to do so, but if you’re going to neglect your kids’ emotional needs simply to climb up the ladder of status and smug self satisfaction (whether you are a man or a woman): don’t have them, and don’t mock parents who seek to raise well adjusted children into successful, well adjusted adults. It seems to me, there is nothing more important for the future of our society than that.

Peter L Richardson
original essay: 8/12/04

Rock ‘n Roll: The most brutal, ugly, desperate, vicious form of expression it has been my misfortune to hear.  -Frank Sinatra

Rock and roll music, if you like it, if you feel it, you can’t help but move to it. That’s what happens to me. I can’t help it.  -Elvis Presley

We all know the iconic image of James Dean in Rebel without a Cause, a poignant study of American teenage angst and rebellion in the 1950s. According to historian, James Gilbert, the reason why many Americans were “puzzled and distressed by the activities of post-war teenagers” was caused by much the same issues that teenagers face today. Because of growing prosperity and growing technology in the early 50s, Americans began to be able to see certain aspects of their culture as a unified phenomenon. More and more teenagers were able to attend high schools and they were able to become socialized more readily. Mass media exposed the problems of juvenile delinquency as a national problem; however, the media also gave teenagers a chance to know what was hip nationwide. Teenagers began to separate themselves from adult culture and adopted new fashions, new slang, and a new music called rock-n-roll.

Many adults began to fear that this new subculture might be antagonistic towards the accepted mores of proper American society. Gilbert states that many believed “the very creative energy that welled up in rock and roll, new words, fashions, and customs threatened the stability of American society. To some degree they were right. Teenagers, by erecting barriers of fashions and custom around adolescence, had walled off a secret and potentially antagonistic area of American culture. No doubt for some that was the intent” (15). But many were most likely simply wishing to express independence from their parents, a healthy desire for teenagers since they will soon become adults on their own. What teens need is healthy guidance and flexible boundaries from stable parents and other adults they can trust. In the typical post-war response of paranoia, fear of a generation of juvenile delinquents caused an uproar and many authorities tried to stomp out this new culture. This of course only fueled rebellion against the restrictions and we eventually got the 60s “revolution.” Unfortunately, now that that generation has grown up, it seems like they’ve removed any and all boundaries from their kids and we’ve got a new generation of kids thinking that they can act on any impulse they want and don’t consider the consequence for themselves or anyone else.

Those who reacted against rock-n-roll the most were squares with no soul in them, dig? The first in line were the racists, who are right about rock-n-roll being formed out of black music. Early rock really was just a bunch of white boys ripping off blues and soul music and not doing it as well, but it turned out the result was not so bad. As Muddy Waters puts it: “The Blues Had A Baby, And They Named It Rock-n-Roll.” The problem is, since these various “Citizen’s Councils” that campaigned against rock music were racist they considered that a bad thing. Really, if anyone should have been upset, it should have been the black musicians whose creative property was constantly being ripped off.

There were also crybabies like Frank Sinatra and Sammy Davis, Jr. and other established musicians. They complained that rock-n-roll wasn’t as high a quality of music as what they produced. It has to be admitted that in general, rock isn’t as intricate an art form as many genres of music, but Keith Richards has proved to us all that groove is more important than skill: it’s the beat that moves the feet. But the real reasons these guys were complaining was that they were losing the spotlight and losing money. Frankie proved this when he kissed up to Elvis and did a show with him to get back in the public eye.

Finally, there was the self-righteous religious folk who had no understanding of how much of a ministry opportunity they were missing by not embracing this wonderful new style of music. They complained that rock-n-roll went straight to the heart and emotions of the youth and it did. But instead of allowing parish members to develop music that would praise God and go straight to the heart of America’s youth, they shunned it and ultimately shunned their youth, pushing out those who enjoyed rock. As Christian rocker, Larry Norman, says, they let the devil have all the good music. I am not saying all rock-n-roll is therefore evil, I am saying that for 40 years since this anti-rock campaign, almost all the music that came out of the Church stunk really bad. What would these perfect parishoners have done had they learned that most of their precious hymns where originally written to tune of popular drinking songs that their great grandparents enjoyed? But now we’re finally starting to get some really good grooves in our worship and contemporary music…

Teenage rebellion usually flows from two extremes: too much oppression with no outlet for self-expression, or too much freedom and relativism without a caring authority to lead and guide teens safely into adulthood. Rock-n-roll was born in a time when uniformity was encouraged and self expression was often denied, now it seems those who should be in authority roll over and defer to their children’s wishes out of a fear of damaging their self-esteem, but the truth is they are leaving them stranded in a sea of hopelessness and apathy only to be blown and tossed about by the wind of endless doctrines with no compass to lead and guide them, teens today have no way to interpret the stars. Music is not the cause of any rebellion; it is simply the expression of those searching for some kind of meaning. It would be well for parents and the Church to take heed and listen, and then respond with the proper wisdom and guidance. 

Peter L Richardson
8/12/2004

Gilbert, James. A Cycle of Outrage: America’s Reaction to the Juvenile Delinquent in the 1950s.Oxford University Press: Oxford, 1986.

“Rock n Roll is Here To Stay”
-Sha Na Na

Rock ‘n roll is here to stay, it will never die
It was meant to be that way, though I don’t know why
I don’t care what people say, rock ‘n roll is here to stay
(We don’t care what people say, rock ‘n roll is here to stay)
Rock ‘n roll will always be our ticket to the end
It will go down in history, just you wait, my friend
Rock ‘n roll will always be, it’ll go down in history
(Rock ‘n roll will always be, it’ll go down in history)
So come on, everybody rock, everybody rock,
everybody rock, everybody rock
Everybody rock
Now everybody rock ‘n roll, everybody rock ‘n roll,
everybody rock ‘n roll
Everybody rock ‘n roll, everybody rock ‘n roll
Rock ‘n roll will always be our ticket to the end
It will go down in history, just you wait, my friend
Rock ‘n roll will always be, it’ll go down in history
If you don’t like rock ‘n roll, think what you’ve been missin’
But if you like to bop and stroll, come on down and listen
Let’s all start to have a ball, everybody rock ‘n roll
Ah, oh baby, ah, oh baby, ah,
oh baby, ah, oh baby, rock!