It's About Them

Young People … Our Greatest Resource

Responsibility … and a Sardine Sandwich (Dr. James Sutton)

It was a hot, hard day at the construction site. When it was time for lunch, each man grabbed his lunchbox and headed for whatever shade he could find. One man, upon opening his lunchbox, found it contained a sardine sandwich.

“I don’t like sardine sandwiches,” he exclaimed.

On the next day, it was more of the same in his lunchbox: a sardine sandwich.

“I HATE sardine sandwiches,” he bellowed.

On the third day, he opened his lunchbox again to find … you guessed it, ANOTHER sardine sandwich.

“I really do DESPISE sardine sandwiches,” he shouted, as he threw his lunchbox to the ground.

“I can tell you are really upset about this,” said one of his fellow workers. “Why don’t you ask your wife if she would pack something else in your lunchbox, something you actually like?”

“Oh, I’m not married,” was the reply. “I pack my own lunch.”

The Root of Most Troubles

As ridiculous as this little story sounds, it aptly describes the problems and troubles of a lot of folks. Mental health professionals tell us that the majority of individuals coming to them for counseling or therapy are suffering emotional discomfort from circumstances they themselves have created. They then remain stuck in their misery and unhappiness, with their primary method of managing their difficulties consisting of blaming others and offering excuses.

Since blame and excuses have no real power to fix problems (but they can make problems a lot worse), these folks are unable to leave the emotional quagmire that grips them. Their self-talk isn’t good, as evidenced by statements like,“Well, if you grew up in the rotten home I grew up in, you wouldn’t amount to much, either” or, “I’m failing that class because the teacher doesn’t like me.”

In one form or another, I have heard both of these statements many times as a psychologist working with youngsters and adults that had given up. These are prophesies that fulfill themselves. These statements are also evidence of “lazy” thinking, as the people thinking and sharing them are resigned to the fact that the cards are so stacked against them that they are helpless to change anything.

(I don’t mean to suggest that the roadblocks we all encounter from time to time aren’t real; they certainly are that. It’s also true that some get a bad deal early in life. The big difference is a person’s resignation to fate versus a plan to attempt to deal with troubles, if even in a small way at first.)

Responsibility: The Solution

As much as youngsters complain about the obstacles in their way and share how powerless they are to manage them, just try to get them to admit to a sense of helplessness. I promise you, they don’t want to put it in those words, yet it is empowering when they honestly realize that such was their expression. Positive change can start right there; I’ve seen it many times.

A willingness to be honest with one’s own feelings is an all-important first step.

We all know about folks who have bad breaks as a child or teen, yet who have gone on to accomplish much in their lives. What is the difference; what accounts for such a disparity, given similar early experiences that caused others to fold?

The difference is simple, but it can be difficult to put into motion. It’s the willingness to take 100% responsibility for one’s actions, good or bad. It’s no fun at times, but it is empowering. And, like a muscle, assuming responsibility gets better and stronger with use.

Mary’s Big Breakthrough

I was once a consulting psychologist to a residential treatment facility. The public school was across the street, and many of the residents attended it. One girl in treatment there, I’ll call her Mary, was failing high school algebra. When I asked her why she was failing that class, she said (quite predictably), “That teacher hates me, that’s why.” (Sound familiar?)

She agreed to sit down with me and the teacher and address the problem. When the teacher showed her the zeros for homework that was never turned in, the girl’s face lit up. “Those assignments are in my locker!” she exclaimed. “I started them, and didn’t finish, but I think I have them all.” And she did; the teacher was able to give her partial credit, and they worked out a way for her to make up her work.

Although one instance of taking responsibility didn’t turn this girl’s life around at once, it was a great start. She definitely grew in her ability to manage difficulty and challenges.

Maybe even sardine sandwich.###

Advertisements

June 5, 2018 - Posted by | adversity, Communication, Educators, family, Healthy living, Human Interest, Inspirational, Parents, Resilience, Self-esteem, Stress, Success Strategies | , , , , , , , ,

No comments yet.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s