by Dr. Laura Schlessinger
Sample Article From the Dr. Laura Newsletter
I know what you’d like. Be honest. Generally you’d like to get your own way, get whatever you want, get back at anyone whom you perceive as having crossed you, get your dreams and fantasies to come true right now, get ahead with less sacrifice and effort, and get away with murder (figuratively, I hope) all without any consequences or regrets. Such power. Sound heavenly? Think about it more. I believe that this selection of apparent goodies would be a welcome basket into hell. Can you really imagine enjoying a life without altruism, compassion, sacrifice, commitment, obligation, work, goals, cooperation, love, and companionship? That’s just some of what you’d miss if you were capable of those powers. And think of what life would be like for you if others had those powers. Oh no! Sounds awful, doesn’t it? Yes, it does. But, do you realize how often you do try to create a life with one or more of those powers? If you’re reacting with an immediate, "Not me!" – think again. Think of all the times you’ve tried to cut life’s corners, played helpless, taken without returning, told stories on others, threatened and hurt, lied and manipulated, used and discarded, disdained or ignored the welfare of others, sacrificed your obligation to someone else’s needs for personal gain, sold out on a principle for money or fame . . . and so it goes.
The modern day "out," or excuse for such behaviors, is generally psychological: "Considering my hurts, disappointments, and traumas, I can’t be responsible for the havoc I wreak in the lives of others or the mess I’ve made of my own life." Oh puhleeese. Do you really believe that only those people graced with great genetics, perfect parentage, and ideal social conditions can and will behave with character, courage, and conscience? Do you really believe that laziness, gutlessness, and selfishness are products only of some form of psychoneurosis? Nonsense.
The path to solid, supportive, healthy relationships, self-respect, and a quality life starts with the usually painful decision to do the right thing. This is the book to get you on that path, and to keep you focused on those goals.
Those of you who listen to my radio program know I don’t make a secret of what I consider the all-importance of ethical behavior. And I came to that conclusion by listening to your stories for almost two decades.
I began my radio talk-program career simultaneously with my training in Marriage, Family, and Child Therapy. My education as a psychotherapist focused on the dynamic (interpersonal pressures and challenges) and unconscious motivations (inner compulsive drives) for people’s behaviors and for their problems in coping with life. The training didn’t exactly say that people were not at all responsible for their condition, but it did emphasize that external situations and internal angst provided an almost inexorable force that became explanation, if not excuse, for all the inappropriate, self-defeating, even destructive behaviors that messed up their lives.
Consequently, my early on-air radio dialogues were directed toward providing insights concerning the origins of the caller’s uncomfortable, frustrating, and sometimes downright scary predicaments. I actually got quite good at moving with the caller toward an understanding of how their unfinished developmental stages, unmet needs, experiences of loss and frustration, hurts and fears led to their present-day problems. You know, associations like: "Your father abandoned you at a young age and of course you’d be scared to trust men. That explains your promiscuity. Now that you know that…"
Neat package. Too neat. It worried me. First, I was bothered by the notion that just because an objectively bad experience happened, that it necessarily caused the person’s present problems. Reality just wouldn’t support that position. All people to whom that event occurred did not turn out with the same type or quality of life. I switched my thinking from cause-effect to possible influence, as I worried just how great a role blaming something in the past and reverence for victimhood were functioning to help people stay stuck.
Since all people are not similarly affected by similar life experiences, I factored into my reasoning the unique, basically genetic personality of each caller. If you question the genetic contribution, simply ask any parent of more than one child whether or not the personalities of their kids have been different from each other and relatively consistent from birth. Not everyone responds to the same threat or input with the same response; the reactions of individuals are not simple, predictable, knee-jerk responses.
Finally, it struck me that even profound anger, hurt, or fear do not merely trip-wire a specific reaction; human beings control and re-direct emotions all the time, even over-ride them with conscious determination and often pay a considerable emotional price of pain to accomplish this noble task.
The bottom line is that, regardless of the facts of our past, notwithstanding our perceptions and beliefs about ourselves and life based on that past, we can and must make decisions and take actions that require something more special about us as human beings than simple emotional reactions.
With this realization, I began to develop a profound respect for the choices humans are capable of making under circumstances ranging from the apparently mundane (like the young woman not getting her "own way" in her relationship who decides to appreciate what she does have without diminishing it with regrets about what she doesn’t have) to the deeply profound (like the man who finds out his old girlfriend is a single mother with his two-year-old daughter and makes the child’s welfare his priority, sacrificing a new job, home, and current relationship to move close to and parent his child). Callers were teaching me about the tenacity of spirit and nobility of purpose with which people can choose to behave – where sacrifice and suffering are seen as part of the elevation of the soul in accomplishing something truly special: being human.
I don’t take the issue of our humanity lightly. My B.S. and Ph.D. are in Biology and Human Physiology, respectively. I’m awed by the majesty and miracle of even single-celled creatures, much less the complex physiology and behavior of the evolutionary epitome of life on earth, Homo sapiens.
But, there is something that separates human beings from being too simply categorized as yet another animal, and that something is morality. Without morality, we are no more than termites seeking survival and gratification at every moment and at all costs. With morality, we transcend instinct and simple equations of learned response.
More and more I began to see that the problems people wanted to solve, resolve, or avoid in the first place need to be approached along the lines of right and wrong. This is an anathema to much of the psychological establishment, among whom feelings reign supreme, values are relative, and where there is no judgment and little challenge. I started talking about honor, integrity and ethics in tandem with the more traditional psychological approach and BANG!!! My radio program took off and became an international phenomenon, while purely psychology-oriented shows have more or less dropped by the wayside.
The basic premise of my radio program and books has been that, regardless of emotional angst or tremendous temptation, to be fully human and to benefit maximally from the life experience, you must get back to the 3 C’s: Character, Courage, and Conscience.
I begin each hour of my program with "I’ve Got A New Attitude," sung by Patti LaBelle, because it expresses my belief that it is attitude, infinitely more than circumstance, that determines the quality of life. Life is often quite tough, challenging us to choose between seemingly esoteric, intangible ideals, or getting goodies or good vibes right now. You have character when you most often choose ideals.I’ve often told my listeners that, once an ant finds a crumb, it is instinctively driven to communicate to the other ants about the find and then help bring the food to the colony. The ant is not being good by bringing home the bacon; it is responding to an inner biological program. No choice involved. And where there is no choice, there is no morality. Humans can choose between selfishness (or survival) and generosity (or sacrifice). You have courage when you most often choose generosity.
I’ve also described that children learn very early which behaviors get parental smiles and which get parental frowns or spanks. At this early stage, right and wrong has only to do with reward and punishment. However, with maturity, you learn to respect the wisdom, protection, benefits and promise of a moral life. You have conscience when you most often compel yourself to do what is right for its own sake.
I truly believe that we, as human beings, should wish to be loved and embraced for our character, respected and relied on for our courage, and trusted for our conscience.
This book is partly prophylactic in intent. My aim is to show you how an adherence to the 3 C’s can help you prevent personal and interpersonal problems and dilemmas. It is also true that the concepts and illustrative examples within this book can guide and direct you toward repairing and restoring your spirit, your relationships, and your life.
Now go take on the challenges of Character, Courage, and Conscience.
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