Posts Tagged ‘Loyalty’

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A Rare and Precious Gift

March 4, 2011

On my way home from a client appointment yesterday, I stopped at a local store to buy a birthday present for the love of my life. The store is quiet and there are more salespeople than customers filling the aisles. I take my time, browsing in various departments for that perfect gift. I am not in a rush like I usually am, having finished my work for the day, and feel satisfied that my time with the client was extremely productive. I am happy and content. My life may not be perfect, but it is pretty damn good.

After selecting a gift that I hope will be a big hit, and picking up a new cd for myself, I pay for my items and exit the store. I can’t wait to get in my car, open the cd, and insert it into the car’s stereo and crank the volume on the soundtrack for my drive home. As the first notes explode from my car’s speakers, I head for the exit to the parking lot. Sitting on a mound of grass to the right of the exit is a woman holding up a cardboard sign. From the distance I can’t make out the words on the sign. But as I approach, the handwritten words come into focus. “Single Unemployed mom needs help.” Sadness overcomes me. I look at the sign holder. She appears to be in her 30’s, is clean and neatly dressed in black jeans and a t-shirt. Her shoulder length auburn hair is neatly combed and she is wearing a defeated and sad expression. I can’t imagine what it must feel like, being so desperate and hopeless, dependent on the kindness of strangers. Her eyes catch mine for a moment. She looks away and lowers her sign.

About a-week-and-a-half ago I was in New Orleans, finishing up a seminar on the persuasive power of psychodrama. For four days my dearest friends and I worked with trial lawyers from all over the country, teaching them the basic tools of psychodrama and how to apply them to their practices. After finishing our last session and packing up our materials, we decide to spend some time exploring the French Quarter, a place we had little time to enjoy during the program.

Now if you ever go to New Orleans, you must visit the world famous Café DuMonde and sample the delicious, addictive and thigh destroying beignets. On this Sunday afternoon of a three-day weekend, I need a beignet fix. My friends and I arrive at this landmark establishment and discover a huge line snaking down the block.  Even the line for take out is enormous. After a wait, which isn’t too bad since one of the busboys is taking orders from those of us at the back of the line so we don’t have to waste too much time, and beignets in hand, my friends and I head out of the bustling Quarter to walk along the riverfront towards our hotel.

As we near the holocaust memorial, a man comes running from the side path waving his arms and pointing behind him, “please, someone call 911. She is having a seizure. Give me a cell phone so I can call 911.” Most of the people strolling along the riverfront ignore his pleas and pass by.

“I need a cell phone. Please. We need to call 911. She is having a seizure.” People continue walking past, as if they are deaf and the frantic man invisible. He is dirty and thin, wearing jeans and a jacket over a t-shirt with a dirty baseball cap on his head. I look in the direction he is pointing and see two other people, a black woman, short, chubby and shabbily dressed. She is staggering around near the park bench from where the man came. When she tries to stand, she staggers a few steps and then falls down on the bench. Across from her is an elderly man with long stringy hair and a wild, unkempt beard. He tries to help the woman sit, but isn’t too steady himself. Again the man in the cap calls out, “she is having a seizure, I need a cell phone to call 911.”

My friends and I stop and look again in the direction he is pointing. “Please, someone call 911.” I pull my cell phone from my pocket and shout to him, “I will call 911.” I dial 911 and a dispatcher answers. “What is your emergency?”

“We need paramedics on the riverfront walk, a woman is having a seizure.”

“Where are you?”

“On the riverfront walk, right near the holocaust memorial. Between the holocaust memorial and the IMAX.”

“Holo what?”

“The holocaust memorial.”

“Hotel, what hotel?” I pull my phone away from my ear and look incredulously at my friends.

I put the phone back to my ear, “No! The HOLOCAUST memorial. H-O-L-O-C-A-U-S-T.”

“What is happening?”

“A woman is having a seizure.”

“Oh, O.K. You need an ambulance, not the police. What is your number and I will have them call you.”  I can’t believe this. Here we are with an emergency and they can’t figure out where we are and then they tell us we have called the wrong place. I give the dispatcher my number.

Within seconds, my phone rings. A male voice is on the other end. “What is your emergency?” I repeat the information and tell him where we are. He starts asking questions about cross streets and addresses.

“I’m not from here. I don’t know the cross streets.” Getting help for a woman having a seizure should really not be this hard.

By this time, a couple walking by stops near us and is watching the homeless woman, who by now, is being held tightly by the man in the baseball cap. “I’ve got you Martha. I’m right here. I am not going to let you get hurt.” She is struggling to free herself. Her speech is slurred and one side of her face droops. At times she seems to convulse slightly. He holds her on his lap, his arms wrapped tightly around her.  She struggles to get free, “I want to go.”

“Martha, you are having a seizure. I am not letting you go.”

The couple overhears me trying to give our location to the ambulance dispatcher and approaches us. “I’m from here,” the male member of the couple says as he reaches out for me to give him my phone. I hand it over and he gives the information the dispatcher needs to send help. He hands back the phone and the dispatcher tells me to please watch for the ambulance and to flag them down when they arrive.

I call out to the man in the baseball cap, “They are sending an ambulance.”

“Thank you.” I hear the relief in his voice and see it in his eyes.

My friends and I stay nearby waiting for the ambulance to arrive. We want to make sure they come, and when they arrive that they help this woman. We watch the man in the cap hold Martha and try to soothe her. “You are my best friend Martha. You need help. I am not going to let you go.” She is struggling and appears a little out of it.

“I’m ok.” She whines.

“No, your not. You are having a seizure. You were seizing for 3 minutes. You need to go to the hospital.”

“No! I don’t want to go.” Her agitation increases as she tries to escape his hold.

“They hurt me.” She holds up her arm and her soiled sleeve slips down toward her elbow revealing a large swollen area on her forearm.

“They hurt me with the needle. I don’t want to go!”

“I promised Martha. You are my best friend. I love you. I promised. I am not letting you go. You need help.” He tries to calm her and keep her still.

“Yes Maatha. Yo haf ta gota the hospital.” Slurs the old man who is with them. He looks at the man in the cap. “You goin wif heh?”

“I will be with you Martha. I am not going to leave you. You are my best friend. I love you.”

“They hurt me. See, they hurt me.” Again she holds up her arm.

“I am airborne and I will go with you. You are my best friend.”

We watch, in silence, each of us deep in our own thoughts.

A siren in the distance breaks the spell.

The man who gave directions to the ambulance dispatcher calls to us, “We’ll go flag down the ambulance and direct them over here.” They head off towards the street.

Other than the four of us, and the couple who head off to flag down the ambulance, no one else has stopped. No one has even noticed what is happening. In fact, people are purposely avoiding the area where we are all gathered.

A man in a golf cart, who appears to be some sort of security patrol, drives over to the park bench where the man in the ball cap is holding Martha.

“You people need to leave.” He starts to get out of the golf cart to chase them off.

“She is having a seizure. We have called an ambulance and they are on their way,” we tell him. He gets in his golf cart and drives away.

The ambulance finally arrives and paramedics along with a gurney join us. Martha is still struggling and resisting help. The man in the ball cap stays right by her side, talking to her calmly, promising not to leave.

Eventually the paramedics succeed in lifting Martha on to the gurney and strap her down. She continues to struggle as they wheel her down the grassy hill towards the ambulance, all while her best friend, the man in the ball cap stays by her side.

The four of us stand there together watching, Martha’s cries fading away. None of us have words. We leave the riverfront walk behind us, and slowly head back into the French Quarter. I look at my three friends and am filled with immense love and gratitude. Martha may be homeless, but she has something truly rare, a real friend who is there for her and doesn’t leave her side when she needs him most. And that is a precious and rare gift.

I look at the women I am with. Amazing, kind, loving women. I know in my heart that each of them is my man in the baseball cap.

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Is Civility and Human Kindness Dead?

May 4, 2010

I wonder what it is that makes some people so mean and cruel? I am not talking about terrorists or some convicted criminals, but every day, ordinary folks who act or speak in hurtful and mean spirited ways. Is there something about human nature that makes people hurt others, spread lies and say mean and ugly things about them? I just don’t get it. I am certainly not a perfect person and have had my moments but I try to live and let live. I strive to be positive and support others. Sure, there are plenty of people that I don’t care for and whom I dislike, but I don’t purposely set out to hurt them.  It is the purposefulness of the hateful behavior that disturbs me.

It is as if civility and human kindness are dying, if they are not already dead. The lack of both is demonstrated daily by politicians, CEO’s of Corporate America, professional athletes and celebrities. So I guess it shouldn’t surprise me when ordinary people follow suit. There seems to be a need in some folks to bring others down and destroy them for personal gain. And when you are the victim of this type of campaign it is hurtful and depressing. I have seen the pain in friends, colleagues and the people I work with. And I have felt it myself. Sadly, there is almost nothing you can do to protect yourself or your reputation. Often, the best you can do is turn the other cheek and refuse to respond in kind.

Maybe the worst part is that some people seem to enjoy hurting others and actively set out to do so. They take joy from their cruel acts and words and laugh about their behavior with their friends. If you aren’t a member of their “club,” “inner circle,” or “organization,” you are seen as an enemy that needs to be destroyed. And if they don’t act and you succeed, the belief is that you will take away from them, or somehow diminish their own success. Isn’t it possible for all of us to succeed and be fulfilled by our individual endeavors? Why must some act to destroy others? What are they afraid of? What would happen if we supported and encouraged each other?

Perhaps we can all grow and become better human beings by reversing roles with and walking in the shoes of those we attack, speak unkindly of and treat inhumanely. Imagine what the world would look like if more of us did this. What have we got to loose?

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More Musings on Friendship

February 3, 2010

I have written before on the topic of friendship and the meaning, to me, of what it means to be a “true friend.” I find myself returning to this topic time and time again because it is something that often occupies my mind; especially when there is a break in a relationship with a person whom I believed was my friend but who, for expediency or to preserve their relationships with people in positions of power, ceased communication, abandoned me and at times, have acted hostile or even hateful toward me. No matter the reason, the ending of a relationship with someone you believed was your friend, is painful; more so when no reason or explanation has been offered, leaving you to guess and speculate.

From my perspective, I don’t understand how friendship can be so easily abandoned and tossed aside. Why claim to be someone’s friend if you are not, or if you are willing to end the friendship to advance your own interests or because some other friend expects or demands that you cease your relationship with another friend? Didn’t we leave that type of behavior behind in junior high school? I can hear the 7th grader demanding:  “You can’t be friends with so and so because I don’t like them anymore!”  Or “I won’t play with you anymore if you are friends with so and so.”  Or  “You can’t be in my club because you are friends with X.” Sadly, some people I know willingly play these games and easily throw good people aside, people to whom they professed friendship, simply because these good people have relationships with folks their purported “friend” doesn’t like, is upset with or struggling to understand. I find this behavior immature, petty and plain old mean spirited. It is certainly not the behavior of a “true friend” or that of a good person.

I don’t take my friendships lightly and don’t profess to be someone’s friend unless I am willing to do my part to maintain the relationship and to be honest and open with them. I may not always succeed, but this is my intent. And sometimes being open and honest with a friend can be painful. But it is real and genuine. I want my friends to be who they are, fully and completely. I don’t expect us to like the same people or to have the exact same circle of friends. That doesn’t mean that there can’t be disagreements amongst friends or that we share identical opinions on all topics.  But when we do disagree, we do so with honesty and integrity and most importantly, respect.  We allow each other to view the world through our individual lenses and are free to share and discuss our respective points of view. We value and respect each other’s individuality, unique gifts and talents. To me, these are some of the great gifts that flow from true friendship.  I want friends with whom I can be my most authentic and true self. True friendship is to be treasured and valued. It enhances us an individuals and enriches our lives.  At least it has mine.

My experiences over the last many months have made me realize that for many people the term “friend” is really just a synonym for the term “acquaintance;” that  the words “I am your friend” are used frequently because friendship is socially valued and makes the person using the words feel good about themselves and elevates them in the eyes of their peers. After all, being a “good person” means having a lot of friends.  Doesn’t it?

But for my taste, many people throw the word “friend” around too easily. Perhaps they do so to impress others, because it suits them in the moment, or because they think saying they are a friend will get them something. This realization is both painful and discouraging. Maybe I am just operating from a different playbook.  Or maybe I am just naïve about friendship.

The good news, for me at least, is that I am blessed with some wonderful “true friends” who are honest and have integrity. Who do more than talk the talk; for whom the words “I am your friend” truly mean something, both in thought and deed. True friendship does not know distance or time. And so, to my “true friends,” thank you. You are amazing and wonderful people and I am blessed to have you in my life. And to those of you who have claimed to be my friend but your words were hollow or borne out of self –interest, thanks, but no thanks. I only have room in my life for true friends.

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An Intensive Start To 2010

January 6, 2010

2010 is off to a great start! I just returned from a four-and-a-half day psychodrama directing intensive in Phoenix, AZ, which I attended with one of my best friends, Fredi Sison. The trainer was Rebecca Walters of the Hudson Valley Psychodrama Institute. For those who aren’t familiar with directing intensives, the format is designed specifically to help folks who are learning to direct psychodrama and/or who are looking to improve their directing, increase their skills and proficiency. The intensive is limited to nine participants each of whom directs a two-hour psychodrama session including warm up, protagonist selection, action and sharing. After each drama, a full hour is spent thoroughly and completely processing the drama, discussing the psychodramatic method, director’s choices, options and ideas for improvement. Sociometry is also incorporated into the teaching. Feedback is specific and concrete. The intensive is a positive and safe environment in which to learn more about directing and to grow your skills and improve.

In addition to the opportunity to direct a full drama and run a group session, each participant gets to be a protagonist. I have found that working on my own issues and being in the role of the protagonist has helped me grow as a person and has been a great way to learn more about directing. Every time I am a protagonist I learn something new about directing.

One of the things that made this intensive so wonderful were the participants in attendance. In addition to me, Fredi and Rebecca, six other women from Arizona and Minnesota participated. (Unfortunately, the ninth participant had to cancel at the last minute due to a death in her family.) Five of the other six participants were mental health professionals and the sixth a woman with a PhD who has spent her career in academia. All of us have trained with various other psychodramatists across the country. Only three of the participants (including Fredi and me) are certified practitioners of psychodrama. The breadth of experience using psychodrama the group collectively brought to the intensive and the variety of ways in which each of us has done so added richness to the learning. We each brought our unique style to our directing and the laboratory in which we learned together was rich with new ideas.

There is something special and wonderful about working with an entire group of women. There were no egos, no attitudes or competition.  The group was incredibly supportive, collaborative and nurturing.  Our creativity flourished. The willingness to share and help each other grow and improve was powerful. Kindness and compassion were ever present.  We both laughed and cried together. I have participated in many psychodrama workshops over the years but this one was special given the wonderful, caring and talented women in attendance. I have added six new friends to my social atom.

I can’t yet articulate all that I learned but I know I have grown as a director and as a person. My personal drama was painful but gave me great insight into myself and a relationship I have deep pain about. I am eternally grateful for the group, the director who led me through my drama and for the insights I gained and the new ideas and tools I will add to my arsenal.

It was particularly wonderful to spend time with Fredi. She is an amazing woman, treasured friend and genuine person. She inspires me in so many ways and together, along with Mary Peckham, our creative energy sustains and energizes me. I am so blessed to have both Fredi and Mary in my life. I have no words to express all they mean to me or how much each of them has helped me grow.

2009 was a very difficult and painful year for me in many ways. I am more than glad to put it behind me.  Although 2010 is in its infancy, I am already building the foundation for a great year.

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Speaking Out – By Carl Bettinger

December 7, 2009

For the past few months  I’ve thought of little but Larry Selk’s story, the profoundly disabled man who was sodomized in a resident care home.  Towards the end of my closing, I told the jurors that I recognized that it is scary to speak up and be heard, yet doing so is sometimes necessary. I should not ask of my jurors anything more than I ask of myself.

During the trial, I was asked to staff Round Top in February.  Normally, I would have signed on without a moment’s hesitation.  I’ve decided not to staff the Round Top program. This is the first time I have not accepted a request to staff that was not related to work or family matters since I began staffing in 2003.  I can go to Texas in February, but I choose not to. This isn’t easy for me, as I believe that the TLC which now exists is one that may decide to remove me from staff for speaking up, a removal that I do not want, but if I can’t say what I want and need to say without fear of retribution, I don’t belong here.

Two months ago, when I showed up to staff the Advanced Program at the Ranch, I was asked by Jude Basile to resign from the Board. While it was deemed a “request”, there did not seem to be any volition involved. I agreed to do so, as I was planning to resign after the Board Meeting in January, 2010. However, I  was bothered by the timing of it, and the disingenuous way it was done. It occurred the first night that staff showed up for the program and without any forewarning. The decision to ask for my resignation clearly had been made long in advance of my arrival. To me it felt as though I had been kept in the dark so that I would prepare for and show up to staff the Advanced without having a chance to consider whether to attend at all under the circumstances. To my knowledge, my “resignation” from the Board, and those of Lynne Bratcher, Katlin Larimer and Fredi Sison, were requested without a formal Board vote.

There have been many changes in recent years at TLC that trouble me, and many relate the extent to which important decisions are made behind closed doors. I am not suggesting that the Board not make decisions, but why are the minutes not available to all alumni? In fact, why does the Board self-select? Why not an election of Board members by the alumni? Since people have questions about the finances, why not simply post the books to the web page so any alum can examine them? When I was on the Board (albeit the shortest tenure ever for any Board member!), I was shown the books. Why not show them to everyone? Why are staff evaluations not disclosed to the very staff being evaluated, and how many of you know this is the practice, i.e., not to show them to staff?

Why are so many decisions, particularly those of consequence, made in secret? Who has been removed from staff, when, and by whom? Will this be formally announced, or will these staff simply disappear? It would seem that Joane is no longer a member of the TLC staff. When was this decision made? And by whom? Why not put it to a vote of the alumni, many of whom return again and again as students?     Why should so many, particularly staff, feel reluctant to speak up for fear of retribution? During Grad II, Fredi Sison utilized a modified psychodramatic  exercise which probably has a formal name, but I will call “Step-in.” The group forms a large circle. A person steps in and says, “Who else here [fill in the blank]?”  Our psychodramatists had used this in other contexts before, usually asking people for a personal sharing. This time, however, the share was not limited. Participants asked wonderful questions, e.g., “Who else here has had to care for a dying loved one?”; “Who has ever lived with a mentally ill person?” “Who considers their body a friend?”   A collection of these would be enough for a book on jury selection. I asked, “Who is afraid to speak their truth at TLC for fear of retribution of some sort?” Many group members stepped in. After this year’s staff training, I suspect that number would be much higher if that question were posed to the staff.

My concerns include the loss or marginalization of those who, to my way of thinking, make TLC possible, particularly the psychodramatists.  It should go without saying that our psychodramatists are the finest of their kind in the world. To say we are lucky to have them is like saying the world is lucky to have oxygen. Yet, they have become increasingly marginalized over the years, particularly this year in the way they have not been fairly compensated. (If money is a problem, I sincerely doubt that the TLC community would not do what is necessary.) The college’s curriculum is unique because of psychodrama, and it succeeds because of psychodrama.  John Nolte,  who had been with the College from its earliest times, has contributed much over the years.  Not only his outstanding psychodramatic skills, but his sense of humor, his compassion, his sense of fair play have made this college a special place for so many.  He told me he had been invited to Round Top, but that TLC would not pay his way (although one Board member graciously offered to pay for it personally); rather he was expected to pay his own way and to teach without pay.  I find that insulting.  Katlin has been responsible for many of the exercises that we use at the college. She has the most institutional knowledge of all, but has been increasingly sidelined. Don is our guru on groups, Kathie our luminary on speaking your mind, and Louise Lipman, our newest, is out of this world. They are part of the very essence of TLC, yet are being treated as though they are otherwise.

My concerns continue with other fantastic staff we have lost over the years. Charlie Abourezk is gone. Garvin Isaacs is gone. Susan Mindenbergs, Cricket. All gone, either by their choice or design. Joane was told she would be asked to staff and she has not been, nor would there appear to be any intention to ask her.  Fredi Sison would appear to have joined this circle of non-staff. After Joane left, Fredi volunteered as the executive director of two programs, Grad II and the Advanced, both of which turned out great. She not only oversaw each program, but she created the curriculum and developed a new exercise (which I referred to in my postings about my recent trial as the “social atom”, but which my notes from Grad II label “Exploring the Cast”).  Are there any public defenders left on staff?

We are losing some of the best people in the college.  Some have left by their own choice, and some have been forced out. Obviously, the leadership can choose whomever they want to be part of the college, be it student or staff.  But they shouldn’t get to do so without anyone speaking up. In his nearly celestial eloquence, Dr. King once said that “In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.”

At the risk of being the latest to be pushed out the door, this is my way of honoring my friends and Larry’s jurors.

Carl

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Are You a True Friend?

September 24, 2009

I have been thinking a great deal about what it means to be a friend. I have written on this topic before in my post “Darling, I Am Here For You.” Luckily for me, I have some incredible friends who embody this saying and have been there for me over the last several months during a time of great challenge and transition. I have cried with these friends and laughed, and they have held, supported, encouraged and nurtured me through my pain and sadness. They have also celebrated my great joys. For my part, I have, I hope, been there for them as well. While this saying, or more aptly stated practice, is incredibly important to me, I have realized in the last few weeks that friendship is about so much more than this simple principle alone.

In the last several months, I have discovered, much to my dismay, that for some people friendship is a matter of convenience or is based on what I can do for them. The word friend easily rolls off their tongues and while they talk a good game, the meaning of true friendship is a concept they are unfamiliar with.  Sadly, some of these proclaimed friends have turned their backs on me when I was down and had no qualms about dumping me when they felt it was beneficial for them to do so. Before the last few months, I simply couldn’t fathom that some of those people who called me friend, professed to love and care about me, would quickly abandon me when others, with more power or greater influence beckoned them. Apparently, for these people, advancement of personal interests is higher in priority than friendship.

This realization has been quite painful for me and causes me to question my own judgment in trusting some of these people. Over the years, I have trusted and bared my soul in psychodrama to many of these folks.  Much to my surprise, some have had no difficulty revealing to others what I shared in confidence.  Some have gone so far as to use information gained in a psychodrama about my childhood experiences against me. Perhaps I was naïve, but this simply shocks me. How can anyone trust the psychodramatic process if those who participate are willing to and will breach confidence when it suits them to do so or when it gives them an advantage?

Don’t get me wrong; I am a firm believer in psychodrama. I don’t, however, think it is a panacea or the solution to all a person’s problems. But it is a method that can help people understand themselves and grow as a person. This is valuable and worthwhile. But it does not nor can it answer or solve all problems nor eliminate or erase the bad things that have happened to us. It can, however, give us clarity and insight and help us change for the better.  At least it has done this for me and continues to do so.

Psychodrama is a process through which I have greatly benefitted in terms of my knowledge about myself, who I am and why I am the way I am. I have grown immensely as a result of my own personal work. I have also benefitted from my personal therapy off the psychodrama stage. The combination of both have given me strength and empowered me to stand up for myself and take control of my life.  I know my therapist will not, and legally cannot, reveal my confidences. Just as a lawyer must guard and protect a client’s confidence (with limited exceptions), so must a therapist.

Despite the agreement of the participants in a psychodrama to hold in strict confidence the innermost thoughts and feelings of the protagonist, I have come to learn that too many people (including many lawyers) are willing to share confidences with those who were not part of the group.  The hurt that results from such breach is especially painful when it comes at the hands of one who has professed to be my friend. And perhaps more so when someone I admire, respect and look up to and who has repeatedly told me that they loved me and would “be there for me” has violated my confidence. Even worse is when these people, who advocate and teach role reversal  for greater understanding of others, have flat out refused to reverse roles with me when asked and instead have responded “I am not going to play those silly games.” Silly games?

I believe that a true friend seeks to understand, cares for and about me and will guard and protect my confidences as if they are their own. It has been a shock to me to learn that there are people who will take things I have disclosed in confidence, either in a psychodrama or a private and deeply personal conversation and reveal such information to others. I simply do not understand the ease with which my requests for confidence have been ignored. I hesitate to say the revelations were made maliciously or to hurt me, but I can’t reconcile why someone with whom I have shared deep, innermost thoughts and feelings would share those with others, especially with people who are not my friends or who have purposefully set out to hurt me.

I have also come to value the honest feedback of those friends who have been and are there for me. I know their comments come from the heart and are made with love and caring and not out of spite or with an agenda. It isn’t always easy to hear difficult things from your friends but it has been my experience that the truth from a loving friend enhances the friendship and helps me see things about myself that I may not have been able to see on my own. I appreciate people with whom I can be myself, even when we disagree. What would be the value of a friendship with someone who shares all of my opinions, sees all things through my paradigm or who agrees with every idea or thought I have? The sharing of ideas and open debate with those close to me are gifts I treasure and stimulates my creativity.

I am certainly not a perfect friend. I can be opinionated, short and at times angry. I can also be impatient. I have no doubt I have hurt people out of ignorance or anger. But I strive to be there for those close to me and keep to myself the confidences that have been shared.  I also try to apologize when I inflict pain. I imagine at some times I am more successful than at others.

Maybe in life we only earn a few close friends who we can trust both implicitly and explicitly, and who will truly be there for us in our time of need. I am grateful that I have a few such people in my life. They bring me great joy and hope. And to those who have discarded me and my friendship because it no longers meets your needs, I hope you find what you are looking for and that you will be blessed, as I have been, with a few true friends.

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Blind Loyalty, Betrayal and Self Preservation: The Silencing of Dissent

August 23, 2009

A person can’t be expected to be loyal to something or someone who is hurting or destroying them, that causes them pain or asks them to go against their personal morals, values or integrity.  It also requires the person from whom this blind loyalty is demanded to overlook, ignore or set aside their own ethics and beliefs and replace them with those of the person or group from whom the demand emanates. Such expectation of blind loyalty runs contrary to our fundamental human instinct of self-preservation and results in a loss of self.  Indeed, a high price to pay.

Expecting someone to chose another over themselves is akin to demanding an abused spouse stay in a dysfunctional marriage or risk being labeled disloyal or a betrayer. It puts all the blame on the person who has the courage to preserve themselves and end or leave the relationship. Speaking up as a way to defend oneself is simply not a viable option because to those who demand blind loyalty, objecting, or voicing dissent is, in itself, an act of disloyalty. And, it will nearly always be punished.

When one human being treats another badly, abuses them either physically, mentally, psychologically or emotionally, or asks or expects them to engage in behavior that goes against their personal values and/or morals, in essence, they force them to make a choice. Either choose to continue the relationship and suffer in silence in the dysfunctional environment; or, save yourself and preserve your integrity. Sometimes in life we must, for our own well being, choose ourselves or risk loosing our mental health and/or our integrity. This is true whether the dysfunction comes at the hands of a single person or through participation in a group.

When problems arise in groups, effective leaders focus on problem solving strategies in order to explore various ways to make things better. They are willing to open the lines of communication and hear all voices, whether they be concurring or dissenting ones. When this opportunity is not provided or such a mechanism is not in place, it forces a dichotomous decision on the part of the group’s members – me or them; self or the group.

The narcissistic leaders of dysfunctional groups never take responsibility for problems within the group, are not willing to hear the voices of dissent but rather, scapegoat or blame others, and in particular, those who chose to speak up or leave the group to preserve themselves. In this way, these so-called leaders maintain the myth of loyalty on their part and force the label of betrayer on those who chose themselves over the group. It is a convenient way to silence dissent and to vilify those who depart for their own reasons. And, in the twisted mind of these narcissistic leaders, they believe it builds greater loyalty on the part of those who remain. If they can successfully label someone a betrayer, those who remain will focus on that person rather than on the dysfunction of the group. It also sends a strong message to the members of the group; give us blind loyalty or be punished.

Betrayal is a loaded word, especially when ones only choice is to betray another or to betray yourself. How can a person be expected to maintain their loyalty when doing so is injurious to them, their integrity, mental, psychological, emotional, and in certain circumstances, physical well being?  Either way, the person who is forced to make this choice looses.
Some people like to use the phrase “The magic mirror is always at work” to describe the relationships between people. E.g., if I am feeling distant from my friend, they must be feeling distant from me. If I am not feeling heard by my friend, they must not be feeling heard by me. If indeed there is such a “magic mirror,” then it necessarily follows that when one person labels another “betrayer,” the one being so labeled also feels betrayed by the person labeling them.

Fundamental fairness dictates, at the very least, that the people being accused be given the opportunity to defend themselves; to speak their truth. Aren’t all of us innocent until proven guilty? Doesn’t justice, truth, honesty and love, yes love, demand that the accused betrayer be given a chance to tell their story? And as we all know, no story is one sided. If you love someone, or profess to love them, shouldn’t you treat them with respect and dignity? Shouldn’t you care about what they are feeling or have to say? Or do you act as judge, jury and executioner and condemn the person you allegedly love and demand their voice, which may be one of dissent, remain silent?  Do you threaten punishment in the absence of blind loyalty? If speaking up and telling the truth is considered an act of disloyalty, that speaks volumes about the person or group who requires silence as an act of loyalty. This is, at the very least, hypocrisy, and at most tyranny.

The bottom line is that it isn’t right, fair or just to expect any of us to give blind loyalty to someone or something that is toxic, dishonest or unethical, or not what it purports to be. Moreover, it is even more dishonest to silence the voices of dissent. The “magic mirror” is a myth, a convenient excuse used to justify bad behavior. A person who refuses to give blind loyalty to another or to an organization is not a betrayer but simply a person who made a choice that was best for them, to preserve themselves, their well being and in some cases their integrity. We all have freedom of choice and in the end, we are the only ones who can protect and preserve ourselves. We can’t, and shouldn’t, expect others to do it for us. Nor should we be punished for exercising our free will, or, our freedom of speech.

Felix Frankfurter, the Supreme Court Justice, perhaps said it best: “Those who begin cohersive elimination of dissent soon find themselves exterminating dissenters. Compulsory unification of opinion achieves only the unanimity of the graveyard.”