A lot of you may not remember Mr. Rogers. He was a little before my time, but I actually remember him. First impression wise, he appeared to be a sweater wearing dorky looking middle aged man who was in some weird on-going puppet-skit for kids. As a youngin', I would watch if something better wasn't on - like duck-tales or GI Joe or any cartoon really. Still, I must have watched a lot because I've memorized the 'it's a beautiful day in the neighborhood' jingle. The show obviously made an impression on me and I wasn't alone. The puppets and skits were also used to make an impression with North American culture.
Times were controversial back then. There was a lot going on including segregation of 'black and white' Americans, African Americans on TV with a recurring role, The space shuttle 'challenger' crashing, gun violence, the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther Kind, Jr., Gay rights, Nuclear War, Divorce and Growing up. Mr. Rogers tackled them all and more with the help of his imagination and puppets. He received the Presidential Medal of Freedom, a Peabody Award and was in the Television Hall of Fame. How did a Presbyterian minister get to be a hero for children? How did an average guy with no real history in show business rank 35 in the top 50 of the greatest TV Stars of All time?
How did he do it? I'll tell you. He saw something that needed to be done and he focused his energy into doing something about it. From my perspective, he appears to be honest, genuine, loyal and courageous. Brave enough to tackle difficult and complex challenges in order to help people; particularly the children. He said what he wanted to say in a way that even simple minds could understand - if they wanted to. He possessed integrity and was the same person on and off the screen. From my research, many a reporter attempted to dig up 'dirt' but discovered that Mr. Rogers was the same guy everywhere he went. No hidden agenda's. No secret affairs. He was happy. Funny. People liked to be around him as he lived by the exact moral code that he preached.
Do you live by what you preach? Do I?
Last night...maybe a couple of night ago, my wife and I were in the middle of our usual evening banter when I threw in how I thought of myself as being similar to Mr. Rogers. Natalie laughed initially because Mr. Rogers appeared timid on screen. Passive even, whereas she's witnessed me as a bit confrontational and overly honest to people (if there is such a thing as 'overly honest') to the point that people have taken offense. I've been known to be straight forward and passionate both teaching and defending truths that I believe in and hold close to my heart. So, when it comes to being political with subtlety, I am quite different from Mr. Rogers. He was much better at that than I ever will be. He seemed to have much more patience and cleverness in that area than I. He was a master at using his influence for good in a way that people didn't even realize they were learning anything - they thought they were watching a kids program! I am working towards that but my interest in being subtle is just not there so I'll likely stick to the shotgun approach of honest reflection even when it has consequences that may potentially effect financial livelihood.
Some clients choose not to return to therapy because with awareness comes accountability. And taking accountability can be a very uncomfortable place. Especially when it comes to a behavior that may not be judged as being appropriate.
Being uncomfortable is...uncomfortable. And it's great. I had a wonderful experience a long ago in a galaxy far away that involved an accusation. I was accused of being a __________ friend (the exact term isn't even coming to mind right now...maybe by the end). Initially I didn't even understand the term as I've never heard it before. You may not have heard it either so another way to think of it is the more used term 'frenemy'. Or, someone who pretends to be your friend but then tries to cut you down at especially vulnerable moments in front of you or behind your back. It's especially confusing because you think this person is your friend so the behaviors are surprising and we don't want to believe that it's actually happening because...well, they're your friend.
The accusation was backed with an example of something that I said at a party during a white elephant gift exchange weeks prior. During the confrontation, I was very genuinely surprised. It came out of left field for me...still, I wanted to be open and take accountability where possible so I expressed my apologies saying that I sincerely didn't mean anything offensive and had no ill-feelings or wishes towards the person. And that was that. I had cleaned up something that appeared on my side of the street...but it wasn't cleaned on on their side which resulted in me being asked repeatedly to take accountability of being a 'frenemy' even a week after being accused. "I just want you to acknowledge it" they said, but I couldn't because it just wasn't accurate. Still, it felt good knowing that I wasn't hiding anything. It felt good being honest. My heart rate didn't rise. My emotions didn't escalate. I was being the same person in that room as I am outside of that room.
Has anyone felt this way? Pressured by someone else to take accountability for something that they didn't do? Feels like a manipulation to me. Like, if I did 'admit' to it, they would feel better about it somehow. And I still can't remember the exact term it's called so we'll stick with 'frenemy'. Wait...it's coming to me - "ambivalent"! Ambivalent Friend. That's the term. I had to youtube it and as I watched, I couldn't help but that the whole concept sounded 'victimy' and found myself wondering, "if I thought strongly that someone was trying to hurt me while pretending to be my friend, I don't think I'd continue in that relationship...so if someone CHOOSES to continue in that risky relationship - well, that sounds like that'd be on them - not the person they chose to be friends with."
Why would you choose to be close to someone that you know is trying to hurt you?
I am living the exact code that I preach. I. Am. Mr. Rogers. Except, I don't wear a sweater and rather than work with children, choose to focus on adults largely in the field of addiction, depression and anxiety (any negative emotions, really). Instead of puppets and catchy jingles, I use a blog and youtube....and therapy. Yes, I still need to work on the subtle piece...but for now will go with the famous words of Joe Rogan, "It's better to have honest conflict than dishonest harmony."
Till next time, live well.
Jed Thorpe, CMHC.