A Hard Conversation to Have
There is someone in my life with whom I need to have a heart to heart talk. It will not be a pleasant conversation. So in order to protect both the innocent and the guilty, let us call this person Family.
Now Family is loyal almost to a fault and excels at everything he puts his mind to. He is kind, generous and cares deeply about the welfare of others. And for all of his benevolence, Family is tough as nails. You wouldn’t want to cross him. There is simply nothing he can’t do.
Yet, for all of his assets, his many gifts, his pure unadulterated, untapped potential, Family is anything but successful. In fact Family is a hot mess; going backwards as fast as his extremely long legs will carry him. When pressed about his current situation he responds, in a deep baritone voice “don’t worry about me. I handles my business.” But of course handling his business is the last thing Family does.
Never holding himself accountable for anything, no matter the goal, regardless of its significance, Family confuses fault with responsibility. He will often tell you how desperately he wants success. No doubt he does. He just doesn’t want to work too hard for it. So he never challenges himself and seldom leaves his comfort zone.
If the particular objective is met, fine. If not, an invisible “they” are to blame for his lack of success rather than he failed to do all that he could to ensure it. Someone else failed him, rather than he dropped the ball.
Feeling entitled, he is persuaded that life owes him something. Thus, despite his toughness, his innate strength, his overwhelming ability, he does not control his life, life controls him. Like water rushing towards a fetid sewer, his is the way of inevitability. Family is a passive witness to his own existence, always choosing the path of least resistance.
This passivity, this indifference is explained in part by a bad case of bad history. In the distant past something awful, lasting for a very long time happened to Family, something for which he has yet to overcome. The situation may or may not have been his fault, no one is sure. But at this point it really doesn’t matter. What matters is that Family now sees himself as a victim, unable or unwilling to rise above his history.
He therefore seeks the comfort of enablers who serve and entertain him, who reflect and feed in to his dysfunction and who make him feel comfortable. Yet, these and other sycophants do him little good. So we must do what I have carefully avoided for years; have “the talk”.
The conversation will be awkward, if not painful. How do you tell someone that which is critical but which they need to hear? What is the best way of telling a loved one to stop making so many damn excuses and to get their act together? And who am I to tell him anything. I have my own problems.
Family will be embarrassed, angry, resentful and defiant. Motives will be questioned and accusations of condescension, of not understanding his situation, of thinking myself better than he, will be made. The inevitable “who are you to judge me”, followed by an exhaustive list of my own shortcomings, concluding with the inevitable “you ain’t s#*t”, all of which are clearly true, will follow. At which point I too will become embarrassed, angry, resentful and defiant.
A hard conversation to have is bigger than just one family. It is symbolic of a much larger problem. Far too many have bought into the victim/entitlement/enabler mentality; that our history programs us so thoroughly, so intensely that we have no free will, that we can only do that which our program demands of us, that we have no option but to fail and that we are neither responsible nor culpable for our beliefs, our attitudes, our decisions and our conduct.
The enabler class condones and reinforces this mindset by explaining and thereby excusing the inexcusable. If we are but victims of forces beyond our control, helpless casualties of our history and environment, then any criminal or self destructive behavior in which we engage no matter how egregious is more than understandable if not expected.
The victim/entitlement/enabler mentality does more than excuse our worst behavior. It stops us from achieving. It mires us in mediocrity rather than greatness. And while there is truth to this belief system, some basis in reality for this mindset, the victim/entitlement/enabler syndrome, is neither the truth, the whole truth nor nothing but the truth. The greater truth is that we are responsible for our own conduct. The greatest reality is that we are the captains of our own destiny.
It is important to note that hard conversations expose the fault lines in all. As you peer into the void, the void peers into you. So I am the first to admit that history is material. Words, feelings and motives are relevant.
Yet, no matter how difficult, the abandonment of the victim/entitlement/enabler mentality is something we must communicate. Resolving to be at our best rather than at our worst is an exchange we must have. Realizing that destructive behavior should not be explained away for any reason and that like all people, some of us are bad while other are just damn trifling, is something we must discuss. And finally, questioning whether we have become a family of apologists is that which we must seriously question.
Yes, these will be hard conversations to have. Nonetheless, they are conversation we can no longer avoid.
We can only hope that when it is all said and done, after motives are questioned and feelings are hurt, after the “go to hells” have been said and recriminations have been made, after the shouting has ceased and relationships are damaged some irreparably, that the message will be received and that things will improve.
Leo Barron Hicks, Founder and CEO of the Blackacre Policy Forum