Beware the Pedestals!

Almost any day you’d care to look, the news offers opportunity to reflect on humankind and the meanings of life. Just as the heat of a national election is cooling down, and the approach of the “fiscal cliff” is looming, we hear breaking news of the fall from grace of another hero.

Like other news flurries, the scandal and resignation of David Petraeus will eventually sort itself out and fade into the background of our collective awareness.  In saying that, I’m not minimizing the importance of his extramarital affair to him, his family and inner circle, and possibly even to national security. What occur to me are our general tendencies to make our heroes one dimensional rather than remembering that they are complex humans, as we all are.

Perhaps we want some icons to look up to.  Perhaps we are comforted in confronting the chaos of the world and our resulting feelings of fear and helplessness when we put someone up on a pedestal. We may enjoy being put on a pedestal ourselves and receiving the attention and adulation that comes with being considered a hero to someone…anyone. But I want to caution you about doing either one.

After all, there are many examples of this “pedestal practice” and what comes of it. Lance Armstrong comes to mind. As does Sandusky and the whole Penn State debacle that once uncovered, revealed the dangers of the worship and adulation of a university football coach and the program he built. Many men who lived on pedestals in “Happy Valley” will topple before that scandal finishes playing out. Several years ago a well respected scholar and college professor was arrested for soliciting sexual contact with a female minor, and an entire community and church was rocked to the core. A highly regarded female pastor confesses that she has been having an extramarital affair with a parishioner, and the families and church are devastated in the wake of it.

On a smaller scale, married partners sometimes have this “Pedestal Practice” going on. If you marry someone and you regard them as more successful, smarter, more desirable, more powerful, wealthier or more competent than you, you may place them on the pedestal and never claim your own abilities and power in the relationship.

Taking the passive or submissive stance then results in an imbalance of power. The woman or man who is up on the pedestal isn’t seen as fully human, and true emotional intimacy is not possible as a result.  Not a true partnership. And usually, sooner or later something will occur that results in toppling the pedestal by an affair or deception of some other kind, and divorce.

Our first reaction to such news is, “That’s impossible!” Surely some terrible mistake has occurred!  He/she wouldn’t or couldn’t do such a thing!  Scummy, evil, bad people do this! Notice that the implication is that we are all one or the other: good people or bad people. Of course the truth is that we are neither. Each of us has our strengths, even great and wonderful qualities. And each of us has our “shadows,” unconscious beliefs and feelings that when they remain unacknowledged or unexplored, have the tendency to rear up and we act them out.

It seems to me that when we put someone else on a pedestal, whether that person is a sports hero, a national figure, a revered leader or someone you personally know, they will plunge off that pedestal by revealing themselves (albeit unintentionally) to be flawed.  Or in our resentment or disappointment at seeing them to be only human after all, we knock them off their pedestals with a resounding whack.

And if you are living up on a pedestal, watch out!


In The News: A Riff on Penn State


“May God bless you with enough foolishness
to believe that you really can make a difference in this world,
so that you are able, with God’s grace,
to do what others claim cannot be done.”
~The Fourth of a Four-Fold Franciscan Blessing~


As a citizen of PA I have been, like thousands of others, reeling in the wake of events that have occurred in our state over the past week.  A child sexual assault scandal has rocked a hallowed institution, and ended the careers of a number of powerful men.  Arrests have been made and further investigations are ongoing.

Besides being shocked and appalled by what has been happening under our very noses for many years, we hear expressions of outrage, disgust, fear and sorrow.  Personally I have felt them too.  Admittedly I am not a Penn State graduate, nor am I am fan of college football.  I follow sports only at Olympics time and whatever commentary or news is covered by NPR.  I have been known to go into a coma at the sound of football commentary on TV.  So my concerns don’t really extend to those entities.

What I think this is about is the assault on innocent children, and the abuse of power by people who apparently believe that sustaining  institutional structures and the cash cow of college football  (in this case) is more important than protecting those who are vulnerable, unprotected and have no power at all.

It isn’t even really about Penn State and college football;  unfortunately this misuse of power and scandal has besmirched the Catholic Church, the Mormon Church, (probably every other church to some extent), other professional sports teams such as the Red Sox, and maybe even a local day care center in your community.

At the risk of sounding like an alarmist or shocking you, what I am saying is that no group or community is immune to it.

These acts are not perpetrated by monsters, although we like to call them that.  They are not mentally ill people who have some “chemical imbalance” or brain dysfunction which keeps them unable to control their impulses.  They are ordinary people who make awful choices.  That they themselves were once similarly abused is likely the case.  However, they have other options for dealing with pain, rather than inflicting it on others.

And what about the silent witnesses?  They are ordinary people too.  People who look and live an awful lot like you and me.  And when you think about it, the witnesses by far out-number the monstrous perpetrators who inhabit so many nightmares.  And the situations of abuse that seem to go on and on before they are finally (if ever) reported, are only made possible by people who turn a blind eye.

In one of many conversations I had last week, someone suggested that the witnesses at Penn State didn’t call the police because they feared for their jobs.  As it turns out, their jobs would not be protected, at least in this state, because only certain occupational groups (teachers, counselors, doctors and nurses) have a duty to report.  Ironically, coaches who deal with hundreds of minors, do not.  Neither does John or Jill Q. Public.  So protecting one’s career and financial interests can certainly outweigh doing the moral or ethical thing without legal consequences.

It would certainly be uncomfortable to buck the power of the institution, to risk disapproval and maybe even the ire of those who are at the top of the heap, wielding the most power.  Lord knows it is uncomfortable standing up and opposing any existing order.  Most of us are way too invested in pleasing other people…especially our “superiors” or those we see as authorities or deities (with a small “d”).

But what I want to remind you of is that there is tremendous power in the simple witnessing of anything you see or hear.  There must be some sociological law that serves as the counterpart of nuclear physics which says that anything being observed is changed just by that process of being observed.

Can even one single individual change the world order?  Yes, I have to believe that we can.  The fate of one potential victim or one injured victim can be changed if we are willing to endure our own discomfort and stand up, dial a phone number and say, “I have seen this, or I have heard this, or I have reason to be concerned about this. “

Institutions of power can only abuse that power if the witnesses are all complicit in denying what they have seen and heard and been concerned about.  One individual, especially when joined by others, can topple the biggest house of cards.  You may think it is foolish to believe, but history is rife with examples of those who dared to speak up and of those who did not.  The consequences are clear, and the children are still suffering.



Building Self Esteem


“Most people are extras in their own movie.”  ~Bob Proctor

When it comes to creating success in life, some of the key terms you will hear over and over again are self image and self esteem.  You are probably aware of the importance of helping children develop these personal building blocks, especially if you are a parent or a teacher, but you may not be aware that our need for a healthy self image and strong self esteem plays an important role in adult life as well.

As we arrive in adulthood, we possess a certain self image that has accumulated from the early messages we received, our experiences and the accumulated beliefs and behaviors which have resulted.  We can accurately call this our paradigm.

This paradigm is really important because although most of us are not aware of it, this perception of yourself is the container in which you grow and live.  You cannot grow beyond it, and your success can not exceed it.

In other words, you may have a keen desire for higher education, but if your self-image or paradigm is that you aren’t smart enough, or that people in your family just don’t go on to college or that only stuck-up, snobby people have education, then you won’t see this as a serious goal or attain it.

Your self esteem, or the degree to which you like, love and accept yourself is another key.  High self esteem is a critical factor that can positively affect many areas of your life. On the other hand, if you have low self esteem, it will act as a constant challenge . . . a hurdle you have to jump over each time you want to try something new, a constant force dragging you down.

The good news is that you are not stuck with the paradigm or self image that you have presently.  If you are aware that you don’t feel very good about yourself, you can change it.  If you are frustrated by not getting the results you want in your life, you can dissolve those blocks that are keeping you from success.  Step by step you can change the behaviors and emotions so that they match up with the person that you are wishing you were.

While self-esteem can be difficult to change, it’s not impossible. We’ve come up with a few time-tested tips for improving your self-esteem, and feeling better and more positive about yourself on a daily basis.  Here are a few ideas:

  • Make a list of things you like about yourself – and refer back to it often. This list should include your successes and achievements, and your positive traits and qualities.  The more you practice liking and accepting yourself, the more things you’ll be able to add to the list.
  • Surround yourself with people who are loving and accepting. Don’t let yourself get dragged down by the negative attitudes of others. Your true friends will like you the way you are.
  • Take care of yourself.  Give yourself the care and attention you deserve, whether that means breaking a few bad habits, paying more attention to your physical health and appearance, or taking a break with some relaxing time alone.
  • Do what you love. Find a way that you can shine, using your strengths and talents to the best of your abilities.  Pursuing activities that you’re good at is one of the best ways to build self-confidence!
  • Practice asserting yourself to others and drawing some boundaries in your relationships.  If you tend to be passive and allow others to lay their expectations on you, speak up and say no.  If you are avoidant, then push yourself to speak up rather than distancing yourself.
  • Create some mental movies that are starring you in the situations that you desire.  Combine this technique with relaxation and it is a very powerful way to get on track.
  • Set goals (be very specific) and learn to work with them every day.  Find an accountability partner to report your progress to and to stay on track.
  • Quit watching TV and other time wasters and commit to taking positive action every day.  Baby steps + gratitude and appreciation is the big key to change.

High self-esteem is a powerful motivator and an important predictor of future success. You can get started improving your self-esteem today.

“Core Inner Strength,” a hypnosis program developed by Dr. Shirley McNeal, is a fun and easy way to improve your self-esteem.  In just four hypnotic sessions, you will discover the life-changing secrets behind experiencing comfort and safety in yourself, raising your self-esteem and self-confidence, and finding your inner strength.

To learn more about Dr. McNeal’s program, click here: