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The Counselor's Dilemma


The pressures of everyday life are mounting
higher with each passing year. The toll on humanity
is incalculable, manifesting itself in some of the
ugliest ways imaginable. And the victims of this
outrageous terror?

Our spirits.

Yes, our very souls are under attack from within
and without, plagued by the stresses of life that we
create, and just as often, the stresses we don't.
Though we tend to set up many of our own disasters
through greed, haste, ignorance or pride, we don't
plan well for the disasters initiated by others.

The feeling of remorse or regret for something
you've actually done wrong is relatively easy to get
over (in less serious situations). Admitting your fault
and seeing to its resolution usually takes care of the
disaster and any accompanying emotions for all

When the stress comes from outside, the story is
different. No matter what anyone says, there is a
feeling of helplessness that can't be avoided or
denied. There is no true ability to confess or atone
for the wrong. There is only the choice between
blaming the other party for doing wrong, or blaming
yourself for letting them!!!

Now the tricky part.

Left to ourselves, we will usually make a choice,
good or bad. When we choose how to react to a
problem, we are almost always governed by emotions.
The strongest of those emotions are, unfortunately,
depression and anger.

Yes, our old buddies depression and anger are just
about the only reason we even know someone has a
problem. Left on our own, our most immediate
response to being screwed over is quite often anger.
A great deal of the time, we make the 'good
anger' choice by focusing it as discipline at the source
of the problem. We do this every time we calmly send a
meal back to the kitchen in a restaurant. When we
return a defective toy to the store. When the cel
phone company messes up our bill.

(And of course, some of us go off the deep end,
bringing up the basic reason for the concept of 'state

In the lesser scenario, though, we almost
unanimously support the anger of the agrieved
individual, as it relates to a tangible, material
problem. By doing this, we diffuse the anger and it
subsides fairly soon afterwards.

Aaah, but there's the rub. Most of today's real
stresses come from the intangibles- from our
dreams, our fears, our hopes and self-confidence, our
aspirations, skills and talents. When these are the
battlefields, anger is usually ineffective or even more
damaging. Now, depression is the obvious choice. Left
alone, we will all banish ourselves to the depths of

We don't want to do this, so we look to our peers
and loved ones for help. All too often, though, we do
not find the support we seek. We find instead,
admonition and criticism. "Well, you shouldn't
have"..."I would never have done that...." "Oh,
you're exaggerating!!!" "Well, that's your side of it."
And, of course, the king of them all- "There are
people 'homeless, dying, starving, opressed, etc
(insert your favorite global disaster) so you really
have no problem at all!"

As true as any of these may be, when it comes to
consoling someone, they simply do more, well, no,
only damage. Belittling the pain does not bring relief,
only the desparate feeling of helplessness, and the
need to justify. As this dire need is further criticized
and dismissed, it grows into anger. Keep in mind, this
is not anger at the situation that caused the
depression. This is anger at the people sought out for
help. In addition to whatever the job, career,
relationship or personal stress that started it all, the
poor unfortunate's heart is now broken by the
hopeful healer! This is where, I fear, many suicides
come from.

You see, in every case, no matter what, there is a
real problem to be solved. An actual transgression, a
real frustration or an obstacle. Something to be
overcome. Sometimes you have to dig a little to find
it. Many people just blurt it out right from the start.
Sometimes it's too obvious to see. It depends on the
original source of the pain.

Relationships are sometimes difficult to help
people with, but they are still basically a no-brainer.
We accept romantic problems as tangible, and we are
rarely anything but supportive.

Likewise, when kids are involved, our tendencies
are towards support and resolution. We have an
unwritten rule that you can't go kick a kid in his

You are however, allowed to bash, belittle, vilify
and crush any adults' dreams anytime you wish. Once
you grow up, all your dreams, loves, aspirations, skills,
talents and plans are targets on the range.

Want to own a chain of restaurants? Support,
support, support. Got a problem with the franchise
manger srewing you up? Problem to solve, let's help.

Want to be something a little more intangible,
like a musician, actor, writer or artist? Why? Why?
Why? Got a problem with a publication, a club or a
gallery? "Oh, you're exaggerating!!!" "Well, that's
your side of it." Made any money at all doing it?
Well, it's just play to everyone else, and they think
you'd do it for free, so they don't hesitate to tell you
how lucky you are because you do something you
love. If you protest any more, they inevitably hit you
with the afore-mentioned 'king'.

So meanwhile, 'whoever' is still getting away with
'whatever' and our alleged good friend is spiraling
ever downward. Especially now, since we don't hang
out too much. After all he/she's always bummed out
or pissed- and that's no fun.

Their funeral will be a riot, though, won't it?

Ok, that's harsh. Or is it? We are constantly
finding ways to diminsh the power of death. We live
longer. We die of less diseases. We even die of less
injuries than ever before.

But we take our own lives at an alarming and
growing rate.

Yeah, it scares me too. It's probably my greatest
fear for humanity. We are evolving at a quickening
pace, hitting the gas a little with every new
technology. With every mile down the cosmic road,
we come closer and closer to being independant of
most physical labor. Once that threshold is crossed,
our dreams, loves, fears, hopes, self-confidence,
aspirations, skills and talents will be all we really are.

All the reasons that a soul has to live.

In that future day, with only our spirits, or our
souls to define us, we will only be able to measure
society by the integrity and quality of the intangibles
that we as individuals contribute. Our very spirits
will be the population. With our bodies efficiently
repaired and their life extended through modern and
future medicine, there will be only one true loss, one
crack to slip into.

The death of a soul.

I know, we're getting religious here. Or are we?
Yes, most faithes have some kind of basis in the
existence of the soul, some believing it eternal.
There is a point where they all agree, though, and
that is how the soul manifests itself.

Most would agree that our soul's face is our
personality. But is that all? You know by now that I
don't think so! How we behave, how we carry
ourselves, how we treat others, how we react to the
way others treat us- this is our soul- who we are.

Our personality is just the outer shell of our soul.
The inside?

Dreams, loves, fears, hopes, self-confidence, aspirations,
skills and talents.

And now, I suppose you want me to explain all
this metaphysical mumbo-jumbo so that it makes
actual sense or you're going back to the den to watch
the ballgame?

Who's playing?

But, seriously folks (thanks, we'll be here all
week!) It's really not about any supernatural or
cosmically spiritual manifestation of the universal or
divine energy or any other highfalutin crap I could
invent to blame it on. It's just the one, basic rule,
often called the 'Golden Rule'.

'He with the gold has the higher tax bracket.'

Ooops. Sorry. Scratch that. I really mean the other
'Golden Rule'. That one that went on and on about
what was it? A dog? A pest? A stone in your path? A
fruit tree to harvest? An animal to be slaughtered?

We humans invent a new way to break that law
about every 20 seconds, yet still manage to invoke it
whenever we're on the recieving end. Many times,
there's little we can do. One way we can make a
difference is in how we console our peers when these
emotional disasters strike them.

Simply finish the proverb. Put 'YOURSELF' into
the equation. Console the way you would want to be
consoled if you had exactly their problem as they
describe it. Toward that end, I would like to offer a
few guidelines that I have learned from dealing with
the stress and problems with various folks in my
years of teaching, producing and performing.

I call them 'Three Bad Things To Bring Up When
Someone's Down'.

1. DON'T SAY THERE IS NO PAIN. If you don't
acknowledge the pain or the situation, you will never
find out what's really going on, and you will fix
nothing. The more you deny the problem's existence,
the deeper the depression will go, and now you will be
negatively attached to it as well. Open the gate.
Admit the pain.

By far, the poorest way to convince someone
that you understand their pain is to say you've been
through it, only worse! This makes only you feel
good. The object of your efforts, however, is more
depressed, and now empathetic and guilty about your
experience, as well. The general feeling created is 'I'm
unimportant, and my problems aren't worth solving.'
You should withhold such an anecdote, unless it is
less severe. Better yet, use those stories as a way to
investigate or suggest a solution.

This is the big one. Where most damage is done. If a
person is depressed about something that you don't
understand, aren't good at, or don't like, BIG
DEAL!!! It's not your soul, for crying out loud,
so try and help from their point of view! For example,
what if you were a musician. What would you want?
What would define that dream? Could it be, maybe
one of the things you already know about, like oh, a
Platinum Record or a Grammy? Most importantly,
you shift your criticism to the support side. Now
you're trying to help figure out how to get one.
There's only a few bars of blues when you do this!

Obviously, I'm talking about some pretty general
things here. As a member of the entertainment
community, I use a very close example, yet, one
which is widely publicised. The 'Artist's Angst' is not
new to culture in any way. No artist from scribe to
sculptor to singer is validated by their peers until
they have achieved the tangible- the Grammy, the
Oscar, the Pulitzer- or in many cases, the money!

This holds as true for a man with a better donut
recipe as for an aspiring film director. The pain of
climbing the mountain comes with the path, but the
dream is up that steep, winding road. 'Get off the
road' is not an answer. Getting up the road is the

So the true test of the Golden Rule comes not of
our actions, but our reactions to others. This brings
up that other old cliche. And our misuse of it.

'Walk a mile in my shoes' doesn't mean put them
on and walk around your backyard. Maybe we should
say, instead, 'walk a mile in my footsteps'. In other
words, try to imagine going where I have gone, and
trying to go where I want to be.'

By using these age old rules, we effectively battle
depression and all the baggage that comes with it-
crime, addiction, abuse, neglect and yes, thank you,

We will know we've truly grown when we
matter-of-factly regard each other as the spirited
souls we are, defined by the most important
standards in the cosmos.

Dreams, loves, fears, hopes, self-confidence, aspirations,
skills and talents.

copyright 2000 Pegwood Arts all rights reserved


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