Are You In Danger of Being Understood?

Advertisement for curing morphine addictions f...

Advertisement for curing morphine addictions from Overland Monthly, January 1900 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

“I don’t feel safe,” Izzy said. The court appointed agent looked around and told her, “This looks like a pretty safe place to me.”
Izzy was at her mom’s house.  She’s at the beginning of a court negotiated recovery like what Tiger Woods is using to clear his record.   Izzy is working through addiction issues.  Her family is working through their issues with her addiction.

Safe did not mean safe.  It meant understood — or not judged.   The problem with being an addict  is that your behaviors don’t fit the norm and in an unhealthy way.  The people who understand you are not safe for you.

Our ego perceives judgment as an existential threat.  This is why we get so defensive when we feel wrongly judged.   The problem with addiction is our personal judgment is off (i.e.- sensibility and sense of responsibility).  We can’t trust ourselves when we’re addicted.

This creates a cyclical problem.  Our faulty judgment makes us unable to correct our behavior.  We see those who love us as judging us.  They don’t understand.   They’re attacking us. They’re not safe.

Years ago, someone taught me something simple but profound.   If you look around and everyone you see is an asshole, you’re probably the asshole.  This maxim can be adapted to fit addicts.  If you look around any everyone seems to be judging you wrongly, you’re probably demonstrating wrong judgment.

We seek solace and support from those who make us feel safe because they understand us.  They don’t judge us.  We misconstrue the absence of judgment as love and support.  There’s a problem here.  These people don’t love us.  They love that we’re broken like they are.   They love our addiction because it validates theirs.  They don’t challenge us to do better because they don’t want to change.

If you’re not getting better, you’re getting worse.  If you’re not improving your skills at your job, you’re falling behind.  If you’re not sharpening your mind, it is getting dull.  If you aren’t maintaining your physical flexibility, you’re losing range of motion and strength.   If you’re not fighting your addictions, you’re losing control to them.

I am confident that if you’re reading this, you have an addiction.  I’m not judging you.  I have mine, too.   Addictions run the gamut beyond drugs and alcohol.  They range from using mobile devices, social media, sugar/fat/salt, exercise, sex, porn, shopping, needing to be liked, etc.

We need understanding more than ever.  We all need help.  We want to get better in some way.  This doesn’t happen with blind eyes turned away.  It comes with honest support and gentle confrontation from those who know us and love us.

If you’re seeing a consistent message from those around you challenging your judgment or behavior, you’re probably the challenge.

The first step is acceptance.   After we accept, we can begin to understand.  Then we can face the danger of being understood.



Can You Get Better By Grace?


The blood drained from my face.  I felt ashamed.

I thought she was texting.   I snarled, “Is that related to what we’re working on now?”   Michelle looked up.  Taken aback and off balance, she replied , “I’m taking notes on what you’re saying so I can remember later.  I didn’t want to take down the presentation I’m projecting to take notes.”   I apologized.

Michelle said, “It’s okay.”   “No, it’s not,” I replied.   I apologized again.   “It’s fine.”   Again, I said, “No, it’s not.”   I very intentionally made eye contact.   I apologized directly, “Michelle, I’m sorry.”  “It’s alright, really.  Let it go.  I probably should’ve said I was taking notes.”

Blameless post-mortems are meetings teams have after a failure of their product.  The key part is the blameless.  The logic is that we want to find out what really happened so we can keep it from happening again.  The entire meeting is supposed to be shrouded in grace.   The grace fosters trust by removing judgment.  The trust encourages honesty.  The honesty and good will held across the team helps the team to get better.  The feedback loop this creates leads the team to learn.  The more often we get graceful feedback, the faster we learn.  The faster we learn, the better the team and the product gets.

This is the type of stuff that my team does.  Here I am kicking myself in the ass, assuming my self-judgment will make be get better.

The words left my mouth before I realized it.   “I can’t let it go.   This is how I get better.”  The epiphany percolates.  This isn’t how I get better.  This is how I punish myself.

I get better by forgiving myself, letting the poison go, accepting grace.  There is no true self improvement without grace.  Judgment only leads us to stretch ourselves to external standards of others to avoid pain.   Whether we succeed or fail, the judgment based system hurts.

In one day, I have not undone decades of learned behaviors (or the neural pathways that produce them).  There’s a road to travel from epiphany to reality.  Hopefully, I found a path that could save many of the pains of a lifetime.

Can you get better by grace?

You Think You’re Present Until This Happens

Embed from Getty Images I start each day with a thimble full of patience.  The thimble was empty. We decided the day would be TV free for the girls – we have twin 5 year olds.   Instead we’d listen to music, sort out the Legos and the playroom and review language and letters.   […]

[Continue reading…]

Change Is Gonna Come

I read the quote nearly every day.  It dangles at the bottom of his emails.   Each time I read it, I feel a flush of regret of the inertia in the past and present; the dread of a future where the truth of the quote compounds with interest. The quote reads:    “Every day […]

[Continue reading…]

Here’s What You Can Control


Embed from Getty Images Ellie’s face turned maroon.  “I’m angry!,” she screeched.  She was playing a board game with her twin four year old sister, Evie. Ellie gets intense.  I’d never seen her this irate.  Why was she angry?  No other reason than her sister was ahead of her on the board.   That was […]

[Continue reading…]

Lighting Matches on a Windy 4th of July

Mystery Reader

I closed the last book. They sat there awkwardly. Some looked at me blankly. Others’ minds and bodies wandered off.  Mrs. Bush said, “What do we say?” The class mumbled, “Thank you … ,” not quite in unison or unanimity. “What dooo we saayy?!,”  Mrs. Bush repeated with greater expectations. The kids screamed, “THANK YOU!” […]

[Continue reading…]

Are You Leading Learners? Sink or swim

Embed from Getty Images Ellie stood at the side of the pool.  “I want my floaties!”  I told her she wasn’t getting her floaties.  I needed her to be brave.  She melted down like a Bomb Pop in the Texas summer sun.  I walked to the edge where she stood.  I encouraged her to just […]

[Continue reading…]

Today Is A Good Day for No Words

Three strangers hugging

Reid said, “I normally don’t have a loss for words.”   I replied awkwardly, looking for something to say.   “Today’s a good day for no words.”  Reid was at the Peace Rally the night before.  He drove out of the parking garage, where one of the snipers was setup, 25 minutes before the assault on […]

[Continue reading…]

Are You Free? The Captivity of Choice


I spent 2 days in Huntsville.  Standing on concrete.  Hands through the bars that secure 7’x9′ rooms containing two bunks, a small seat and a steel toilet.  I heard stories from men in their  20s  through their 80s.  Black, latino, white. All putting their faith … possibly in blind desperation … in God.  A Vietnam […]

[Continue reading…]

Are you listening?

View image | Tom told Jim that he appreciated that he listened.  Tom’s past managers didn’t.  Or at least Tom felt that way – which is what matters.  Jim realized he had no choice.  He was new to the job and the technologies involved.  He couldn’t help unless he fully  listened.   He discovered […]

[Continue reading…]