Change The Channel and Get Results!

This article appeared in the October 2006 issue of Spirited Solutions’ E-Newsletter.
Last week I attended a presentation on John Miller’s popular business book, QBQ! The Question Behind the Question, a timely reminder of the harmfulness of victim thinking. So often we focus on why this is happening to me or why so and so do doesn’t do such and such, and we forget that the only person we have control over is ourselves.

It’s one of the reasons the 12-step programs—Alcoholics Anonymous, Al-Anon for the family and friends of alcoholics, Overeaters Anonymous, Gamblers Anonymous, and so on—are so helpful, not just for the person who is actively addicted to whatever substance but also for his or her friends, family, and cohorts, all of whom are impacted by the addiction. In fact, the folks around an addict may find that they themselves are addicted to a process of negative victim thinking that blocks their own recovery.

12-Step programs offer a powerful prayer that no doubt some of you are familiar with, The Serenity Prayer:
God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.
I often like to add “people” to the equation, sometimes even by name:
God, grant me the serenity to accept the things and people [or person by name] I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.

This tiny little prayer is like a Buddhist koan; you could study it for a lifetime and still not completely understand. But it gives us access to an essential truth of life—Much of life is out of our control, particularly in the realm of human behavior.

The man whose boss is verbally abusive cannot change the boss’s behavior nor can the woman whose spouse is having an affair change his infidelity. Yet each of these individuals has the choice of asking a different question other than “Why me?” (And you know we’ve ALL asked that question at some point in our lives…)

What if the worker asked, “What can I do to find a new job?” or “How can I maintain my equanimity and do my job well even when my boss is ranting?” Or the wife could ask, “How can I improve my relationship with my husband?” or “What steps do I need to take to leave this relationship and find someone who values fidelity as much as I do?”

In either case, the individual is only paralyzed by victim thinking as long as s/he focuses on what I call the “Woe Is Me” channel. Those of you who have attended my presentations or taken seminars with me know that I often talk about changing the channel. Why should we focus on “Victim am I” when we can affirm, “Victor am I”??!!

Please note: I am not ignoring the fact that there are victimizers aplenty in our world, people who commit heinous crimes, betray us, cause us pain and misery, and try to quell our creative spirits. But after all is said and done, how often do we let them take up residence in our brains? How long will we let our focus be on what was “done” to us instead of what we can do?

Think about Immaculee Ilibagiza , the young woman who lost most of her family in the 1994 Rwandan genocide and yet has focused her efforts on working for the United Nations and writing her moving autobiography, Left to Tell: Discovering God Amidst the Rwandan Holocaust. She’s had every reason to be bitter, but instead has chosen the path of personal accountability, asking, “What can I do to improve this situation?” “What is in my power here?” “How can I forgive those who killed my family and spread a message of survival and hope?”

Or think of the Dalai Lama whose people have been persecuted by the Chinese for decades and yet he refers to the Chinese with the same love and compassion as he does native Tibetans. One of his basic tenets is that we all want happiness and do not want suffering. Though exiled from his country, the Dalai Lama chooses to affirm the essential sameness and goodness of all people.
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My friends, we have a choice every moment of our lives. We can take responsibility for what is in our power and be response-able, able to respond proactively to whatever or whoever threatens to undermine our peace of mind or security. Or we can turn our channel to “Woe is me,” curl up in a corner somewhere, and lament/whine/complain/judge what or who is wreaking havoc in our lives.

What choice do you think will get the results YOU want? Which channel do you need to change in YOUR life?

“Do not let what you cannot do interfere with what you can do.” John Wooden

“Optimism is a cheerful frame of mind that enables a tea kettle to sing though in hot water up to its nose.” Quoted by Harold Helfer in The Optimist