I have been in the Community Development space for 25 years and before that I was a Journalist. What have always fascinated me is why people do the things they do. I think my greatest challenge has always been to understand why people would willingly sabotage their own health, happiness and success.
When you work in Communities you are sometimes shocked to see how people would purposefully try to destroy themselves and how they would actively engage in preventing others from rising above their own dysfunctional circumstances.
I think that we often underestimate the influence of the systems in our lives. Our peer groups, our friends, our cultures, our families and even our spiritual connections have a huge impact on how we see ourselves, the world and our future.
People often engage in unhealthy relationships that feed of each other’s insecurities, needs and fears and then become trapped in the quicksand of self-doubt, self-hate and self-mutilation.
Sometimes people are struggling with guilt and subconsciously have a need to punish themselves. They feel inadequate and unworthy because of mistakes they made and wrong choices that connected them with people who were in self-destruct mode themselves.
Then we have this value called loyalty that we feel towards the systems and people who manipulate and use us for their own twisted purposes and we feel good about this “value”. This false sense of loyalty at least let us feel like we have a code we live by. The problem is that our loyalty is towards something or someone that is not based on truth, love or authenticity and through self-deception we pledge our allegiance to someone that is drowning in the quicksand of self-doubt and self-hate themselves.
Breaking away from these systems is not easy. It is like being removed from your abusive parents or husband or wife. You hate them, but you still love them … Quicksand of deception is difficult to escape and it takes a lot of courage and willpower to break free.
The big challenge we face is that the systems we belong to, often enable and empower us to stay victims. If we have a victim mentality and identity, it takes away our responsibility and our true power to change our lives. Some political system’s foundations are built on the rock of blaming and shaming and it is impossible for them to stay in power if their constituents move beyond this stage into a new awakening of personal responsibility.
It is so sad to see how many people get stuck in the quicksand of victim-hood. They will forever remain there, hoping that someone who owes them, will come to their rescue and then become resentful and aggressive when these needs and expectations are not met. Once you see yourself as a victim, the sad truth is, that no one can actually help you.
Often when we work in communities and we ask them why they engage in self-destructive activities it is because they see themselves as powerless victims and they are angry because they feel they do not have the opportunities everybody else had. The challenge is that only once they move beyond this blaming mind-set and decide to make their own happiness and success, someone else can truly intervene and help them. Only once we embrace our own responsibility and take ownership of our own thinking, actions and lives can we truly be free.
I have had many conversations with young people in various communities and often when asked why they struggle so much to get support from within their own systems, the answer is always that jealousy is the problem. People don’t want to see someone else succeed because then they cannot blame someone else for their circumstances.
A young man from Pietermaritzburg one day came to me after we facilitated leadership training a year before. He told me that before the training he already decided to kill his father who abandoned them to start a new family and never helped or contributed to their upbringing. He had a plan worked out in great detail and everything was organized for the act of vengeance when we talked about the impact of bitterness on our lives and how hate in the end destroys us. He decided that he allowed his father and the hate for his father to destroy too many years of his life already and decided to take responsibility for who he wanted to be and how he wanted to live his life. He never looked back.
Our thoughts determine who we become and our feelings determine what we attract. When people are filled with bitterness they exuberate such negative energy that it is impossible to reach out and help them. Then you find people who have suffered their whole lives and still remain open and positive to opportunities, connection and abundance. It is always amazing to see how these people develop into amazing leaders and how they are able to change their lives, simply because they realized staying a victim will ultimately not serve them. Instead of being destroyed by hate and aggression they embrace love and compassion and this positive energy attract new opportunities and new relationships to their lives.
Self-Awareness is the foundation of emotional intelligence. Unfortunately, both of these attributes are in scarce supply in our world, in our country and in our systems. From experience I have seen the impact emotional intelligence and resilience training can have in communities. Unfortunately, most resources are directed towards skills training (competence) and not towards EQ (emotional intelligence or character) training. The fact is you can always train someone with character to learn new skills, but even a skilled person without character will never truly reach their full potential and be what you as a system need them to be.
The bottom line is that we need to change our systems, however, systems are made out of people, and how do we change our people?
As a wise man once said : The significant problems we face cannot be solved at the same level of thinking we were at when we created them.