What is Authenticity? (By: Michele Babcock-Nice)

 

Woman Shaking Hands (Retrieved on June 9, 2014 from http://thefutureofink.com/affiliate-sales-digital-content/)

Woman Shaking Hands (Retrieved on June 9, 2014 from http://thefutureofink.com/affiliate-sales-digital-content/)

Authenticity. Just what is authenticity? And, what is it not to be authentic? To be authentic, to me, means many things. A person who is authentic is real, honest, genuine, and appropriate. Someone who is authentic is one who is able to have respect and appreciation for another person, but not necessarily always agree with or go along with the other person, especially if that other person’s words and actions are inappropriate, unprofessional, wrong, immoral, or illegal.

For instance, a friend who is a true friend can say something to another person that might be potentially hurtful, but may be something that needs to be said. A true friend is one who can say something to another that is honest, and that the other person may not like to hear, but also that is something that needs to be brought to the other’s attention in order for growth, development, and progress to occur within that other person. A person who is able to risk losing a friendship or personal interaction by behaving in these ways is one who is authentic.

There are also those who are not authentic. Inauthentic people are those who are unable to say what they truly think or feel. People who are not authentic say and behave in ways that they want, being oblivious of the manner in which they may speak or act toward others in ways that are harmful and hurtful.

When I think of people who are not authentic, I think of those who commit some type of wrong against another, and ultimately, against themselves. These are people who may be unfaithful to their spouse; sexually harass others; overlook, minimize, or deny serious issues occurring within relationships with others, such as different types of abuses; commit crimes against others; and deny that they have had any part in causing another person to think, feel, or act in a certain way.

People who use verbal, physical, and/or sexual harm toward others, therefore, are those who are inauthentic. People who use their power, influence, money, and status in ways that harm others, deny services to others, or marginalize others are those who are also inauthentic. People who are the puppets of others, doing harm toward others just because they are “doing what they are told” and/or “following orders” are those who are inauthentic, as well. They are unable to see how their words and actions are inauthentic and harmful toward others.

There are many more examples of people in my life who have been inauthentic rather than authentic. Perhaps this is because they are more prominent in my mind as a result of the hurt and harm they have caused. At any rate, some people who have been authentic in my life have been a school principal who became my supervisor in a school where I was substitute teaching many years ago. He was authentic.

Another person who is authentic is a lady who was an administrative assistant in a Catholic school at which I worked several years ago. She is authentic. My son is also a person who is authentic. Perhaps it is because I have taught him to be authentic and that it is okay to be truthful about something, even when his conduct could have been better, that he is real. I am proud that my son is authentic, real, and honest.  I have found that those who are truly authentic seem to be people who are confident and sure of themselves, without having to put on a mask and hide who they really are.

An example of a person who is not authentic is a former professor/mentor who wrote recommendations to accompany my applications to law school many years ago. Believing that he and I had established a strong and good rapport, I asked him to provide recommendations for me, only later discovering that they were worthy of lining a trash can. He was and still is inauthentic, as I also had a recent experience in interacting with him in which he proved to me that he has remained inauthentic.

Other examples of people being inauthentic are those who portray themselves as trusted members of the community, and then betray that trust and confidence. These can be people such as a church priest who threaten others with the Mafia, simply because they are unable to take responsibility for their own wrongs. They prefer to dishonor themselves and cause harm to others because they are in denial and are unable to hold themselves accountable for their own unethical or immoral conduct. The same can be said of the wealthy and powerful church Santa Claus who sexually harasses those of the opposite sex, beginning when they are young girls, believing there is nothing wrong with his behavior, and in fact, blaming the girl for his own misconduct.

The same can be said of those whose misconduct reaches a criminal nature, particularly in relation to sexual abuse or sexual assault. And, what makes it worse is when a group, church, or community supports the person who is inauthentic because they are unable to be insightful about and believe that others can conduct themselves in the inauthentic manner that was described, which simply leads to even more inauthenticity with even more people. Additional people who are inauthentic are those who stand by and doing nothing to stop another person from being inauthentic toward another person in a harmful way. Simply not wanting to get involved is a cowardly excuse to me.

In my experience, it has often been those who have positions of authority, and/or power due to wealth, influence, or status in a group, church, workplace, or community who are inauthentic. A person who is inauthentic can also be a parent or a spouse, simply because they are not real and are unable to consider or believe the truth of another’s story. Perhaps no one was there for them in their time of need, so they are unable to place themselves in the same position when a loved one is in a position of need.

It is important for people to be real and authentic. Often, people who are inauthentic believe they are always correct, believe they can do no wrong, and are unable to even listen to or consider that they may have had some part in a situation in which their inauthenticity caused another person to be harmed in some way. It takes two. And, sometimes, it may be an entire group that is inauthentic versus one person who is authentic. When people are unable to recognize that they are inauthentic, such inauthenticity only continues and potentially worsens.

What is needed for people to recognize is that in order to be authentic, one must be able to admit wrongdoing; take responsibility for his or her actions; not believe that he or she is always correct about everything; and make efforts to improve his or her conduct. Only in those ways will people become more authentic, being responsible and accountable for their words and actions, and making efforts to improve, no longer harming others, whether intentionally or not.

“When Sexually Offending ‘Pillars of the Community’ go Undetected” (By: Michele Babcock-Nice)

Pillar Ruins, Retrieved from wallygrom/Flickr, August 16, 2013

Pillar Ruins, Retrieved from wallygrom/Flickr, August 16, 2013

When men who sexually harass, assault, traumatize, or otherwise violate others, especially when they are wealthy, powerful, and/or influential ‘Pillars of the Community’ – and they go undetected and are not held accountable or responsible for their actions – everyone, including themselves, is diminished and victimized.  Recently, we have heard and read about the sexually offensive actions of San Diego’s mayor; nearly 20 women have now come forward with accusations of sexual harassment and misconduct by this man.  Neither is he the first whose actions have violated and offended so many women, nor will he be the last.

Many other men from all walks of life may go undetected for years or even decades with their sexually offensive and/or harmful actions, especially if they are wealthy, powerful, and/or influential.  Often, these men – when faced with the harsh truth of their words and/or actions – blame, punish, revictimize, and do whatever possible to destroy the survivors of their misconduct.  For them, it is a vicious cycle from which they cannot escape because they may often be unwilling and/or unable to honestly admit to themselves that they are wrong, that their words and actions are harmful to their victims, and that they require assistance to overcome their misconduct.  In fact, they may not even see any wrongdoing in their actions, nor perceive their victims as victims; thus, the cycle continues, especially when these men are undetected and are not accountable, nor responsible for their actions.

In 2007, a female parochial school student at St. Joseph’s School in Gowanda, New York described to her teacher and her fellow classmates about how the parish priest, at the time, had sexually harassed her when he was alone with her in the parish rectory.  At the time of the incident, the student was 12-years-old.  This occurred during a time when a party was being held in recognition of the altar servers who gave of their time and service to the church and school at parish masses.  The student reported that she had not told her family about the incident, and therefore, the teacher took responsibility and informed her parents about it.  Sadly, the parents did nothing about it. 

The teacher, being concerned about the girl’s safety, suggested that she no longer be an altar server.  The girl, however, wanted to continue being an altar server – and did so for her remaining year at the school – while the girl’s teacher and certain of the girl’s fellow students made great efforts to be sure that there were no other instances of the priest being alone with her.  That the priest (who is now retired) was in his 60’s at the time, and the student was only 12, suggests that this church leader may be a pedophile. 

When confronted through communications by the teacher that he was a wolf in sheep’s clothing rather than a pious church leader, the parish priest retaliated against her.  He privately stated to her, threatening that she “should be afraid” of “the Mafia.”  Far from fearing the Mafia for having done no wrong, this woman continues to believe that it is the priest who should be afraid – not of the Mafia – but of the judgment of God.

During the years 1976-2006, a former female member of St. Joseph’s Church – the church that is associated with the aforementioned school – experienced repeated sexual harassment, as well as two instances of pedophilia by one of the wealthy, powerful, and influential benefactors of these institutions.  The early instances occurred when the girl was 5 and 7-years-old, with one being at one of the man’s businesses and the other occurring while the man was dressed as Santa Claus.  The man sexually harassed this female, treating her like his sexual plaything, from his ages of approximately 35-65 years old.  In later years, the man typically sexually harassed the woman in church and/or on church property, including making sexually explicit actions and gestures toward her in church during masses.  The man has also been known to have sexually harassed other women and girls in his immediate community.

In 2007, the father of the man immediately aforementioned behaved in a manner of sexual misconduct toward the woman by committing a sexual battery against her, privately, while in church after a mass.  The woman remained in the presence of this offender and confronted him, though he simply walked away.  As a man whom this woman considered a friend – someone whom she had known only as a friend throughout her life, and who had provided emotional and spiritual support to her in the past, as well as having dated one of his grandsons – the woman expected an apology at the very least, but got nothing of the sort. 

To have lowered themselves to committing pedophilia, offensive sexual actions, and/or harmful sexual misconduct – and taking no responsibility to correct it, nor to be accountable for it – reflects how men who are wealthy, powerful, and/or influential ‘Pillars of the Community’ may go undetected in their sexual misconduct.  These men may be priests, business owners, award winners in their communities, and highly-regarded by most people.  That these men have not taken any steps to correct or seek forgiveness for their misconduct from their victims causes them to avoid identifying and realizing that they have a problem, and therefore, they continue the vicious cycle with other unsuspecting people.  They do not know or care in the least that they have lost the respect and trust of those whom they have victimized; they appear oblivious to the harm they have caused.  Rather than honestly admit and recognize that they have a problem, they do everything possible to cover it up, as well as blame, punish, retaliate, and destroy their victims. 

I feel sorry for men who have such a need for power, control, and dominance over girls and women that they behave in ways that sexually harass, assault, violate, traumatize, harm, and/or intimidate their victims.  That there are many men out there who are viewed by others with admiration and respect, though they secretly and/or discretely perform actions of sexual misconduct, reflects how easy it is for them to go undetected.  In situations where the men performing the sexual misconduct are wealthy, powerful, and/or influential ‘Pillars of the Community’ is worse because they have access to so many venues and opportunities to commit their sexual offenses.

Women and girls, in particular, are at great risk for sexual exploitation by the wealthy and powerful.  I have often heard the phrase, “From whom much is given, much is expected,” however in some cases regarding the wealthy and powerful, their sexual misconduct goes undetected and may continue for years and/or decades.  That many men violate the God-given rights of women and girls (and boys) by committing sexually offensive acts against them shows their lack of respect, appreciation, understanding, insight, and compassion toward them.  Many men, especially those who are among the wealthy and/or powerful, can do better to keep their sexual impulses controlled and in check so that they do not rise to the level of harassment, misconduct, assault, or trauma toward others.  By not doing so, they truly have no concept regarding the level of emotional pain, distress, trauma, and/or mistrust they have caused, and continue to cause years into the future.

I would like to recognize and send my appreciation to all those who stand up for women, girls, children, and the rights of women and children, especially toward survivors of sexual traumas and abuse.  In my own personal circle of friends, two of these women are Merrie and Frances.  Both women risked their own well-being and reputations, as I also have, to stand up against sexual harassment, sexual offenses, gender discrimination, and hostility toward women in our communities; we also experienced retaliation for our efforts, and still do. 

The ultimate in love and friendship occurs when people risk and sacrifice themselves for the good of others, much as Jesus did.  While strong women who stand up to protect those who experience sexual trama and offenses toward them are not often rewarded for their efforts, we have been rewarded by knowing that we have done the right thing in God’s eyes.  Our true rewards await in Heaven; the truth has already set us free.

“Student Exodus from Area Parochial School Could be Avoided” (By: Michele Babcock-Nice)

St. John Neumann School Billboard, August 12, 2013, Lilburn, Georgia

St. John Neumann School Billboard, August 12, 2013, Lilburn, Georgia

During this Summer of 2013, 15 rising fourth grade students left St. John Neumann Regional Catholic School in Lilburn, Georgia.  Only three new students entered the fourth grade in addition to the 15 who left.  During the Summer of 2012, eight rising third grade students left the school.  Only two students entered the school as new pupils in the third grade.  Interestingly, both of those students also left the school this Summer, after only one year at the school.  Additionally, the vast majority of students who have left are Caucasian; most others are of mixed race parentage.  Each year for the past three years, the school has considerably down-sized in terms of student population as well as faculty.  Currently, all grade levels have two classes; it used to be that most or all grade levels had three classes up until three years ago.

As a person who has been Roman Catholic all of my life, and who has provided a Catholic education to my child, the exodus of students and faculty from St. John Neumann School is concerning and disturbing.  One must ask, then, why there are so many who are leaving the school.  I have the answers to that, and it does not necessarily involve finances, budgets, or economics.

I suspect that I will come across as “the bad guy” to many by sharing this information regarding the school, however it is for my concern for students’ welfare, well-being, safety, and positive growth and development that I am doing so.  Additionally, my son is aware that I have a blog, and he also asked me to include his perspectives; my son is 10-years-old.

First, let me state that St. John Neumann School provides an outstanding – outstanding – education to the students.  Overall, my observations of what students learn through the challenging curriculum are well above my expectations.  Each year that my son was a student at St. John Neumann School, however, was a roller coaster.  There were wonderful and memorable experiences that he had with several outstanding teachers, however there were also many situations that he experienced by peers and adults at the school that were mentally and emotionally harmful and injurious to him. 

I often communicated with both school administrators and school system administrators, encouraging that greater sensitivity, compassion, and understanding be provided to the students.  Some of my suggestions were put into place, and some were not, and some were later removed after they were first implemented.  As an involved parent at the school, as well as an active volunteer for five years there, there was much that I personally observed and/or was informed about by students.  By far, the most serious issue facing students is the bullying, harshness, and often insensitive treatment they experience by administrators and certain teachers and staff.  I often encouraged upper administrators in the past five years to hold sensitivity training for employees of the school, though that never occurred.

Another very serious issue at the school is bullying that students’ experience from their own peers.  Some children repeatedly experienced bullying from teachers, adminstrators, and/or other staff, as well as certain peers.  This has created an unnecessary and avoidable stressful and hostile environment for many students.  One problem is because many of the school employees are so harsh and insensitive toward students, they are bullies themselves, and they therefore do not recognize, nor put a stop to student bullying.  Last year, more than 25% of parents responding to a school survey stated that bullying is a problem at the school.  I am one who has, again, encouraged school system administrators to hold anti-bullying and bullying prevention programs for faculty and staff at the school, however that has also never occurred.  Such training may help reduce bullying and increase sensitivity and compassion of adults and students toward other students.

A further big concern is the overwhelming pressure that is placed on students to be perfect in every area and in every way – academics, behavior, sociality, religion, and extra-curriculars.  Beginning with the youngest children, students who do not complete their homework are regularly disciplined.  In the past, teachers required students to stand outside for 5-10 minutes “on the line” – as they would say, on the outdoor paved parking lot play area, typically in the excessive heat.  This was an unspoken rule practiced by primary and early elementary school teachers and paraprofessionals.  Older children who did not complete homework are required to write answers to particular questions on a “behavior reflection” that reduces or eliminates their 15-20 minutes of recess time. 

St. John Neumann School Parking Lot Play Area, Lilburn, Georgia, May 2012

St. John Neumann School Parking Lot Play Area, Lilburn, Georgia, May 2012

For two of the past five years, another unspoken disciplinary rule practiced by at least three school faculty involved making students walk and/or run “laps” outside during recess on the parking lot, again, typically in the excessive heat.  Sadly, this practice appears to be somewhat of a common, unwritten practice in this area – requiring students to run laps as punishment in excessively high temperatures – as I have discovered that it occurs at many schools.  In regard to one second grade boy, I informed his father that he was required to run laps as punishment by a paraprofessional, outside in the searing heat, and the dad did not believe me.  How sad that some parents are not more concerned about what their child is experiencing at school.

Other teachers at the school regularly separated certain students from their classmates by requiring them to keep their desks far-removed from those of other students, whether for certain assignments or even months at a time.  I often observed where many teachers would use guilt, humiliation, and embarassment toward students to demoralize them into doing what they wanted them to, rather than speak to children with respect, compassion, and understanding. 

Early elementary students are also required to miss 45 minutes of lunch and recess by serving detention in the main office, including for extremely minor offenses.  Such harsh and unnecessary punishments are unethical, demoralizing, and depressing to many students, particulary those outstanding students who get caught in the crossfires of the political drama at the school.  In consulting with employees of other area schools, lengthy detentions are required only in the most severe situations of high school – high school – students, not early elementary students!  I personally requested of school administration to reduce or eliminate this practice, though there was no positive change, and in fact, only a worsening of it, amounting to nothing less than emotional sadism toward students.  When those who are charged with caring for children see nothing wrong with such unnecessary, harsh disciplinary action toward children for the most minor of offenses, definite positive change is needed. 

Also in practice at the school is suspending children as young as second grade – to my knowledge; one very sweet little girl was suspended last Spring for I cannot imagine what.  In other area schools, such a practice of issuing out-of-school suspensions to the youngest students is unheard of and entirely taboo.  Such a practice proves the lack of sensitivity, understanding, and compassion by school administration.

I feel sorry for the students who are at St. John Neumann School due to the harshness, coldness, and lack of sensitivity and compassion that so many experience from alot of adults as well as peers at the school.  I have often encouraged those in charge who could make a positive difference to consider being more sensitive, understanding, kind, and compassionate toward students.   Harsh, demoralizing, excessive, and/or inhumane punishments that are disguised as “disciplinary actions” – even for the most minor of wrongs – are well beyond what school employees should expect of children.

When students get seriously hurt or ill at the school, a parent is lucky to get a phone call or communication about the incident from anyone.  A second-grade student got a serious blow to the head during outdoor play, but no ice was placed on the injury and no phone call was made to parents.  Upon picking up the child from school, it was obvious to the parent that the injury was serious.  When the child spoke of dizziness a number of hours after the injury, the parent took the child to their pediatrician. 

A kindergarten student fell in the hallway and sustained a large gash near her chin.  Parents received no communications from the school about the incident, and only a band-aid was placed on the wound.  Upon removing the band-aid after the child got home, the parent observed the depth of the wound, taking her to the emergency medical clinic where she received four stitches.  There have also been instances in which students were genuinely ill, but when they asked to go to the clinic, they were refused by certain teachers and paraprofessionals.  Keep in mind that absolutely no communications to parents by anyone at the school was made in any of these situations.

Safety is also a concern at the school.  There are no security cameras at the school, so there is no tangible record of situations that occur there – it is one person’s word against another’s.  A parent can inform an administrator about a teacher who belittles, bullies, and yells at a student – such as, simply for asking to use the restroom – but without any recording of it, the administrator does not believe it, does not want to get involved, and further, had already behaved in a bullyish manner toward children, so it is a lost cause.

Additionally, even with improved security measures having been implemented at the school this past Spring, it has not actually gotten better.  All visitors are to sign-in at the front office upon entering the building, however have been many occasion – including since the new policies were implemented – that I personally observed people enter and walk through the building without signing in at all, nor going to the main office.  There are also repeated instances of no one being at the front desk at the main office when people enter the school. 

St. John Neumann School, Lilburn, Georgia, August 2013

St. John Neumann School, Lilburn, Georgia, August 2013

Last Spring, there was an actual “intruder alert” that occurred at the school that was not a drill; I was at the school volunteering when it occurred.  Parents were not informed by any school officials that the intruder alert occurred.  While the Superintendent stated in an archdiocese newspaper article that such drills and procedures regularly occur at all schools, a teacher at the school shared that only one such alert – whether actual or drill – occurred there in the past seven years!  If she means that such alerts and/or drills occur every seven years, she would be correct that they occur regularly, however it has been my experience that many public schools, for example, practice them between 2-4 times each year.  Because these drills and alerts are not “regularly” practiced at the school, many teachers really do not know what to do.  When fire and even tornado drills are practiced more than intruder drills, I for one, am concerned about the safety of my child at the school.

Teachers are also known to leave outside doors propped or even slightly ajar when they are supposed to be closed and locked.  Unfortunately, this is also a practice at many schools, so that late colleagues can enter the school undetected by supervisors.  However, that this is regularly being done on the hallway that houses the youngest children is a serious safety concern.

Again, I will likely be viewed as the bearer of bad news by sharing this information, however I believe that steps need to be taken to make improvements in order to progress rather than regress at St. John Neumann School.  I know I won’t win any awards for my article.  That my son – a 10-year-old – also wanted me to share his views about what he experienced at the school reflects the tone and atmosphere that is present at the school. 

While we have had many wonderful and memorable experiences at the school, as well as having met, interacted with, and befriended many people – including some truly great teachers – it is a serious concern when a school does not live up to it’s mission and standards.  When “teaching the Gospel values” of God and Jesus in the Catholic tradition is merely spoken but not actually practiced by many school representatives, there is definitely something that must change for the better. 

So, at $7,000 per student in tuition only, St. John Neumann lost a total of 18 students from the second and third grades in the past two years.  I think that’s a total of $126,000 if I did my math correctly, right?  That’s alot of money to be losing.  In business, it is always said that it is much easier to retain those people who are already part of an institution rather than recruit new ones.  However, in sharing my perspectives about this to both school administrators and school system administrators, there has been an apathy and lack of concern about it.  For me, personally, as a Catholic and having desired for my child to have a Catholic education, this is a serious concern. 

Thus, the reasons that I have described herein, I believe, are those that have caused the increasing exodus from and diminished size of St. John Neumann School in Lilburn, Georgia.  Isn’t it time for a positive change?  My aim in sharing this information is not to be critical, however it is to be honest and urge for positive change and improvements to occur at the school.  St. John Neumann is surely an excellent school at which students receive an outstanding education.  And again, while we have had many wonderful, exciting, and happy memories at the school, there are also a number of issues that deserve both serious attention and improvement. 

It is definitely disappointing when a school of one’s own faith does not meet minimal expectations regarding the value and treatment of children.  Children should not be perceived, nor treated as bad what with issuing so many unnecessary and harsh punishments; it is the perspectives and training of the adults that need drastic improvement.  Maybe if more people put their heads together, praying and working hard in doing what is in the best interests of children, that will occur.

“Completed Suicide Risk Highest Within First Six Months After Incomplete Suicide” (By: Michele Babcock-Nice)

Child mental health is becoming an area of ever-increasing concern and research, including within the area of child sexual abuse, depression, anxiety, suicidality, and bullying that lead to suicide.  Recently, within the past two months, I had opportunities to visit a large metropolitan hospital in Atlanta at which mental health care is provided on an inpatient and outpatient basis for people of all ages.  I primarily made observations in the children’s mental health unit in which children from ages 4-12 were hospitalized as inpatients.

Since making my observations, I have done much research in the area of medicine and counseling related to depression, anxiety, suicidality, and bullying that ultimately ends in the suicide of the victim.  I have also consulted with many professionals in these areas, including pediatricians, psychiatrists, psychologists, and licensed professional counselors.  Further, I have communicated with school teachers, school administrators, school mental health professionals, school system administrators, and religious about these issues.  This blog article will share some of what I discovered related to these critically important issues in mental health care.

At the hospital in Atlanta at which I made my observations regarding inpatient child mental healthcare, the most significant part about it that was very noticeable was that most of the children were boys.  On one particular day, there were 16 children housed in the unit, and 12 of them were boys, with the majority of the boys being African-American.  Of the girls present, the majority of them were Caucasian.  It was also my understanding that the majority of the boys were hospitalized due to suicidality (and/or other mental health concerns related to it, such as depression, anxiety, and/or sexual and/or physical abuse or neglect).

To me as an untrained observer, I found this to be very significant because my personal expectation was to observe there to be a greater number of girls than boys present in the unit.  Because there were significantly fewer girls than boys present in the unit over a period of several days, it became important to me to understand the reasons for it.  I got to thinking about several possibilities to explain this reality.

Perhaps girls are more open about their feelings and experiences, and/or a depressed or otherwise upset mood in girls may be more visible to others.  Perhaps boys are keeping their feelings too much to themselves due to the societal and cultural expectations for them to “be a man,” and thus, not to show their feelings.  Possibly, adults were unable to recognize signs of suicidality or depression in boys compared to girls.

Further, it may be possible that adults did not view boys’ depression or suicidality to be as serious as that of girls until a crisis point was reached.  Culturally, it is also significant that most of the children housed in the unit were African-American boys.  Specifically related to cultural or ethnic differences, I do not yet have particular potential explanations for this.  Additionally, perhaps there are other general explanations and reasons that I have not thought of for there being significantly more boys in the unit than girls.

As I stated previously, since the time of my observations of the children’s mental health unit in the metro Atlanta hospital, I have researched several issues relating to child mental health, and I have consulted with many professionals in the field.  In a study completed by Cynthia R. Pfeffer (2001, p. 1057), she stated that during prospective follow-up into adulthood of children at risk for suicide showed that a “history of sexual abuse (RR: 5.71, 95%; CI: 1.9-16.7) imparted the greatest risk” for it.  Reading this was saddening and disheartening for me because it appears that most suicide attempters and commiters have internalized their pain and suffering, are taking it out on themselves, and appear not to be able to successfully cope.  They were hurt, have lost hope and trust, and are now hurting themselves, possibly in efforts to make the painful memories disappear.  For them, suicide seems to be the only answer for removing and escaping the emotional pain.

In a study by Stanley, Brown, Brent, Wells, Poling, Curry, Kennard, Wagner, Cwik, Klomek, Goldstein, Vitiello, Barnett, Daniel, and Hughes (2009, p. 1005), the researchers reported that individuals who attempted incomplete suicide are at the greatest risk for repeat attempts and/or actually committing suicide within the first six months following the incomplete attempt (as this study particularly relates to adolescents, aged 13-19 years old).  This is extremely important to understand because those who are untrained in this area do not understand the seriousness or severity of it, or are, perhaps, in denial that the situation is serious or severe.  Regarding children, I believe this particularly applies to those in education, including teachers, administrators, and other staff because they are not equipped with the knowledge and understanding about the manner in which to best support students who have been suicidal.

And sometimes, those adults in education who are bullies toward children truly have absolutely no understanding or compassion toward students who made an incomplete attempt at suicide because they simply do not seem to care.  In fact, those type of adults may even do more damage to the child through their insensitivity and failure to understand the situation by being even more punitive or retaliatory toward the student because the issue is one with which they, themselves, are unable to successfully cope.  It remains easier for such adult bullies of students in education to bully, blame, and revictimize the student victim.

Also unhelpful are the student peer bullies with whom the suicide attempt survivor must cope.  Student peer bullies of the victim seem to bully the survivor even more because they are aware of the emotional vulnerability of the survivor, and they capitalize on that because it makes them feel good.  Therefore, in a school environment in which bullying goes unchecked, unresolved, and not corrected, suicide attempt survivors are at an even greater risk for a future successful suicide attempt because they experience bullying from adults and peers.

Additionally, O’Connor, Gaynes, Burda, Soh, and Whitlock (2012, p. 15) reported in their study that “psychotherapy did not reduce the risk for suicide attempts in adolescents in contrast to adults.”  They (O’Connor, Gaynes, Burda, Soh, and Whitlock, 2012, p. 11) further reported that “psychotherapy did not reduce suicide attempts in adolescents at 6 to 18 months” into a suicide prevention treatment program.  They (O’Connor, Gaynes, Burda, Soh, and Whitlock, 2012, p. 11) also stated that “psychotherapy had no beneficial effect on suicide ideation beyond usual care” in adolescents.  These findings are shocking, disturbing, and disheartening, particularly when there may be the extant societal belief that counseling and psychotheraphy benefit individuals with emotional disturbances and/or self-destructive ideations.  If psychotherapy is not beneficial to adolescents who have attempted suicide and/or who have suicidal ideation, what benefit is psychotherapy to children who have had similar experiences and/or beliefs?

A professional friend of mine who is a psychiatrist provided me with an article written by a women who is a sexual abuse survivor, and who was hospitalized on three occasions throughout her life due to depression and suicidality related to her traumatic experiences.  The article, “How ‘Person-Centered’ Care Helped Guide me Toward Recovery from Mental Illness,” by Ashley R. Clayton (2013), was extremely helpful to me in better-understanding what is going through someone’s mind when they are hospitalized for a mental health crisis.  The article was further assistive to me because, as a graduate student in counseling who is working on my second master’s degree, it was important for me to perceive and understand the great value of Person-Centered Therapy in counseling suicide and sexual abuse survivors.

Because so much hope and trust has been lost in survivors of sexual abuse and suicide, it is obviously critically important for others, including mental health professionals, to be as sensitive and supportive as possible of them.  The author shared that she experienced the greatest improvement through the person-centered approach and caring relationship that a particular nurse developed with her.  This is something important for me to remember and put into practice in my own counseling of trauma survivors.

Further regarding children’s mental health in relation to surviving trauma and suicide attempts, as well as those areas in relation to children’s school attendance, I spoke with two pediatricians regarding the issues.  Both pediatricians took the issues seriously, however, they did not desire to take responsibility for children who were suicidal because they stated they were not trained or highly-experienced in those areas.  Both pediatricians also desired for parents to work with the expectations of schools, even though such expectations, stresses, and pressures may be too overwhelming for some children.  Regarding the experience of child sexual abuse, both pediatricians believed that counseling was needed for child survivors, however they both believed that medication to manage the child survivors’ moods were necessary as long as they believed the child was “functioning.”

For me, the perspectives of both pediatricians – both of whom are Caucasian women with many years of experience in pediatrics – were discouraging in many areas.  First, both doctors appeared to be very quick in the desire to refer suicidal patients to other medical professionals.  While that has advantages and disadvantages, it places those at risk in the position of believing that their doctors are unable to properly care for or understand them.  Both also believed that child survivors of sexual abuse need not be medicated if they were “functioning.”  I believe that it is one thing to survive, and quite another thing to thrive.  Merely “functioning” is not fully living or thriving, to me.  And also, both pediatricians appeared to also be too quick to go along with schools’ expectations for students, including maintaining the same academic and/or disciplinary standards for students who are trauma survivors.  As an individual who is an experienced teacher, I know that students have different learning styles; placing everyone in the same category is detrimental to those who have suffered trauma.

Both a psychologist and a licensed professional counselor (LPC) with whom I consulted about difficult, damaging, challenging, and/or overly stressful and overwhelming school experiences of child trauma survivors both believed that people in education are or may be unable and/or unwilling to change in a manner that is more supportive, understanding, and compassionate toward them.  The psychologist believed there is not likely any school that would be able to meet the needs of a child who is a trauma survivor.  And, both the psychologist and the LPC believed that schools are part of the problem in not successfully supporting and understanding trauma survivors and their needs.  Those who are in education – perhaps including school counselors and school psychologists – may be unequipped in schools at being able to fully or successfully support children who are trauma survivors; this can and does have devastating effects on such children.

Of all those in the medical and mental health fields, I believe those who are most fully trained and equipped to successfully both treat and understand trauma survivors – in particular, those who have experienced sexual trauma, depression, anxiety, and suicide attempts – are psychiatrists.  Psychiatrists are in the best position to provide urgent and necessary medical and mental health care to suicide attempters, including hospitalization, evaluations, medical care, and medications.

I assume that the psychiatrists are those who most often see patients who are suicide attempters; and they see them at their lowest points, emotionally.  Therefore, psychiatrists who truly have what is best for their patients in mind seem to help suicide attempters and trauma survivors become stabilized and recover as quickly as possible.  Psychiatrists are in a wonderful position with their patients to be supportive, understanding, and compassionate; and to inform and educate society, in general, about the medical issues and needs experienced by suicide attempters and other trauma survivors.

In communicating with several people who are education professionals regarding survivors of sexual trauma, suicide attempts, and bullying (both by peers and adults in school), I have largely encountered  biases against the survivors, as well as an incredible absence of sensitivity toward them.  Such refusals of understanding, sensitivity, and compassion toward survivors by the majority of education professionals with whom I communicated can possibly be attributed to a lack of or refusal toward being educated and informed about the needs of the survivors.  Such outright insensitivity by the education professionals – the majority of those who were insensitive toward survivors were administrators – could also be attributed to a denial about the seriousness or severity, or fear due to stigmas or the unknown, regarding the issues related to survivors.

In some situations of communicating with administrators, upper administrators, and school psychologists of schools and school systems related to student survivors of sexual trauma, anxiety, depression, suicide attempts, and bullying, I also encountered not only insensitivity and a lack of understanding toward the survivors, but also inconsistencies in their behaviors toward them.  In most school and/or school system administrative personnel and school psychologists with whom I communicated, I encountered adult bullying by them toward the child survivors that was sadistic.  In such education professionals, it appeared that their incredible harshness toward the survivors was something that they wanted to occur, regardless of the outcome or effects that may or may not have resulted in actual suicide.

In other situations in communicating with education professionals about such survivors, however, I encountered empathy, compassion, understanding, and sensitivity toward them.  Such supportive actions were those exhibited by other particular school system administrative personnel and/or educators and counselors.  Such desparities in the treatment of survivors by various school personnel reflects that education professionals must be on the same page in order to consistently understand and support, as well as be compassionate and sensitive toward survivors.  This appears to be direly and desperately needed in education in order that students who are trauma and suicide attempt survivors receive the greatest possible support and understanding in their educational environments.

Therefore, it was personally extremely shocking and disturbing to me in a life-changing manner that some of the very leaders of schools and school systems not only do not support said survivors, but are actually bullying and sadistic toward them.  In these situations, I believe it would take not less than a miracle to convince such individuals to even consider a different and more positive and understanding perspective toward said survivors.

In regard to particular religious leaders with whom I have communicated about issues related to survivors of child sexual abuse, anxiety, depression, suicide attempts, and bullying, I have – thus far – experienced their compassion, kindness, and prayers toward survivors.  I have also learned, however, to carefully choose which religious to approach; not all religious are as understanding and supportive as others.  And, I am further aware that there are those religious who would take such information and use it against the victims and/or survivors in order to revictimize them.  Presently, however, that is not what I have experienced in my recent and present communications with particular religious about these issues related to survivors; and I am thankful for and relieved about that.

I believe that society has come a long way in supporting and understanding the experiences and needs of trauma survivors, including those who have experienced sexual abuse, depression, anxiety, trauma, bullying, and suicide attempts, however there is still much more progress to be made.  Those who best-recover from traumatic experiences are those who have positive, stable support in their lives.  Stressful and overwhelming situations are serious set-backs that only cause them to regress, and to continue not to hope or trust.

It is so critically important for sexual abuse survivors and suicide attempt survivors to have the consistent and unconditional support of those around them, including family members, community members, those who are in education, and others.  Without such support, compassion, and understanding – and, in fact, if the survivor experiences the opposite of those – he or she could make a future suicide attempt that is successful.  Such tragedies are avoidable and preventable if everyone practiced more patient, respect, appreciation, and compassion toward each other, particularly trauma survivors who have attempted suicide.

References

Clayton, A.R. (2013).  “How ‘Person-Centered’ care helped guide me toward recovery from mental illness.”  Health Affairs, 32 (3), pp. 622-626.

O’Connor, E., Gaynes, B.N., Burda, B.U., Soh, C., & Whitlock, E.P. (2012).  “Screening for and treatment of suicide risk relevant to primary care.”  Annals of Internal Medicine, pp. 1-22; pp. W-1 – W-5.

Pfeffer, C.R. (2001).  “Diagnosis of childhood and adolescent suicidal behavior: Unmet needs for suicide prevention.”  Society of Biological Psychiatry, 49, pp. 1055-1061.

Stanley, B., Brown, G., Brent, D.A., Wells, K., Poling, K., Curry, J., Kennard, B.D., Wagner, A., Cwik, M.F., Klomek, A.B., Goldstein, T., Vitiello, B., Barnett, S., Daniel, S., & Hughes, J. (2009).  “Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy for suicide prevention (CBT-SP): Treatment model feasibility, and acceptability.”  Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, 48 (10), pp. 1005-1013.

“Sexual Harassment: Men Behaving Badly” (By: Michele Babcock-Nice)

Recently, I experienced a situation of sexual harassment.  The man who harassed me is an older Caucasian, perhaps about 60 years old, and is a professional at an educational institution.  I came to know him through a presentation he made in a class, and he subsequently offered me a part-time writing education position.  Desiring to continue to professionally network with this man, sometime later, I stopped by to see him at his office.  We made small talk for a couple of minutes, and when I was about to leave, I extended my hand for him to shake it.  He took my hand and kissed it.  That’s not all, but I leave it at that for my purposes here.

This is not the first experience of sexual harassment that I have experienced or reported throughout my life.  In fact, it is one of many.  😦  The first experience of sexual harassment that I remember was as a five-year-old girl, being sexually harassed by a wealthy entrepreneur in my community while my family was at one of his businesses.  This man got away with it then, and continued it. 

Thinking back through each experience of sexual harassment that I have encountered, it has always been a married man, 90% of whom are Caucasian.  Men have deliberately and provocatively grabbed their privates in front of me, breathed heavily and suggestively while standing behind me, suggestively said that they “have something special” for me, and have just used alot of inappropriate sexual innuendo, lewd sexual jokes, or other sexually suggestive and/or sexually aggressive words or actions.  It is extremely offensive and creates a hostile environment, whether at work, school, church, or any other place.

So many experiences of sexual harassment prompt me to ask, “What is wrong with men that they believe they must sexually harass girls and women?”  All of the men who have sexually harassed me have been married men.  Don’t they get their “fill” from their wives at home?  Are they so insecure that it empowers them to sexually harass girls and women?  Or, are they too confident or cocky that they think it is acceptable and that they will get away with it?  Perhaps it is amusing or entertaining for them, and they get their thrills out of sexually harassing girls and women.  Whatever the reason, it is wrong, dehumanizing, objectifying, immoral, offensive, and disgusting.

Too many men have the wrong idea about girls and women.  Men ought to be more protective of girls and women.  The men who have sexually harassed me have wives, mothers, sisters, daughters, and/or neices.  Do they behave in the same manner toward them?  Do they believe that their actions are any less serious if they sexually harass someone outside of their families?  😦  Many of these men who have sexually harassed me have daughters and even granddaughters who are my age!  That men sexually harass girls and women diminishes all men.  That so many resort to acting on their sexual desires when it is inappropriate creates situations that are intolerable and unacceptable.

My philosophy is that real men respect and appreciate girls and women.  Real men stand up for girls and women, and take a stand against those men who harass or otherwise harm them.  Real men do not believe, promote, encourage, or accept so many of society’s lies about girls and women.  Real men care about girls and women because they understand how challenging and difficult it is for them to achieve and be successful.

When men sexually harass women – particularly me – it completely changes my perspective of them.  There are always those men who believe they can sexually harass women, or worse.  There are always those men who escalate their actions because they have gotten away with it.  It seems to empower them and give them even more confidence for the next time that they sexually harass a female. 

Sadly, in situations in which the girl or woman stands up to the man who is sexually harassing her, I have found that, typically, the female is the one who is blamed.  Too often, both men and women believe the man who is the sexual harasser.  A man could sexually harass a girl or woman for years, but when the female attempts to stop it in whatever ways, it is she who is incorrectly blamed and revictimized.  😦  This has been my experience and the experience that I have observed in other girls and women, as well.  That so many refuse to see and understand this further diminishes people as a humanity.  So, even though girls and women are blamed and revictimized by these situations, we must not remain silent about them.  Silence does not imply acceptance, however that is what it means to many people.  We must make our voices be heard in order to effect positive change for the good of everyone.

Men and women must do more to stand up for girls and women who are sexually harassed and worse.  Men must change their attitudes toward girls and women so that they are viewed in human terms, not being dehumanized or objectified by men.  And, the women who believe and support men who sexually harm girls and women in any way must also change their perspectives and realize how far down they have fallen.  More positive change and support are definitely needed for girls and women who experience sexual harassment and other types of sexual misconduct.

“Rejection: Just One Step Closer to Getting What you Want…or Recognizing What you Already Have” (By: Michele Babcock-Nice)

Rejection.  Yes, that bad word.  It is part of our vocabulary, and is not a very nice word.  For some of us, it has been part of our vocabulary for much too long.  Nobody likes rejection.  It is, indeed, very painful.  Especially if one’s heart is set on something – or someone – rejection can be particularly painful, even crippling.  I can personally share, however, that the more rejection one experiences, the easier it is to take.

After having experienced much rejection (more than I like to think about) throughout the course of a number of years regarding employment, I stopped actively seeking work and returned to school.  When the school goals didn’t materialize as I had hoped, I took some time to reorganize my thoughts and set about continuing to do what I enjoy the most – being a mom, and writing. 

Having stepped out of my career, it has been all that much more difficult to gain re-entry.  And, everyone always has lots of advice, though I believe that I have tried everything that everyone has suggested.  If they say it, I’ve done it.  The thing is, one can’t just change the way in which people think.  They must be open and willing to consider flexibility and creativity in employment scheduling and responsibilities.  If employers are unable to do that, they have already rejected potential employees, by default. 

Thankfully, I have family support and am able to get by.  It is very difficult, however, for outspoken women, especially those who are a little older, to get ahead in a society that doesn’t seem to want to hear us, and would often rather put us in our place.  Certainly, there are many women who get ahead by just saying “yes,” however I need to be able to sleep at night, and if something is not correct – morally or ethically – then it is not suitable for me.  It always amazes me regarding the number of people who can say or do things that I would not consider, and they are totally okay with it.

Recently, not looking for employment, I was offered a part-time job in the area of writing education.  Admittedly, I was very excited, but didn’t get my hopes up too highly.  The per hour wage was certainly very good, however that it would have required several days out of my week to drive quite far from my home put a damper on things very quickly.  I probably would have paid just as much to gas up my vehicle as I would have earned in income.  While it would have been nice, it would have been nicer if it was closer to home.

Further, a contact of mine recently asked for some advice about job-seeking and career transitions.  While I provided advice about several different topics, I also know that everyone can always give advice and is full of advice.  It is truly what is in one’s heart and within their inner spirit that must guide them and to which they must turn to uplift them.  In seeking employment or even voluntary positions, we must be real regarding ourselves, our capabilities, and our financial means.  In times such as these, I have found that it is better to expect rejection.  One is definitely not nearly as injured in his or her self-confidence if one’s best foot is placed forward, and a rejection is given.

But even more than that, in rejection, one is getting a step closer to gaining or acquiring the position that he or she may desire.  And, if one experiences many more rejections than he or she would like to contemplate, one must always reflect on what he or she already has.  What talents and skills does one already possess?  What is one doing in their time to be creative, to network, to be open to opportunities?  Sometimes, just being at the right place at the right time is essential.  One must recognize that, as well, and be thankful for it.

One must also keep in mind that, if one is able, going back to college is a wonderful opportunity to update skills, network, meet new people, expand horizons, and just be in a different environment.  Where people are open, flexible, and creative, many opportunities abound at colleges for potential employment, internships, and activities.  Perhaps participating in or leading one activity may lead to an opportunity one was not expecting.  Or, at other times, one’s talents and skills may not be valued at all, and one must seek other opportunities for development and/or advancement.

Luckily, I am not a person who lives for money.  My priorities generally reflect more of a “quality of life” perspective, both for myself and my family.  I have learned, through the years, that it is not the amount of money one has that makes him or her happy.  One’s attitude, perspective, and quality of life that one provides to oneself and one’s family are truly the best.  Of course, money is important for survival and we all need a certain amount of it, but it need not be the ultimate end in one’s life.

Therefore, rejection – whether in career, employment, relationships, or otherwise – is definitely painful, but one must keep in mind that rejection can be a good thing.  Rejection, depending upon one’s view, can be one step closer to achieving one’s goal, to getting what one desires.  Or, in situations of much rejection, it is an opportunity for one to recognize and appreciate what he or she already has, and to capitalize on that. 

Rejection certainly can hurt one’s self-confidence – and coming from the Rejection Queen, herself – I understand it’s stunting qualities.  However, one must keep their faith and inner strength alive in believing that rejection is not always the worst thing, and that it may, in fact, open doors to other paths untaken that may be more fruitful or beneficial in the long run.

“Fidelity and Morality” (By: Michele Babcock-Nice)

Fidelity and morality.  They are two different words, yet they are intertwined, especially in association with relationships, partnerships, and marriages.  Fidelity refers to “faithfulness,” while morality can be understood as meaning the difference between right and wrong, or a reference to one’s personal values.  In a marriage, fidelity means being true to one’s spouse or partner, while morality can be described as acting in accordance to one’s values of right and wrong within that marriage. 

In my 41 years, including those 9 years within which I was committed to a serious relationship that resulted in marriage (and, unfortunately, later divorce), I will admit that there were a few occasions during which I was tempted to stray from my vows, to go back on my holy and blessed commitment to my spouse.  I am proud to say that while I never strayed or broke my fidelity, physically or sexually, I am guilty of becoming too emotionally involved on a couple of occasions. 

When spouses stop communicating effectively, cease to love each other, and no longer care about each other in many different ways – by words, body language, actions, degradations said in the presence of others – it is all too easy to look elsewhere for one’s needs and desires to be fulfilled.  When spouses and/or partners in any relationship do not understand, appreciate, love, or respect each other, their bond is deteriorating. 

Sometimes, one spouse tries very intently to maintain and strengthen the relationship bond, while the other is oblivious and uncaring about the problem.  At other times, both spouses may work at it and improve their relationship.  And, in other instances, both spouses may give up hope and throw in the towel because too much hurt and pain has already caused too great of a rift or distance between them that is irreparable.

Recently, a man whom I have known on a completely platonic level, asked me out to coffee.  He is someone whom I have known in my religious community for the past 2.5 years, and we both share the same religious faith.  He and I have always been friendly to each other, and have seemed to appreciate and respect one another, period.  He is intelligent, attractive, … and married with two young children.  Therefore, certainly “going out for coffee” in his mind is not merely and innocently going out for coffee.

Certainly, for a woman in my position of being divorced and single with a child of my own, I admit that I am want for a meaningful, personal, intimate relationship.  I would like to share meaningful events and experiences in my life with a spouse who thinks and feels similarly to the ways in which I do.  It would be nice to share spiritual, emotional, personal, physical, sexual, and even financial situations with a close and caring spouse.  It would also be wonderful to have a man in my life who would be a caring role model for my son.

So, while it is a temptation to become involved with this attractive, intelligent, spiritual man who is also my peer, I declined his invitation for coffee.  In my refusal, I also stated to him that I do appreciate his friendship.  However, he must understand that the platonic friendship is as far as it goes.  I am not one to sneak around and be dishonest.  I am not about to lie and go against my morals, values, and principles.  I try my best to be out in the open with everything, unless it is something that is seriously going to hurt or damage myself or my family in some way.

It took 2.5 years of this man’s friendly relationship with me for him to ask me out for coffee.  Even when I declined, he still held out hope that I might someday change my mind, as that is what he shared with me.  I pray for him that God will help him see that he has a good, committed wife and two wonderful, beautiful children.  While he may wish to fulfill his own unmet fantasies and desires, he does not realize what an affair would do to his own family or mine. 

I already know all too well that many men will say whatever they like just to convince a woman to go to bed with her.  Those men promise all kinds of things, and then, never deliver.  They want all the fun and pleasures, but not the true commitment.  I am not interested in that, and am not about to get involved in something that will hurt so many people, not to mention go against my morals and values.

When a person is married or in a committed relationship, fidelity is precious.  The fidelity that has been bestowed upon the couple has been done so in a holy and/or legal manner.  When we are not happy or things aren’t going well, it is all too easy to give up and throw in the towel.  I have even told my ex-husband that my own parents experienced worse trials and tribulations that we ever did, and they will celebrate 50 years of marriage this year! 

So, men and women out there, perhaps you don’t love your spouse in the same manner as you used to, but remain open-minded and do not become blinded by your unfulfilled or unmet fantasies and desires of flesh that are fleeting and temporary.  Look at and stick to your commitment – strengthen it, make it better…for yourselves and your children.

“A Spiritual Inquiry: What is Suffering?” (By: Michele Babcock-Nice)

Suffering.  Just what is ‘suffering’ anyway?  What is the meaning of suffering, and why do people suffer?  Why do we experience suffering?  Dictionaries and encyclopedias generally define suffering as relating to pain, distress, and/or emotional pain; anxiety, stress, or aversion to something subjective; and a negative emotion or feeling, etc. 

The New World Encyclopedia defines suffering “as a negative basic feeling or emotion that involves a subjective character of unpleasantness, aversion, harm, or threat of harm.”  I would like to take this definitions and understanding of suffering a bit further, expanding on it to include many types of suffering, including emotional, psychological, physical, physiological, social, moral, and spiritual suffering.

There are so many different types of suffering, and I’m sure that most of us have experienced many – if not all – of them.  During Lent this year in 2012, I especially and personally contemplated the meaning of suffering.  This is a topic about which I have thought in the past, though I found deeper meaning in contemplating it during this past Lenten season.  I thought about Jesus, and all the suffering, pain, anguish, and turmoil he experienced prior to dying as our Savior.  I know that it was God’s will for this to occur, though I wondered why – as I have wondered why throughout my life – this was necessary to occur. 

One man – one holy, Godly man – is able to save us from our own sinfulness through the power of his suffering, death, and resurrection.  Was there no other way to achieve that?  Why was it necessary that Jesus experience such horrific and indescribable suffering in order to save us?  Why, often, does society – even now – turn against those who are good, honest, moral, and ethical.  Why, sometimes, is it that those who are self-serving, corrupt, unjust, unethical, and immoral make gains in their lives over those who are the opposite of them? 

These are not only religious questions, but also philosophical and humanistic questions worth contemplating.  Why is there suffering in the world?  Why does it occur?  Is it something that is necessary to occur as a result of our own humanity?

When I think about suffering, I think about things that I have experienced in my own life – or even that which family members have experienced – and then, when I hear about another’s suffering, what I have experienced sometimes seems to pale in comparison to theirs.  An adult daughter of a friend and colleague is struggling to heal against breast cancer.  This spring, a young girl in my child’s school was recently diagnosed with bone cancer, while another was diagnosed with diabetes.  The daughter of a close friend has been struggling against breast cancer.  Still others whom we know deal with great physical or emotional pain each day. 

Others suffer with physical pain, including a dog that was reported to have killed a family’s two-month-old baby in April 2012.  Still others also grapple with suffering that they may not be able to alleviate, of loved ones killed and who we are unable to revive and bring back.  An example of this that is still all too fresh in our minds is the suffering and death inflicted upon so many at the movie theater tragedy in Aurora, Colorado (http://www.cbsnews.com/2300-201_162-10013055-2.html?tag=page;next).  And, there are countless other examples of suffering, pain, and death that go on and on, such as the fighting in Syria and Northern Ireland, and even in some of our own neighborhoods, such as those in Chicago.

So much suffering.  Why is there suffering?  Why is it a “normal” condition of human life to have and experience suffering?  Is it expected?  Is it necessary?  Is it an unavoidable condition of human life and of all life on earth?  When people worry, are nervous, or are anxious, they experience some degree of suffering.  When people are hungry, homeless, or in need, they are suffering.  When anyone experiences any type of abuse – emotional, physical, sexual, even spiritual – they are suffering.  How can we understand, alleviate, and/or overcome pain and suffering?

If someone has experienced or witnessed a traumatic situation, such as a tragic death of a family member, loss of their home due to a natural disaster, or was involved in a terrible vehicle accident, they have experienced suffering.  There are also those who self-impose suffering onto themselves, inflicting injury on themselves, drinking, doing drugs, being promiscuous, or doing illegal actions – they are suffering.  Therefore, there exist the questions about why people hurt themselves. 

Personally, I feel sorrow and sympathy for those who are suffering, as well as for those who have some type of need within themselves to create or cause suffering on or toward others.  People who are bullies, those who are abusive, those who commit crimes, those who are hateful, those who have no conscience or sense of any wrong-doing when they take life-altering actions against others – I feel sorry for them and I pray for them.  Indeed, I sometimes also feel anger, spite, judgment, and a lack of understanding for their actions, though I also pray for them. 

For these people I just described, I believe they are those who need the most prayers.  They may be those for whom society and the world let down, didn’t help, and turned away from, forcing them to fend for themselves, to survive in whatever ways possible, even if those ways were criminal.  I feel sorry for them, and I may find it in my heart to be forgiving, but I believe it is important not to forget and not to allow oneself to be open to being hurt and/or injured by them in some way again. 

Through all of this, we still come back to the age-old questions of what is suffering and why do people suffer?  How can we alleviate and/or eliminate pain and suffering?  These are questions that I am unable to answer, and continue to contemplate.  Perhaps you can share your own insights.

References

New World Encyclopedia.  April 21, 2012.  http://www.newworldencyclopedia.org/entry/Suffering.

“The Aurora Shooting Victims.”  CBS News.  September 15, 2012.  http://www.cbsnews.com/2300-201_162-10013055-2.html?tag=page;next.

“People in Authority who don’t Listen aren’t Leaders” (By: Michele Babcock-Nice)

People in positions of authority who don’t listen to or consider others aren’t leaders.  It’s as simple as that.  It seems that there are so many more people in our world who don’t listen to or consider others than there are those who do.  What is extremely discouraging, disappointing, and disturbing is when an individual of common, everyday status approaches and/or comunicates with someone in authority about a serious issue or concern that can be changed or improved, and that person does not listen, does not care, and/or does not even consider what the other person has to say.  We, therefore, must be very thankful for those people who do listen – whether or not they are in positions of authority and whether or not they are in a position to change a situation for the better.  Those people seem to be getting fewer and fewer these days.

In my own experience and throughout my life, I have met, encountered, interacted with, and/or communicated with many people in positions of authority who, by their refusal to listen to, consider, and/or understand certain issues and concerns, are not true leaders.  Leaders are those people who take charge and lead all others in a positive direction of beneficial development. 

Sometimes, however, people in authority and in positions of leadership are unwilling and/or unable to listen to and consider the needs, issues, and concerns of others.  Therefore, in my definition, they are not true leaders because they are unable to be open to truly hearing, considering, analyzing, and understanding issues that may bring about positive change that may and can be good and beneficial for everyone.  People in positions of authority who are closed to others and who shut others out, by this definition, are not leaders.

It seems that there are sometimes too many people in our lives who are unwilling or unable to hear what we have to say.  Perhaps our information is too uncomfortable for them to hear, or they are threatened by it in some way, or they are unable to cope with it.  That is unfortunate for everyone because they are missing out on an opportunity to do something good for others.  They, therefore, don’t even realize that they have missed a chance to improve something, to help another, and to potentially assist many others.  They believe that they know the only right and correct way; they have closed themselves off from others, and believe they are protecting themselves from others. 

In my life and experience, I have met, interacted with, and communicated with several people who, through their own discomforts, feelings of being threatened in some way, inability to cope, and/or simple refusal to listen caused them to shut me out, turning away from me.  These people have included certain authority figures in higher education, churches, schools, businesses, family and friends, and even former intimate partners.  When people are unable or unwilling to listen to information they don’t want to hear and/or with which they are unable to cope, they may shut you out, turn you away, deny you, discredit you, and/or even demonize you, simply for being direct, honest, truthful, and assertive.

It is, therefore, extremely important to be thankful and grateful for those who ethically and morally consider and listen to others, particularly when their information has, not only the potential to influence and assist that person in a positive way, but the potential to benefit many others, as well.  There are some individuals out there who can and do listen.  There are some folks who take positive and beneficial actions to help and protect others when they are informed about it.  There are certain people – within the same and other groups that I mentioned above – who do act to help and benefit others, who seriously consider and analyze others’ actions and information, and who do not demonize and condemn the individuals who are providing truthful and honest information, even though it may be information that they don’t want to hear.

It is these people for whom we must be grateful.  For these people, we must recognize and be aware of their personal and internal gifts and talents of truly being leaders.  True leaders are strong in the face of persecution, even though others may have condemned and demonized them simply for stating or doing something with which others disagree or with which they are unable to cope.  We must recognize, therefore, that the majority may not always be right or correct, ethical or moral, honest or truthful.  What we must recognize is that even one or a few people can be correct over the majority, that perhaps even one or a few people who stand up for what is right even in the face of abuse, injustice, and persecution may have only the best interests of everyone in mind, not just that for themselves. 

If you are a leader of a group, organization, business, or institution, how do you behave and what do you say to others in order to include, consider, and hear the concerns and issues of others?  How do you examine, analyze, and research the information that has been given to you?  Do you simply believe what others have to say about another person, simply because they may be in a potentially powerful position of authority over the other person?  People in positions of authority are not always right and correct. 

I identify Pope Benedict XVI as a good example of a person in authority who does not always do what is right and correct, in hiding and covering up the abuses of clergy throughout the world.  I identify college or university presidents who do not listen to students who have concerns or issues about crimes committed against them by other students, or other college officials who will not consider other serious issues brought to their attention. 

I identify school principals who bully teachers and students because they do not wish to draw attention to particular issues.  I identify clergy who shut others out simply because they are unwilling or unable to cope with what others have to say.  I identify governmental and political figures who won’t consider a different and perhaps better or more fair way of doing things in consideration of others.  I even identify family members or relatives who are unable to hear or consider truthful and honest information, particularly when such information may potentially be to their benefit. 

It is, therefore, very important to cultivate and maintain relationships with others who do consider, hear, listen to, and understand you.  When you are completely honest and truthful with yourself, others who are also honest and truthful will recognize and appreciate your truth.  It’s like the old sayings go, “Birds of a feather flock together,” and “they are like peas in a pod.”  People who are similar understand, appreciate, and respect each other.  People who stand up for what is right and correct find, understand, and appreciate each other, as well. 

Thank you to all those who are able to hear, understand, listen to, and consider the truth, and what is right and good, even if it’s something that you don’t want to hear.  For those of you who are unable to do so, I pray for you that your eyes, ears, and mind will be open to what others have to say.

“What is a True Friend?” (By: Michele Babcock-Nice)

What is a true friend?  What makes a person be a true friend to another?  There are many qualities of a friend that people may categorize as causing someone to be a true friend, and some people’s characteristics of a true friend may differ from others.  There are many qualities of what makes a true friend for me that I would like to share.

Firstly, a true friend likes, respects, and appreciates you for who you are.  A true friend is supportive, understanding, encouraging, and honest, and is not unnecessarily led or influenced by others in their opinions, decisions, and judgments about you.  A true friend sees the whole picture, not just what’s on the surface.  A true friend seeks to know and understand you, to be sensitive to you.  A true friend is there for you, encouraging you to be true to yourself, to help and protect yourself, to be your best, to improve yourself – your inner self.  A true friend knows you, seeks to know you, and appreciates what they know about you.  A true friend is always a friend, regardless of the issue or situation.

Next, true friends are those who can listen to and hear you out on any subject.  Sometimes, in providing others with certain information about ourselves, we are seeking to know whether or not we can fully trust and confide in another person.  Most people are uncomfortable with information with which they cannot cope, whether it is information about a topic that causes discomfort to them, or whether it is just plain a topic that they cannot handle or put up a wall against.  A true friend can take in all information and remain supportive and understanding because such information may lead to something better, a deeper relationship and more trusting relationship, a confidence in the other person that one can share anything with them, any issue, any detail, without them shutting you out or turning you away.

Sometimes, just when you believe you have found a true friend, someone on whom you can count, confide, and trust, you discover completely the opposite about that person.  It is particularly painful in those for whom one cares or loves, such as family members, close friends, or those others with whom one has a close emotional and/or spiritual connection to discover that they are not a true friend.  One may discover that they are led or blinded by their own discomforts, biases, judgments, beliefs, and/or the pressures of others and even the institutions that they may represent.  They are incapable of being a true friend when they have sight, but cannot see; when they have eyes, but no vision; when they are bound to their own discomforts, and are unable and unwilling to see the bigger picture; when they are a puppet to the rules and policies of the institutions that they represent, yet they don’t realize it, and are being led astray.

At other times, however, one may discover that they indeed, have found and maintained a true friend.  There are at least a half-dozen people throughout my life whom I would consider as true friends, those with whom I can share anything, and time and time again, they have responded to me positively, supportively, and encouragingly.  They appreciate and support me for who I am.  They reflect the care about me that I would like to think that I similarly do for them.  They help me to realize and be myself.  They open doors for me rather than shut them.  They break down walls and barriers for me rather than create them.  They are those whose actions have continually and regularly surpassed those of others in wanting, doing, and assisting in the best for others.  They are true friends.

I am so appreciative of those people in my life who are true friends!  It seems that those people, similarly to myself, who are true friends and whom I consider to be true friends, have the same characteristics.  We are warm, kind, understanding, sensitive, honest, supportive, encouraging, intelligent, confident, and assertive.  We want the best for ourselves and others, and to bring out the best in ourselves and others.  We are people who are helpful, rather than harmful or destructive.  

True friends also bring and seek to bring important issues to others’ attention and awareness in order to effect positive change, improvement, and enhancement in our lives and those of others.  We are concerned for the welfare and well-being of ourselves and others, and we always seek and strive to achieve and accomplish that with our honesty, sincerity, and genuineness.  Leaders and public figures such as Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta and Mahatma Gandhi are those whom I would consider to be a true friend to others on an even greater level than a close, personal true friend.

Sadly, too often, however, many people feel threatened by those positive qualities and characteristics that I previously described.  They may feel threatened due to their own insecurities and/or discomforts, shut us out, and refuse to listen to or hear us.  There may be something much greater at stake for the good of many others, yet when we are shut out, overlooked, denied, disrespected, discredited, or worse, it is they who have shown themselves of being untrustworthy and perhaps lacking in character. 

In those situations, one cannot count on that person to be a true friend, and must either seek the support and consult of someone else or rely on oneself.  I think this reflects that many people see only what they want to see, and not necessarily what is reality.  Too often, people are content to see only what is on the surface, and not ask questions, not dig deeper, and thus, they miss out on enjoying more meaningful and satisfying relationships with each other.

By being followers, such people are also not being leaders.  Leaders must be open to all information, all sides of an issue, all sides of a situation that they may not have even considered.  They must ask questions and seek to discover, not necessarily believing all that they see on the surface as deeper issues may be discovered that end up being for everyone’s benefit.  It is so sad to me that so many shut themselves out to the deeper issues, close themselves off due to their own discomforts and insecurities, fall short of potentially making situations, policies, and understandings of issues better for others rather than potentially worse. 

It is especially sad and disappointing to me when individuals who represent organizations or institutions shut out others, particularly when it is part of their job to be open to others.  One cannot speak with others who will not listen.  One cannot convince others of a different perspective when they have already made a decision to shut you out.  If you cannot trust a person to be open about hearing or considering one serious issue, there is no sense in presenting other important issues.  They think they are right and you are wrong; they think their way is perfect and your way is flawed.  This situation is potentially damaging and diminishing for everyone, and they may not even realize it. 

For how many years, decades, and lifetimes do people maintain sensitive or personal information all due to the fact that someone shut them out and would not listen to them due to the discomforts and/or insecurities of the other?  This is a perfect example of how individuals such as Jerry Sandusky are able to continue their damage and destruction upon others, when people don’t ask enough questions, when too many people don’t listen, when people shut each other out, when people choose to be blind rather than use their vision, regardless of the consequences. 

There are other situations in which red flags appeared prior to particular tragedies, yet those individuals who may have potentially stopped the situations from occurring either did not act or did not behave in a way that protected and saved others from harm.  Regarding the recent tragedy of senseless killings and injuries at the Aurora, Colorado movie theater by James Holmes, here is another situation when potential blindness of others failed to protect and save lives.  And, further, in situations in which child sexual abuse – or similar abuses of power – by Catholic clergy is covered up by male church leaders such as Msgr. William Lynn of Philadelphia, one wonders what male leaders, if any, within the Catholic Church can be trusted?

A true friend, therefore, is also someone in whom one can confide their most sensitive issues (of course, as long as those issues are all legal, moral, and ethical), and will find that the friend keeps their confidence.  One finds that another is not a true friend in confiding their most sensitive and painful issues to another when that person shares those issues with others, especially to those who thereby unnecessarily misunderstand, misconstrue, and misjudge them because of it.

Someone is definitely your enemy if they do not have your best interests at heart.  Someone who incorrectly shares sensitive or confidential information without knowing the whole picture or all the facts, thereby damaging you, is definitely not a friend, but an enemy.  Those who are very direct about it are easy to identify, however there are also those whom I characterize as wolves in sheep’s clothing who take in sensitive information, twist it around, and use it to harm you.  We must all be especially cautious and aware of the wolves in sheep’s clothing.  Throughout my life, there have been many of those, from whom I still feel and experience some of the damaging effects today.

There are few people in one’s life, therefore, whom they may consider to be a true friend.  A true friend, after all, is extremely hard to find.  A true friend is even harder to maintain.  Even more difficult to experience is the friend who turns into an enemy, a friend who by their own discomforts, insecurities, or feelings of being threatened by information that they don’t want to hear – or which information may be biased or incorrect to begin with – puts up a wall against you and shuts you out.  I feel sympathy and pray for those people who are missing out on developing a richer and more full relationship with others, simply by refusing to be more open to and honest with others. 

Importantly therefore, one must be very thankful for those people in their lives who have truly shown themselves to be true friends.  It is also important to remember to show one’s appreciation for their true friends.  Don’t take them for granted as they may be few and far between.  Are you a true friend?  And, how have you behaved as a true friend toward someone lately?