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There Are No 'Good' Patterns

The following is a talk I gave at our Regional leaders' class.

Some weeks ago, two of our Regional leaders ran into difficulties with each other that got them into hot water (intense restimu-lation). In consultation with other leaders, we've decided that:

1) Until the difficulties with their patterns are discharged and resolved satisfactorily, they cannot assume any leadership in the name of the Re-evaluation Counseling Community.

2) It is these two people's responsibility to counsel each other out of their difficulties. In this way, neither of them can play victim to the other one's distresses. They remain in charge of the situation (rather than waiting for 'super counselor' to come to their rescue). The Community's precious resources won't be unendingly drained and distracted by the conflict.

I want to spend this evening's class talking about leadership, attacks, 'liberalism,' and why this kind of 'drastic' or 'harsh' intervention is sometimes necessary. I want to do this without disrespecting either of the people involved and without allowing the discussion to become gossip.

The first point I want to make is that there is no such thing as good distress or bad distress. Distress is distress is distress. We all have our share of it. The confusion that pops up around this in Co-Counseling is understandable, as it reflects a wider confusion in the culture. Because of the oppressive nature of the world in which we operate, distresses are often viewed and treated as if they were 'good' or 'bad.' Let me give two examples.

When it comes to how we maintain our homes, people who tend toward compulsive neatness and order are often rewarded and praised, while people whose homes are in a constant state of disarray are often scorned and teased. In fact, both behaviors can be extreme versions of similar difficulties, but one is praised and the other is criticized. Likewise, while patterns of overwork are often encouraged and rewarded, patterns that make it difficult to hold down a job are held in contempt. Again, these distresses can be two sides of a coin, but that's not how society treats them. (Not surprisingly, the value judgments placed on distresses often line up precisely along class distinctions, with so-called 'middle-class' distresses being praised and so-called 'working-class' distresses being ridiculed.)

In a similar way, some distresses that we carry make us the target of particular forms of oppression, while others persist-and may be just as heavy or debilitating-without attracting much attention or criticism. For example, if your distresses are such that you're pulled to eat more than is necessary, and the state of your physical body is visible evidence of your difficulties, you're vulnerable to everything from stares and admonishments on the 'light' end to overt job discrimination on the 'heavier' end. By contrast, the fact that when I'm tense or worried I'm inclined to bite my fingernails and cuticles to the point of sometimes making my hands bleed is viewed as odd, idiosyncratic behavior, but it gets me into very little trouble (other than the trouble I bring on myself by persisting in the behavior!). Overeating is no worse a distress and biting fingernails is no better. Distress is distress. The main difference is in how various distresses are perceived in the world and the subsequent mistreatment that befalls a person because of the particular distresses he or she battles. Particular distresses leave us vulnerable to particular difficulties and attacks. We can't afford to be naive about this to the point of trying to ignore the phenomenon or pretend about the consequences. To do so is a disservice to the client who's facing those difficulties. We have to remember there's a difference between what should be and what is. As counselor, part of our job is to keep track of the difference and to think about the implications for our client all the way through.

Let's talk now about Re-evaluation Counseling. When we first came into counseling, our fundamentals teachers probably told us that counseling was about individual re-emergence, our individual re-emergence in particular. For most of us, that message pretty well lined up with our goals and interests, so that when our teachers tried to present the bigger picture of RC and the Communities, it often escaped us. Well, this is a leaders' class, and the people in this room are trying to think about counseling from the broadest perspective and in view of its widest implications, so let me set the record straight: the goal of Re-evaluation Counseling is not just about our individual re-emergence!

RC is about world change and doing what's necessary to make the world the place it could be and should be for all of us. From my perspective, RC will probably turn out to be the most successful revolutionary movement in world history to date. That's what it's really about. And it turns out that the best way to achieve our real goals is to attend to our individual and collective re-emergence along the way, because we can't have the world we really want if distress and irrational behavior continue to characterize and dominate human activities. If we were in better shape, we could focus on different goals. But given the current state of affairs, our focus has to be on getting enough of us in shape-sufficiently free of distress and confusion-to insure human survival and a healthy planet on which to exist. From this perspective, individual re-emergence is a means, not an end. We need to understand this and to discharge about it, because if we don't understand counseling from this bigger perspective, we won't be able to communicate the real picture to others who look to us for leadership.

In some ways there's an analogy between people's vulnerabilities to attacks and an organization's vulnerabilities to attacks. If an organization's goals are perceived as non-threatening to the oppressive functions of the society, the organization can pretty well go about its business without drawing much attention to itself (analogous to the person with a pattern of nail-biting). But if an organization has bigger goals that are perceived as threatening to the functioning of the society-at least to certain elements of that functioning-the organization comes under closer scrutiny and criticism. In either case, if the organization keeps a low profile and most people don't know it exists, it can sometimes stay sheltered from public attack (analogous to the person who has a distress he or she never tells anyone about). If the organization has a public presence, the situation is more complicated and the likelihood of public scrutiny and even attack is greatly enhanced.

There are ten Pre-World-Conference Conferences happening all over the world in the next several months, leading up to the World Conference in November. At each of these conferences, one of the goals being discussed is the idea of 'going public' with Co-Counseling. While most of us have kept RC quiet, if not hidden, from people around us (usually reflecting our own timidities and fears, rather than a conscious decision), we're now being encouraged to figure out how to actively and effectively put these tools in the hands of people all over the world, and to do so in the name of RC! If we understand Co-Counseling as being similar to a revolutionary movement, and we are aware of what has happened to revolutionary movements throughout history (they've often been wiped out by oppressive forces trying to maintain the status quo), we begin to understand that the more we 'go public' as an organization, the more we will open ourselves up to compulsive attack patterns.

When we understand that the goal of RC is bigger than our individual re-emergence, we begin to appreciate the interplay between our individual distresses and the public impression of RC as an organization. Although none of us deserves to be criticized or punished because of the particular distresses we carry, we cannot be naive about the fact that some distresses leave us and/or the organization more vulnerable to attack. Individual Co-Counselors can discharge and re-evaluate as long as necessary to free themselves from the effects of particular distresses. But if an individual wants to lead in RC and wants to claim to be a representative of the organization, we cannot be naive about the distresses he or she carries that leave him or her and the organization vulnerable to criticism and attack, even though that person is not to blame.

If I have a pattern of nail-biting, the damage is pretty well self-contained and, while people may wonder why a person of my intelligence who understands distress and discharge persists in such self-destructive and silly behavior, no one takes it very seriously and most dismiss it as a 'bad habit.' However, if I have a pattern of beating my children, and I haven't discharged enough to reliably fight against that pull when particular restimulations present themselves, or I haven't discharged enough to see that it's irrational behavior that must be stopped completely and without exception, the situation is very different. Given the damage that this distress causes others, given the inability of most people to understand restimulation and parents' oppression and everything that would lead a parent to abuse his or her own children, and given societal attitudes about child abuse and the requisite punishment, this is a pattern that cannot be tolerated and, until it is well-discharged and re-evaluated, I cannot assume leadership within RC nor claim to be a representative of the organization, both because of the attacks that I would come under and because of the damage such attacks would do to our organization and the greater goals we hope to achieve.

I love and am deeply committed to the leaders in this Region. I also love and am deeply committed to the ideas and goals represented by the RC Communities. In my mind, none of our individual struggles is more important than our collective goals. I'm sorry that two of our leaders have run into difficulties tough enough to require this (hopefully) temporary injunction on their leadership, and I am doing what I can to counsel them well and move them beyond these difficulties so that we can get back to pursuing our shared goals and dreams. In the meantime, I want everyone to understand the thinking behind the decisions we've made so that we can keep gossip and rumor to an absolute minimum.

I want to talk next about 'liberalism' and where we sometimes fall short as counselors in these tough situations. But before I do, let's all take five minutes to discharge about the information I've presented and our feelings about the situation. Let's look at where our distresses leave us vulnerable to attack and also acknowledge and discharge any feelings of competition ('Better them than me!'), opportunism ('In their absence I finally have the opportunity I've been waiting for to take center stage!'), and the pull to gossip ('What could they possibly have done that would warrant such stern action?'). Let's not kid ourselves. We're all pulled in funny directions, given the mistreatment we received in schools and elsewhere. If we don't discharge, these feelings will pull at us and we will act on them. I want us to act instead on the basis of courage and integrity, in this and all other situations.

(Mini-session)

We've been using the term 'liberalism' in Co-Counseling, and, for me at least, terms become meaningless if we don't occasionally remind ourselves of their meaning and the behavior they're trying to describe. In this evening's context, 'liberalism' refers to several phenomena. To begin with, it's about where we are tolerant of distressed behavior, whether it's our own or our client's. We avoid holding out high standards and don't want to 'push too hard' because the client may 'feel badly.' We question our own judgment and our ability to think about our client's situation, regardless of how obviously screwed-up the situation is!

Let me give an example. Our female client tells us about a relationship she's in in which she's not being appreciated, she's going victim all over the place, and there's nothing re-emergent happening (from everything we've heard.) On the other hand, this particular client 'really likes' this guy, she's 'trying to contradict her isolation patterns,' and it would 'break her heart to say goodbye to him.' What goes through our mind may be everything from, 'Who am I to tell her what to do?' to 'Given the relationships I've developed, I'm the last one to profess judgment in this area!' to 'My role is to listen; if she discharges enough, she'll come to her own rational conclusions.' This is 'liberalism' in action and a distortion of RC theory. While RC theory holds that clients can be trusted to figure out their own difficulties given adequate discharge and re-evaluation, that's not an excuse for the counselor to abandon his or her judgment or act out his or her own timidities in the name of 'letting the client do her own thinking.'

To use a more extreme example, if a client talks about wanting to take his own life, the job of the counselor is, first of all, to make sure that no harm comes to him, and secondly, to counsel him through the feelings that have led him in that direction. It's a mistake to think that the role of counselor in this situation is simply to listen patiently and hope he'll decide against suicide! Because of the culture that has developed around Co-Counseling, we get confused between passing judgment on another person's so-called thinking and interrupting irrational behavior by insisting that the client act on the basis of reality. When a client's feelings are being passed off as thinking, it's up to the counselor to make the distinction and to act accordingly.

We go 'liberal' with our clients when we abandon our own thinking, when we assume that our client-fully and understandably in the grip of a distress-can think better than we can, and when we fool ourselves into thinking there's no active role for the counselor to play other than patient, non-judgmental, permissive listening. We want our clients to trust their own thinking where they can think! In the short-term, where they can't think because of undischarged distresses, they have to be able to rely on someone else's thinking, and that is a role the counselor can play. If the counselor is wrong, it will become clear soon enough. As counselors, we have RC theory against which to measure our judgment. The client, in the grip of a distress, has a distorted picture of RC theory at best. If we use as the yardstick what we know about the nature of reality, we won't be led very far astray.

We also go 'liberal' around our own distresses. We claim that because 'every person did the very best that he or she could at every moment,' we don't have to be held responsible when we persist in some particular irrational behavior. Again, this is a distortion of RC theory, which is referring to behavior which occurred in the past, not the present. We have a theory that paints a picture of what a human being is actually like. Anytime we consciously act on any other basis, we're going 'liberal' on our own distresses (and that is behavior unbecoming to any human being, and certainly unbecoming to an RC leader!).

Another place where we go 'liberal' is where we're afraid, as counselor or as client, to call irrational, 'irrational.' We fool ourselves into thinking there's a gray area between rational behavior and irrational behavior. The gray area is distressed behavior that is 'not too hard' on other people, distressed behavior that cushions us from having to face our struggles head-on, or areas where our client struggles that closely resemble our own struggles and around which we collude (i.e., women colluding around settling for less than absolutely everything). Again, here's the headline: distress is distress and irrational is irrational. There is no gray area!

As clients, we go 'liberal' when we pretend or lie or stay quiet about our struggles. RC theory is far ahead of our practice, and I think the 'liberalism' that manifests as deception stems from a recognition of this. We know, for example, that part of where women have internalized sexism is to accept relationships that are far from re-emergent. Unfortunately, this insight alone is not enough to instantaneously change the nature of our relationships, and since we've learned to 'talk the talk,' we're embarrassed about those areas of our lives where we do not yet 'walk the walk.' Therefore we don't bring up those areas in our sessions.

I'm surprised over and over again when I hear about the romantic relationships that some of our young adult female leaders are in. I'm surprised, first of all, that their self-respect is actually so fragile that they settle for these kinds of relationships. (I'm often surprised that people have been hurt as badly as they have-that's one of my struggles.) But I'm also surprised because the information usually comes out by accident. They don't volunteer to be clients about the difficulty. Instead, I pose a question in the leaders' class, such as, 'Why aren't you planning to attend the upcoming XYZ liberation workshop?' and, as they discharge about their decision, what comes out-and they're embarrassed to admit it-is that their boyfriend gets mad when they go off to workshops, so they're hesitant to make that decision and face his wrath. It's not that they're bad for having that boyfriend or for having that struggle, but they're not likely to discharge and re-evaluate if they don't admit the struggle!

Just because RC theory gives us a picture of what rational behavior looks like in a particular area doesn't mean that we're instantly able to act on that basis. The mistake, however, is to go quiet or deceptive as clients because of not wanting to admit that our life falls short of our theoretical picture. I want to challenge all of us here to stay honest as clients, to risk looking 'uncool' and less re-emerged than we 'should' be. Chances are we won't re-emerge from a distress if we don't admit to having the distress, dare to haul it out, and hold it up to the light for discharge and re-evaluation.

Having said all this, there's something else that needs to be re-iterated, which is that the surest route to discharge and re-evaluation is learning to counsel on the basis of reality. There's a reason Harvey comes up with technique after technique aimed at getting people to client on the basis of the contradiction provided by reality. Techniques like the generalized commitment ('From this moment on, the real Fleetybelle Screwdri-verson . . .'), the reality agreement ('How good are you? How smart are you?'), or the understatement ('It sometimes happens that someone likes somebody . . .') are all intended to let people discharge on the basis of reality as opposed to discharging on the basis of their distresses. The more we understand this and the more we push ourselves in this direction, the more we'll find that we can discharge easily, with a wide range of people, without having to rehearse our distresses endlessly in session in the hope of finally getting some relief. But let's be clear about this: discharging on the basis of reality is different than pretending that the distress doesn't exist and denying the strait jacket we're forced to operate in as a result of it. When we counsel on the basis of reality, we do so in the face of our struggles, not by pretending our struggles don't exist.

There are two other things I want to mention, relative to this discussion. The first is about 'first thoughts.' As clients, we must learn to be ruthless with ourselves about sharing our first thoughts in session. Our minds hand up the perfect statement, filled with discharge and the hope of re-evaluation. When we hesitate, re-word, or deny our first thoughts, we're simply slowing down the process. If we can be completely honest with our counselors about our first thoughts, I think we will find that we become easy and elegant clients and that our worries about whether we'll discharge in session are a thing of the past.

The second pont is around living well. While we search for clever ways to insure discharge in session, the easiest path is simply to live well, live boldly, and take on worthy challenges. If we do this, we will discharge well in session! We won't have to hunt for discharge by dredging up sad stories of heartbreak and discouragement. We'll simply have to review our latest goals and challenges and discharge will abound.

To wrap this up, I want to challenge us all to stay honest as clients, no matter how feeble, embarrassing, or 'politically incorrect' our struggles may seem. I want to challenge us, as counselors, to play an active role with our clients and not to abandon our judgment or our thinking, even though we recognize that our distresses may diminish our clarity. I bring all of this up in this evening's context because the difficulties our beloved leaders are facing might have been handled earlier, more effectively, and with less damage, had they been more open about the struggles they were facing and had those of us who'd been counselors to them been less 'liberal' and more willing to risk challenging them on those areas of distress without waiting for them to bring them up in session. (On the other hand, of course, hindsight is always 20/20 vision.)

Let's experiment with this. If we use RC theory as our guide, we'll be less apt to go 'liberal' as counselors, we'll be more likely to discharge on the basis of contradiction rather than resti-mulation, and our re-emergence will move ahead more quickly and decisively. Let's all take five minutes for discharge on where we go 'liberal' as counselors, what kind of distress scares us, who we're afraid to upset, where we question our own thinking, and where we're afraid to live on the basis of reality, settling instead for what looks like 'comfort' within the bounds of our distress.

(Mini-session)

I want to finish this talk by sharing an image I've been constructing in my mind over the past week or so. As far as I can tell, I came into the world expecting to find myself on the shores of the Red Sea, the waters split, and the people ready to begin the journey across the sea and through the desert. From there, I expected to spend the bulk of my life establishing the new order in the promised land.

Much to my dismay, what I found instead was that the people were indeed standing on the shores of the Red Sea, but the waters had not yet split. Instead, everyone was standing around holding Styrofoam cups, and the charge was to begin bailing out the water, cup by cup! It seems to me I've spent most of my life being frustrated by the fact that my time must be spent emptying the sea cup by cup, rather than exploring the desert and establishing life in the promised land. In session, the phrase that often comes to mind is, 'This is not the life I was meant to lead.' Tears of frustration and disappointment flow as I talk about the life I had anticipated.

Recent re-evaluations have led me to a new perspective. Although the task remains the same, wouldn't the work proceed more quickly and efficiently if we could scour the beaches in search of larger water vessels? Why empty the sea cup by cup if we could empty it just as easily gallon by gallon? And furthermore, wouldn't it be wonderful if, while everyone was busy draining the sea with their larger containers, a few of us were relieved of that responsibility in order to put our heads together and devise a state-of-the-art drainage system that could do the job in a couple of hours? Once constructed, if we could simply get the system up and running before Pharaoh's soldiers appeared over the hills, we still might escape with our lives and get on to the more important work of crossing the desert and entering the promised land.

And isn't that just the task of the Re-evaluation Counseling Community? We begin by giving everyone better tools with which to carry out their lives (i.e., the tools of discharge and re-evaluation), and we go on to provide the leadership and policy to expedite the whole process of human re-emergence such that, ultimately, the sea is completely drained and we're free to put our energies into the more rewarding tasks of living in a world befitting human beings!lain

Randi Wolfe
Evanston, Illinois,
USA


Last modified: 2020-07-02 14:27:35+00