Jaime’s Story

~ The names have been withheld or changed to protect all parties in this situation. The storyteller is one of the professionals at this particular juvenile detention center.

Jaime had been in the mental health unit of the juvenile hall more than a dozen times—where our most challenging kids stay and also attend school. He would often get set off by other kids or counselors and get punished for shouting and name-calling. I gave him a copy of your book, and by the time he’d read some of it, he was able to slow down, reflect, and not be so reactive.

During a meeting with his probation counselor, the counselor called him a “dumb ass,” and instead of getting angry, he said,

“When you get frustrated with me and call me insulting words like dumb ass, I get angry and want to hit you. In the future, when you get frustrated with me, I’d appreciate it if you could tell me without calling me a dumb ass.”

The counselor took what he said as a verbal challenge and punished him by telling him to “take it down” in his room for a time out.

Jaime told me he responded by “dropping the tone” in his voice and saying, “I’m going to take your advice and take it down now and go to my room.”

Thirty minutes later the probation counselor pulled him out of his room, apologized and asked how he learned how to do that because he didn’t used to respond that way. He shared your book and recommended that they get a copy.

When he talked about it he smiled, he was so proud because he didn’t take the hook. He said he felt like he made the choice to go to his room instead of feeling controlled and punished and it made him feel free.

Many people didn’t think it was even possible for Jaime to get control of his anger. And I don’t think Jaime thought it was possible either. I think he was surprised that he could have such anger deep down inside for good reason and still respond and feel so differently. He became the leader in the unit, helping other kids to take control of their own reactions.

When Jaime was released, he went home in time to watch the birth of his first child. He told me he couldn’t believe how much he has changed and how better prepared he was to raise his baby.

A Model for Compassionate Power ~ Blog 4

It’s a huge button pusher for me when I see people distorting facts, doing divisive things and then denying it all  ~  and so I’ve been having strong reactions to how I believe hatred is currently being fueled for political purposes. At the same time, I’ve been reflecting more and more deeply on how my own rages and rants  ~  Yes, I do talk back to the TV  ~  do nothing more than to deplete my energy and bring me closer to being like the people I’m judging. It’s so easy to justify judgement when we think we are on the “right” side of justice. My goal this year is to be more conscious of when my anger at injustice, or wanting to protect a person I care about, or being hurt by someone myself is tricking me into losing my power and to recover more instantly.  More . . While struggling this issue, I’ve had a strong pull to use an updated newsletter from several years ago as my first blog of 2013. I hesitated to reuse it until I saw that Vicki Dello Joio, a dear friend and mentor, had done just that with her blog on Musings for the New Year. It freed me to do what I was drawn to do.

I have an absolute belief that being willing to show our vulnerability in combination with giving honest feedback to others creates a powerful alchemy—one that is essential to a quality of openness that goes beyond personal agenda—fostering healing, moving us toward wholeness, ultimately giving us the capacity for living with enhanced compassion, integrity, and power.

When I saw the movie Invictus, I was overwhelmed by Nelson Mandela’s capacity for profound compassion and forgiveness after 27 years of unjust incarceration. Watching Morgan Freeman as Mandela, I saw his brilliance in choosing, against tremendous opposition, to use an almost entirely white rugby team as one way to unite South Africa at the end of Apartheid. I watched him see the humanity in each person he talked with, be honest in his feedback to them, while open and transparent about his intentions. He carried this attitude and presence both with white people who mistrusted or hated him and with black people who felt conflicted, even betrayed by what he was doing in his efforts to bring healing to the people of his county.


I was watching a man who embodied an utterly non-defensive essence, releasing the full magnitude of his enormous capacity for compassion, honesty and creative problem-solving. Elected president in the first election after the end of apartheid, he initiated the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which deal with crimes and abuses of the past using an extraordinary process that brought deeper layers of healing. Nelson Mandela enhanced his power with compassion and became a major force in preventing the outbreak of a bloody civil war—a task of such magnitude that I believe few people on earth would have given any odds for success.

As I watched the movie, I was jarred by a clear vision of  how often I still felt justified in hanging on to a quality of old, angry behaviors that scream “POWER STRUGGLE” when reacting to people with those attitudes and behaviors I think are divisive or hurtful. And in that moment of reflection, I became painfully aware of the strength of my desire to hold onto that self-righteous anger. My resistance to giving it up was paramount. I suddenly felt like a beginning student—one who is thinking he or she would lose power by being non-defensive. I knew in that moment that I needed to dramatically increase my motivation to change myself.

This year, my resistance to giving up the self-defeating anger is pretty much gone, but the habit is still alive ~ but not healthy and well! I’m working to remembering a lesson—that we change the macrocosm every time we change the microcosm. I’m paying more attention to standard little comments I make as important choices. I consistently ask myself questions now, such as:

  • How am I serving myself and/or others with this thought or that comment?
  • What impact does it have on my energy?
  • Does it inspire me or leave me angry, depressed, and/or drained?
  • Am I becoming alienated from others and/or myself?
  • Am I losing integrity?
  • Is this how I want to be using my energy?
  • If I weren’t using my energy this way, what else might I be doing?

As we make our way through 2013, I believe it is a good time for each of us to ask ourselves, “Where  and how do I still hold onto power struggle?” I believe it is a time to look at even our smallest reactions as choices that will be shaped either by power struggle or non-defensive power—a time to become acutely conscious of the extent to which moving past power struggle opens us to new horizons in fulfilling our potential.

“To be great, be whole; don’t exaggerate or leave out any part of you. Be complete in each thing. Put all you are into the least of your acts. So too, in each lake, with its lofty life, the whole moon shines.” ~ Fernando Pessoa, 1933

Link for information about the Truth and Reconciliation Commission set up by the South African Government after Nelson Mandela was elected President.

For thought provoking questions and a guide to prepare for the transition into the New Year that I love to use, see Vicki’s blog, New Year’s Musing

From Judgment to Curiosity – Part One: The Shift

Thanks,Deborah Bennett Berecz, for your comment about wanting more on “how to stay curious and not be distracted with agendas and power struggle.”

We were standing on the front porch: My grandson, Sam, was showing his mom and me how to use a new technological wonder he’d gotten with some birthday money—part of it from me and his Grandma Monza.

Just as the gate slammed behind me when I left to go home, I heard Sam call out “Grandma, Grandma!” His eight-year old voice filled my heart with love. He burst through the gate, ran up to me and said, “I didn’t need your charity to buy it.”

I have no idea what I said to him. Feeling utterly stabbed in the heart, I got in my car and drove home. With tears in my eyes I thought words you might imagine: privileged, spoiled, ungrateful. My hurt mingled with anger and judgment for several hours, I think, until a thought came to me. My mother taught us that appreciation was at the heart of much of what was good in life, connection with each other, the ability to feel joy. If I didn’t deal with my hurt carefully, I might create a power struggle with Sam around appreciation. I thought, “This is too important. I can’t mess up how I handle it.”

In that same instant, I became curious and wondered,“Where did Sam learn the word ‘charity’?” It wasn’t the question I would have imagined, but once it came to me, it seemed to be the perfect starting place for a conversation with him.

My shift in focus popped me instantly out of a power struggle I didn’t even know I was in. I was struck by the suddenness with which I had been transported from my place of hurt, anger and judgment to a place of curiosity.

To Be Continued …

Part Two: The Surprise Ending

From Judgment to Curiosity – Part Two: The Surprise Ending

[If you haven’t read Part One, go to: The Shift]

The next time I picked Sam up at school, just as we got out of the car at my house, he actually used the word charity again, so I asked him where he learned it. We sat down on the front porch stairs in the sun as we talked. He said, “When we went to an animal shelter on a school trip, they told us it was a charity.”

Now, my mind turned completely around. I wondered if he somehow had associated the idea of giving money to help homeless animals with some kind of negative feeling or sense of poverty when using our money for his gift. When I asked him about it he said. “Oh, No, Grandma, I just wanted you to know that if I hadn’t had your money I would have worked to get it myself.” Then he said, “Grandma, I just love it when we talk like this.”

All I could think was, “What would I have done to Sam if I’d continued to feel hurt and angry? If I had said something to him about being ungrateful?” How could I have been so wrong about him being rude and ungrateful? Well, he was running fast when he blurted that he didn’t need my charity to get the iPod. How often do we hear things and realize later the person meant something entirely different?

In that moment I realized how unconsciously I had moved from feeling hurt to judging Sam. I was already setting the stage for saying something to him that would have created power struggle between us over what I had assumed to be his lack of appreciation.

My realization expanded into in a broader insight about how often I let hurt feelings make me feel victimized, which then invariably entwines the hurt with judgment and morphs them into power struggle. In retrospect, the shift seems completely obvious. In the moment it was completely unconscious. I only knew I felt hurt.

A second realization came to me. I had been using and recommending the question I offered in the Curiosity Blog: “What would I want to know if I were truly curious right now?“ I had experienced how this question could move me—and others—from a place of power struggle to one of curiosity. But this time it was a belief I held that had moved me.

I began to see countless options for shifting from judgment to curiosity. We could ask ourselves whatever question fit the moment, like, “What would I want to know . . . if I weren’t afraid right now? . . . if I trusted that you care about me? . . . if I weren’t intimidated? . . . if I saw my own part in our conflict?” Beyond questions, I saw that thoughts, feelings, and beliefs could also transport us out of power struggle to curiosity—as instantly as hurt can draw us in. We may still need to deal with hurt or anger, but we can do so from a place of integrity and openness. In my case, I discovered there that my hurt had no cause outside my own mind.


I woke up thinking that in order to be curious, I must be absolutely, totally, in the present moment. To be real, to have its natural power, curiosity must be utterly innocent, without agenda, in timeless space.

After I had these first thoughts about curiosity, I asked myself if they felt true. I thought about it. I decided that I cannot be truly curious if I am in any way distracted: if I’m anxious about whether you will be willing to hear what I have to say — if I’m determined to make you listen to me — if I feel any time press — if I’m sending any covert message in my question — if I have any agenda about the outcome of our conversation. It doesn’t matter if I’m focused on being afraid you won’t respond as I wish or if I’m anticipating how you will respond. It doesn’t matter if I’m motivated by self-interest, a need to control you, blame you, or manipulate you. Nor does it matter if I’m motivated to “help” you or change you because of my care and worry for you.

I decided I believe it is not possible to be defensive or in power struggle if we are in a state of pure curiosity. When I’m stuck in a power struggle for any of the reasons I named above, it doesn’t work to try to be curious or to tell myself that I should be. But what has worked for me and what I’ve been suggesting to others is to ask hypothetically, “If I were truly curious right now, what would I want to know?” It makes me genuinely start to wonder what I would want to know. It frees me from the vice grip of my defensiveness. My morning thoughts give me a deeper understanding of why this question works so well for me — and by their reports, for others. My conclusion is:

Curiosity is an antidote to power struggle.