PhilosophyCenter PhilosophyCenter | Musings
PhilosophyCenter | Musings

Posts from — November 2013

Wearing Shoes

Wearing Shoes

No doubt you’ve heard the old adage about putting on shoes rather than trying to cover the world in shoe leather. One might think at first that whoever came up with that had a firm grasp of the obvious, yet in our counseling sessions, we frequently meet bright and thoughtful individuals stuck in suffering because they won’t put on their shoes. They have, instead, been busy trying to cover the world in shoe leather, and all that did for them was get them into counseling. It isn’t hard to spot them; usually, they begin the session by talking about someone else, the one who has upset them, the one who is treating them or others unfairly, the one who is the problem. And the first thing that has to happen in order for counseling to be productive, is for them to come out of this “immersion” as we call it, shift the focus from world to self, and look in the mirror of their participation in whatever is tearing up their gears. This is fundamental to philosophical counseling. The work is self-work. It’s never about the other guy. As long as we don’t get that, we keep trying to cover the world in shoe leather, and there just isn’t enough of that to go around. The answer, the solution, the resolution always shows itself when the client comes out of immersion, accepts responsibility for his or her part in the drama, and identifies and makes the better choice, essentially, to put on shoes.

The importance of this turnaround hardly can be overstated. As long as we persist in the assumption that the problem lies outside us rather than in our participation, whether witting or unwitting, we cast ourselves in the role of the victim and cut ourselves off from our native creativity, ingenuity, resourcefulness, resilience, courage, and power to transcend. Immersion then becomes a kind of drowning, a vicious, self-perpetuating cycle that can be broken only through the willingness to accept responsibility. Note that by responsibility here, we do not mean “blame,” but only the ability to respond rather than react. One of our students shared the useful insight that if you mix up the letters in the word creative, you get reactive When we’re immersed and reactive, we’re all mixed up, because we’re trying to live from the outside in, which is a formula for failure. Philosophical self-work demonstrates its profound value only when we become willing to live from the inside out, when we stop exporting our authority and own the choices we’ve been making, which frees us to make better ones. In those cases where one finds oneself in the quicksand of abusive or dysfunctional conditions, one is free to disengage, to choose not to participate. Sometimes, all we can do is refuse to walk barefoot over broken glass. The situation is what it is, but if we are responsible enough to put on our shoes, then the situation is at least by that measure improved.

Although immersion and the seductions of the victim role can leave us feeling hopeless and at the mercy of forces outside ourselves, the abiding truth is that we are responsible for our participation, and therein lies the way out. There is an old joke about a man who takes a job as a corporate bookkeeper. Two weeks later, he receives his paycheck, and in the pay envelope, he finds a note that says: “We have decided to give you an increase. It will become effective as soon as you do.”

Solutions to even intractable problems, even those that occasion much suffering, are often right under our nose—or our feet.

November 24, 2013   Comments Off on Wearing Shoes