That's Not A Fault...It's a Character Trait

That's Not A Fault...It's a Character Trait

by Abraham J. Twerski
     
 

In "That's Not a Fault ... It's a Character Trait," author Abraham J. Twerski uses the Peanuts gang to illustrate what some of these more troublesome traits are so that we may be able to begin our own psychological assessment and healing. By using a mix of humor, insight, and a solid understanding of the human psychological condition, Twerski helps us understand the… See more details below

Overview

In "That's Not a Fault ... It's a Character Trait," author Abraham J. Twerski uses the Peanuts gang to illustrate what some of these more troublesome traits are so that we may be able to begin our own psychological assessment and healing. By using a mix of humor, insight, and a solid understanding of the human psychological condition, Twerski helps us understand the inner workings of character and provides the motivation and tools to improve.

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780312193423
Publisher:
St. Martin's Press
Publication date:
11/01/1998
Edition description:
1 STMARTIN
Pages:
192
Product dimensions:
5.85(w) x 8.56(h) x 1.00(d)

Read an Excerpt




Chapter One

Whose Fault Is It?


It appears that there are actually four rather than three essentials for life: food, shelter, clothing, and someone to blame. The ubiquity of blaming and the sometimes absurd rationalizations with which we hold others responsible for our own mistakes and misdeeds leaves no conclusion other than that blaming must serve some important function. The need to blame is a character trait. Notice how some people must blame routinely while others assume responsibility when something goes wrong.

    How absurd can we get when we try to project our failures onto others?

    Charlie Brown had arranged a date for Peppermint Patty, and introduced her to Pig-Pen. The two had a great deal of fun at the Valentine's Day dance, and Peppermint Patty felt that Pig-Pen was in love with her. This is what happens when Patty receives no further communication from Pig-Pen:


    Peppermint Patty's statement is a classic one and could be a guiding principle for those whose character and psychology requires them to blame. It is always easy to find someone else to blame. All you have to do is be unreasonable.

    Peppermint Patty continuously gets poor grades in school, simply because she does not attend to her school work. However, she finds it much easier to blame the teacher, again being totally unreasonable.


    Rather than recognizing that it is her laziness that is responsible for her D-minuses, Patty wants to blame her teacher, accusing her of prejudice. For somepeople, blaming may provide a kind of temporary relief from emotional discomfort, as does alcohol and drugs for others. However, very much like alcohol or drugs, this relief is short-lived and is almost invariably followed by a worsening of the problem. Whereas awareness of having made a mistake could lead to rectifying one's behavior and thereby avoiding similar mistakes in the future, blaming allows one to avoid what one must do to correct things. Furthermore, blaming others only makes one angry at whoever one blames. And when anger is unjustified, it is always destructive.

    Peppermint Patty is lazy. She stays up to all hours of the night watching television, and does not do her homework. She is not aware of what is going on in the classroom, and often falls asleep in class. Patty invariably gets D-minuses.

    Patty could get good grades, but that would require studying, and studying means effort, an idea that does not excite Patty.

    According to Patty's theory, she gets D-minuses because the teacher does not like her looks, which is certainly not Patty's fault. Since her appearance is not subject to change, she will continue to get poor grades whether or not she studies. Why, then, bother to exert herself when it is all going to be so futile? Patty's blaming is an excuse for not studying--and a rationalization for not being chosen a patrol person.

    People who use blame to justify not doing things they don't like to do are by no means limited to blaming others. They may also seize upon any other excuse: It is quite common to have backaches that make it impossible for them to wash the walls, mow the lawn, or clean up the basement. I recall that as a child I capitalized on a doctor's hearing of a heart murmur, a totally innocent diagnosis I exploited to stay home from school because I was afraid of a bully. This, I admit, was an example of a character flaw which I hope at this stage in my life I have rectified.

    Hypochondriasis is a commonly used avoidance tactic, because physical pain or disability legitimizes the lack of performance, not only for others but also for ourselves. A physical symptom allows us to think, "I really do want to do it, and in fact I will, as soon as the physical problem is resolved."

    I recall, with more than a bit of guilt, the worry I caused my parents when I complained of shortness of breath. My parents were very indulging, and instead of being wise to my machinations, they took me to several heart specialists for evaluation, thereby causing me to begin believing my own lies. Family and friends who think they're being helpful to a hypochondriac by allowing for the excuses may actually reinforce avoidance tactics. Some, like Marcie below, get nipped on the hand for their trouble.


    There is a tendency for psychiatrists and psychologists to treat a problem by trying to understand its roots. The theory is that if a person has insight into the "meaning" of a symptom, and can "work through" (whatever that means) the source of the problem, the symptom would disappear. This approach does not always work; all that happens with some psychiatric patients is that they become quite enlightened, but do not feel any better--and do not eliminate negative traits that are holding them back.

    Some contemporary schools of parenting psychology would tell Patty, "Turn off the television set and study, and after that we'll try to figure out why you are so reluctant to study." They would attack the symptom head on, leaving the explanations and the blame for some later date. Patty would not like this, because she does not want to make the effort to study. She would much rather have some explanation now, and instead of studying, try to deal with the underlying reason. That is far more acceptable to her.


    Now Patty can chew on this for a while instead of trying to not fall asleep in class. Any explanation, logical or illogical, is acceptable as long as she is not compelled to do whatever she dislikes. I recall one young woman who repeatedly asked for tests to evaluate the possibility that she had brain damage. She could not achieve a passing grade she needed to get into college. She would not accept any reassurances that her brain was fully intact. It became evident that she was actually hoping for a diagnosis of brain damage, because as devastating as that might be, she could use it as an excuse for whatever she wished to avoid. "You can't expect me to go to college. I can't learn. I'm brain damaged," or "You can't expect me to hold a job. I'm brain-damaged."


    Patty concedes that her problem is that she does not study, but instead of seeing it as something correctable, she attributes this to a psychological deficit that she cannot overcome.

    One of the classic methods of escaping unpleasant reality situations is simply to deny reality. Many people go through life denying the existence of realities they do not wish to accept. This is standard operating procedure for those who revise history to suit themselves. Since the past no longer confronts them, it is rather easy to rewrite history and tell others, as well as themselves, that things were really different than reality. To deny the reality of the present is a bit more tricky, yet when there is sufficient emotional distress in recognizing reality, we may deny the very things that stand right in front of our eyes.


    Since Peppermint Patty has no intention of learning anything about Hannibal, she dismisses the problem by assuming that her homework assignment simply won't matter because school will be closed tomorrow. This is denial and is another aspect of blaming. It goes like this: Patty dismisses her work by assuming it will snow. When it doesn't she can literally blame the weather. How could she know the weatherman was going to be wrong? Therefore, her failure is not her fault.

    Denial may take the form of blocking the awareness of a fact or, as with illusions, seeing something as different as it actually is. I have been told that some scientists who are heavily invested in a particular theory, for example, and conduct experiments to prove it, may actually distort the results of the experiment in favor of confirming their theory, while the facts actually disprove it.


    Why do people fail? Sometimes it is for reasons beyond one's control, but quite often it is because people do not take responsibility for their actions, which makes the alterable problems grow worse. In Patty's case, her failure is the result of her laziness, a trait she could improve if she worked on it. Patty is by no means stupid. She simply does not want to apply the elbow grease needed for good grades. All the oil that is buried under the earth's crust cannot make engines run. Only when it is brought to the surface and processed can it be put to use.

    Patty does not see things quite this way. She would prefer that the world reward her for her potential. Unfortunately for her, reality only rewards whatever potential is actually developed.


    The world changes as science and technology advance, and reality requires adaptation to change. Humans are essentially creatures of habit, and it is much easier to continue doing what we have been accustomed to do. It is characteristic of people who drink excessively to reject treatment, asserting that it is because of their inconsiderate boss or nagging wife that they drink. The message is, "I don't have to change. Get my boss or wife to change and I'll be fine."

    A while back, the police put a stop sign at the street corner near my home. Previously, motorists drove around that corner, perhaps with a minimum of deceleration. They continued doing so even after the conspicuous stop sign had been erected. I confess that I actually enjoyed watching the officers stop drivers who ignored the stop sign and continued to speed around the corner. And I bet two out of three motorists used the excuse that the stop sign was new to try to avoid a ticket.


    The drivers were oblivious that reality had "switched channels," and tried blaming something else for their mistake.

    Lawyers and accountants must keep current with changes in laws and regulations, and physicians must stay abreast of the latest medical advances. Similarly, parents should be aware of the current challenges confronting their children. Too often, parents try to raise their children the way they were raised, ignoring the fact that times have changed. We cannot blame society's change, the educational system, rap music, or anything else for our children's negative adaptations. Parents for whom the use of drugs was not an option in their early adolescence may not even consider the possibility that their twelve-year-old may be using marijuana, and such discovery comes as a terrible shock to them. Greater awareness of the changes might have helped them prepare for such challenges, resulting in either successful preventative efforts or more efficient handling of the problem when it was discovered.

    Tradition certainly has its place, and the display of the portrait of the founder of a firm who established and operated the business for four decades, may convey a feeling of security and stability. But if the heirs continue to run the business in the age of computers as it was run in the days of the founders, they will soon find themselves in possession of an historic relic rather than a thriving business. And they will have to recognize that inability to flex is a negative character trait.

    Reality does "switch channels," and if we fail to recognize this, we get D-minuses in life. A recovering alcoholic once said, "I had to accept the world for what it is rather than what I would like it to be." As children we may be permitted to live a life of fantasy. But if our parents are too indulgent and shield us from the harshness of reality, we may grow up to expect that things will always be the way we want them to be. When they are not, we will look for someone or something to blame.

    If you observe babies, you will see that they put every object within reach into their mouth. To an infant, how something tastes is the measure of all reality. This normal behavior of infancy should be discarded as one matures. If we fail to help our babies make this adaptation, the mouth remains the primary appraiser of reality, which is one of the reasons why some people are compulsive overeaters. So who is to blame? The parents, the child as he matures, or the food that tastes "too good" to resist?


    People who fail at one thing may try to compensate by excelling in something else. There is nothing wrong with this philosophy, if it is properly applied.

    As a child, I was a rabid baseball fan. This was not a difficult feat in the era of the all-time baseball greats, such as Babe Ruth, Joe DiMaggio, Lou Gehrig, and "Double-No-Hit" Johnny Vandermeer. I lived, ate, slept, and dreamt baseball. Nothing was more precious to me than playing baseball. But alas! I could not hit the ball to save my life, nor could I catch a ball. With these two shortcomings, I was never being picked for the team.

    In a desperate effort to be allowed to play, I saved up enough money to buy a coveted "Louisville Slugger" bat, and the kids on the playground realized the bat and I were a "package deal"--either I got to play or they didn't get to use the bat. After much haggling, with each team captain insisting that the other side take me, I was accepted on a team, with one condition: "We'll take him, but his outs don't count."

    This delusion that I was playing, though, didn't satisfy anyone. After several days of enduring through the meaningless ritual of striking out each time at bat, I surrendered the Louisville Slugger to the other kids and directed my efforts at studies, which resulted in superior work and midsemester advancement to a higher grade. The compensation of academic excellence for athletic failure worked in my interest. In this case, I did not blame, I adapted.

    Poor Patty! She tried to do the reverse, but it just did not work well for her.


    Patty's prowess in baseball might be somewhat soothing to her bruised ego, but it falls short of providing her with a real reward. Striking out Charlie Brown on three pitches did not compensate sufficiently for her D-minus performance in class. Of course this strip goes back to a time when baseball was primarily a male sport. Patty tries another route; she asks Mr. Brown to groom her for a skating match. Patty's preparation for the skating match unfortunately runs into a snag.


    Again, Patty does not see this mishap as her fault. We can only guess what she told Mr. Brown while he was cutting her hair. Characteristically, she blames Charlie Brown for it.

    We do love you, Patty. Of course, you are a bit extreme, but that is because you live in a cartoon strip as a caricature. We love you because you are part of each of us. We share your grief at the D-minuses, and we feel the chill of the unsympathetic world when we find that the shoulder we are leaning on is but a frigid snowman.

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