Serenity in an Age of Anxiety


Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood was not on television where I grew up.  My children missed the show’s heyday also. So it was a surprise when late in life, long after Mr. Roger’s had gone to the great neighborhood in the sky, I became a fan. Not of his television shows, puppets or music, but of him. I became a fangirl when my friend, Ian told me stories of how Mr. Rogers famously accepted everyone exactly as they were.  He made everyone feel liked with a non-judgmental attitude. Whether he liked them or not we will never know. Even when he disagreed with someone’s behavior he remained kind and accepting. He stated what he would like changed but did not criticize the person. How does someone become that person?


I believe appreciation is a holy thing, that when we look for what’s best in the person we happen to be with at the moment, we are doing what God does; so in appreciating our neighbor, we’re participating in something truly sacred.  Fred Rogers


Fred Rogers, an ordained Presbyterian minister as well as a TV personality, died in 2003.  His essential message was unconditional love.  “Won’t you be my neighbor?” was how he asked children and adults alike to connect. It is also the title of the 2018 documentary by filmmaker Morgan Neville. (Available on iTunes and Pay for View.) He cultivated love and supported the universal need to be loved with the frequent reminder, “you are an important person just the way you are.”


“I want to be like that,” I declared to Ian, who laughed. He either did not want to be like Mr. Rogers or thought it was an unrealistic goal. I disagree.  Psychological and happiness research tells us that in addition to food and shelter, humans need connection and purpose to thrive.  Mr. Rogers striped the academics down to simply, ‘everyone wants to be loved’. It is the begging, cutting off and lashing out in the absence of love that makes people hard to like or appreciate. He somehow knew how to ignore all the fuss and see the true person underneath.


There is no reason why we all can’t channel Mr. Rogers. I will practice by reminding myself that angry, fearful and selfish behavior is a call for love.  Especially when I am the one doing them. I will accept people as they are, though I may not like or condone their behavior.  What I ‘like’ is not as important as the person behind the actions. ‘Won’t you be my neighbor?’ is the enduring message.


Thanks, Mr. Rogers.  It took several decades but I finally understand.









Courtesy of StockSnapTaking one hundred percent responsibility for your life is not popular or easy.  Can’t you just blame your parents, spouse or coworkers when life does not turn out the way you expect or want?  Everyone else does. We believe there is an explanation for why something went wrong and we will feel better if we identify the person responsible.  If that person is not pointed out and you are involved, the blame may fall on you. You would be revealed as the unworthy person you secretly fear you are. Consequently, we blame anything and everything outside ourselves to keep the spotlight focused elsewhere.


The downside of blame is it inevitably lands on us. There is always enough to go around. The most painful criticisms can fly our way from the lips of those closest to us because they know us best and can personalize them. They are personalized but not personal. Attacks can be a misguided attempt to hurt us, but mostly they are the weapon of choice for those trying to avoid blame and responsibility themselves.


Blame is a weapon that inevitably turns on the wielder and fosters resentment, hopelessness and unhappiness. You insulted me and are a jerk,’ weakens both parties and increases bitterness.


‘That felt like an insult and I will take responsibility for my bad feelings,’  strengthens the person willing to take control of themselves.


Responsibility without blame builds resilience, confidence and compassion.

‘That less qualified hustler took my job,’ increases bitterness.


‘I am feeling vulnerable in this economy and need to explore what I need to do differently,’ is self-empowering.


People will still lie, cheat and steal and need to face the consequences. Consider a self-empowering scenario where you notice what happened and take action but without disparaging the other party. If someone steals your purse, call the police but understand the thief is in a situation where she felt the need to steal and hope that improves in the future. In a blame scenario, because of her actions, you now believe the world is an unsafe place full of terrible people.


You may not lie, cheat or steal but blame is still a knife with two edges. As long as you are looking for someone to blame, self-blame is ready to fill in the blanks. If you do not believe this, watch your thoughts for a day. Notice how often you automatically blame others for how you feel. Or how often are your thoughts self-critical and belittling. Try a one day, no blame challenge.  For 24 hours, do not blame anyone for anything (including yourself).   If another driver grabs your parking space, notice but stop further thoughts. When your partner does not pick up dinner as promised, come up with an alternative without demonizing or criticizing her in your mind.


See how you feel at the end of the day. You may be a bit calmer and stronger. Or perhaps you will be ready to burst with all the unspoken criticisms and accusations.  With practice, you can get rid of the blame habit and embrace full responsibility for whatever you feel.


Courtesy of StockSnap       “I have always had a special bond with Shobani,” Roger said, offhandedly to his sister, Darby.  When Roger reminded Darby that their younger sister, Shobani was his favorite, her self-esteem plummeted.  She wondered if she would always be the third wheel.


“I don’t need your help,” Jack snapped at his mother.  “If I want your opinion, I will ask but otherwise, stay out of my life.” His mother deflated and wondered where she had failed.


“It looks like you have put on some weight,” Alice said to Amy with concern.  “I thought you were on a diet.”  ‘Yes, thank you for noticing, you sanctimonious witch,’ Amy thought bitterly.  Why aren’t people nicer?


Every time someone opens their mouth, there is a chance they will say something unsettling.  Hurtful comments, criticism and accusations are a part of everyday interactions.  You could also be the next person fired, cheated on or mugged. Positive thoughts, a vegetable- rich diet and kind actions will increase your happiness, but will not prevent a piano from falling on your head or your mother from dying of cancer. Nobody is immune to life.


Yet somehow we think we are in control and events in our lives say something about our worth.  Watch your thoughts and see how they attempt to manage distress. If I or he or they had only….(fill in the blank) then (fill in consequence).


If Dean wasn’t so cold, Lisa wouldn’t have left him.

The country is in terrible shape because people are so self-absorbed.

I must have done something wrong to be this sick.


The mind searches endlessly for explanations and culprits because understanding creates the illusion of providence. ‘I am in control because I understand what happened’ is a trap. If there is always someone to blame when something unpleasant happens to you, it is personal. After all, you were there. You must have done something.  Your problems reflect you and are the consequence of the many ways you fall short or deserve punishment.  Quick, find someone else to blame.


The truth is nothing that happens to you is personal and you are 100% responsible for your own life.  Holding these seemingly contradictory ideas together is the key to reducing anxiety.  Can you claim complete responsibility for your life and not blame anyone including yourself, for anything that happens to you? Responsibility without blame is true providence over life. What to take personally?  Nothing.

Post #31

Next time: Part 2- Responsibility Without Blame


vintage from Pixabay      Purpose provides a reason to get out of bed in the morning.  It is a context for goals and a reason to go on when a goal is met.  Saving the whales or winning the Olympics are goals, not purpose. A purpose provides the why for the goal and the impetus to go on whether or not the goal is achieved or achievable.


You may or may not have a calling but you can develop a mission statement. Companies do so why not individuals?  The Sweet Green salad company’s mission is to inspire communities by connecting people to real food.  Tesla, the electric car company, wants to accelerate the world’s transition to sustainable energy. Mission statements state purpose and goals. Some corporations add vision statements to clarify the ‘why’ and ‘how’ of the mission. These carefully crafted documents are important enough that companies can take months agonizing over them with expensive consultants.


The place you work may go even further and codify their values. The military and police require oaths to protect and defend. Jobs and corporations advertise their purpose but while individuals talk about themselves, very few of us have thought about, let alone written out what we believe we are doing here. Goals, we have plenty. Meaning in life is trickier. Though highly associated with happiness it is complicated because it also includes a sense of significance and beliefs that make sense out of life.[1]


Nonetheless, a personal mission statement is worthwhile.  It can be modified over time to reflect changes in your beliefs, values or life situation. Goals can be included but are less important than purpose which is timeless.


Here is my personal mission statement:

I commit any talents, gifts and energy I have to the service of others so that they may  feel loved, appreciated and thrive in health.

Although the people around me have unique interests and experiences,  we are connected.  I do not see their best interests as separate from mine.

When I make mistakes or do not live up to my values, I will take  100% responsibility for my behavior and life.

I believe all things are lessons that God would have me learn. My purpose is to remember my true nature is love.


What is yours?


[1] Martela, F & Steger, MF. The three meanings of meaning in life: Distinguishing coherence, purpose and significance. J Pos Psych 2016, 11(5):531-545.

vintage from Pixabay   “Most people who come to see me want to find their calling, “ reported Shoshanna, a counselor who works with adults. She and two of her self-employed friends were chatting over dinner about work. “The idea that you need a calling makes people unhappy and is completely untrue. A job puts food on the table and should not be seen as second rate,” she lamented.


Ellen, a physician with a clear and strong calling, balked. “Everyone needs to discover their calling,’ she countered. ‘It is critical for vibrant health and well-being.” She embarked on a story to support her view.


“This is exactly the thinking that makes people miserable,” Shoshanna muttered.


“Anyone for dessert?” piped in Kerry, whose calling appeared to be peacemaker.


Shoshanna’s point is worthy of further consideration. A calling is an internal or mystical tug towards a specific vocation. Your mission, should you recognize and accept it, makes you special. God, the universe, or something bigger than myself has chosen you to do something important.  Who doesn’t want to be acknowledged from above for their gift to the world?


Indeed, research suggests a sense of purpose is associated with happiness. But a purpose and a calling are not the same.  You can choose a purpose.  A calling implies the purpose chooses you.  You wait and the situation is out of your control. There is a sign, a dream or a transformative feeling that bestows worthiness or does not.


Everyone might have a calling but there is little chance we will all hear it.  Each person does have a purpose. You can decide what you are doing here whenever you want and have providence over your happiness.


The differences are:


Calling                                                             Purpose

Involves a job/task                                          Is a way of being, not doing

Requires outside intervention                        Requires internal decision

May never come                                             Is always present

Implies you are chosen                                   Available to everyone


If you have a calling, terrific! If you don’t, forget about waiting for a burning bush and choose a purpose. It can be a simple as being as kind as possible to everyone you meet or having an intention every day.  You don’t have to save the world; you just need to have a reason to be here.

Post #29

Next time: Your Mission Statement