Photo by Ashkan Forouzani on Unsplash
As a Counsellor, many times, hard as I try, I find myself thinking about my counselees, wishing that the disturbances to their mental well-being can be addressed effectively. Inadvertently I hold myself responsible for the mental well-being of my counselees. This I know is wrong.
Yesterday I attended upon my orthopaedic surgeon for a routine examination. Unknowing to him, he had provided me with the reconciliation I was searching for between my responsibility and that of my counselees, in effective counselling.
I had complemented him on his a physic and obvious six pack abdomen and his response was a humble “I work hard at this. I have to. I have to be an example to my patients. I can’t tell them to exercise when I don’t! You see, the orthopaedic surgeon who is really professional would not advocate surgery as an immediate solution neither would he advocate the prescribing of pain elimination drugs that patient’s look forward so much to. Instead I advise my patients, where appropriate, that only they can cure themselves after diagnosis, by EXERCISING. I see the disappointed look on their faces when I tell them this. This however is a fact. All I can do is really diagnose and teach them the right kind of exercises, and the patients will have to take it from there”.
I immediately recognised that this is how I can reconcile my accountability. It is up to the counselees to resolve problems once diagnosed and analysed. This, very often, may require them to push themselves beyond their perceived limits.
I had taken the approach, which I admit was most consoling to myself, i.e. that “I am only human”. The orthopaedic surgeon made me think. I should really not think along these lines, for I must always challenge myself to audit the objective accuracy of my emotions. We all must test our limits and constantly try to go beyond the limits we have set for ourselves.
I recall a song and a poem that I was familiar with, which inspired me not to place a ‘ceiling’ on myself, by the very common phrase “I Am Only Human”
Allow me the liberty to share the lyrics of this song and the poem.
Song: Rick Ross’s lyrics – “I Am Only Human”
“Oh, yeah, I’m only human, I’m a man, I’ma make, I’ma make, I’ma make mistakes,
I’m only human, I’m only human I am a man, I make mistakes.
I’ma make mistakes.
I know I am not perfect.
But I perfected what I had to work with.”
Poem: Iman M. Mansour’s, United Arab Emirates poem. “I’m Only Human”
“I’m only human.
Since I am not perfect
My best intentions seem
To have no fulfilment
Like the texture of a dream
And I wage a daily battle
Most of the time I loose
Between things that could matter and the ones I seem to choose
Since I am no angel
I’ll be easy to mislead
Despite of things I know are right
I’m swayed by pride and greed
Sometimes I think I love the world, too much to want to leave
But eternity expects me
And all I believe.
My free will is here my problem
Oh how easy it would be
If God made my decisions
And took the job from me
But in this there is no merit
I’m now very well aware
I have to earn my heaven
Every moment I am here
And since I Am Only Human
It might take me some more time, for the far is somewhere near
Since I am not really that strong
I’ll just keep on a trying
And I’ll live from day to day
For my spirit is immortal
Though my body’s made of clay.”
Rick and Mansour have truly reflected on the weaknesses of this common phrase, ‘I Am Only Human’. Rick refers to having ‘perfected what he had to work with’ and Mansour reminds us that there is no merit pushing the buck for it’s us who have “to earn (our) heaven, every moment (we) are here.”
Both of these fantastic minds, capture the practical reality, that when aware of mistakes, a common response is, I’m only human! Another situation attracting such a response is when, there are high expectations from our bosses, our relations, and our friends to provide more than we think we can give. Yet another situation is where we set high expectations of ourselves, and we cannot achieve, we tend to fall back on the phrase, “I Am Only Human!”. In such “Over-demanding” circumstances, a common response is “I’m Only Human, how much can I achieve!” I have often wondered, is this a cop out or part of the realism of life? I don’t know.
If I question myself on what is one of the best fields where tight discipline is required,(outside a spiritual or religious scope), I would imagine it would be in the field of martial arts. I was reading the biography of the legendary Bruce Lee, and came across one of his advocated philosophies, in what could have been his perspective of “I’m Only Human!”
“If you always put limits on what you can do, physical or anything else, it will spread over the rest of your life. It will spread into your work, into your morality and into your entire being. There are no limits. There are plateaus, but you must not stay there, you must go beyond them.”
I recently travelled to Surabaya, Indonesia to meet with the elders of a particular ethnic group advising a man 40 years of age on how he is to meet the challenges ahead of him. One elder advised that we are humans and therefore not perfect. Another elder responded that we are not perfect because we are humans. A third elder saw the confusion in the man and clarified that the former is acceptance and the latter is a defensive statement. He concluded by advising that we have to accept that we are not perfect, and consequently accept that there is nothing morally wrong in not being perfect and just float on.
The 40 year old man responded by cynically, saying that does it mean that we have just to ride the storm? Not have any anxiety, worry or sadness, just because we have accepted the situation. Are we just to surrender to destiny?
The third Elder was visibly upset with this response and clarified that, mere acceptance was no acceptance. Acceptance must always be qualified by concerted efforts to overcome problems. He further clarified that one must not only look for options, for the sake of looking for options. One must discover options that will lead to solutions, for options must materialize in solutions. However If one never accepted the situation in the first place, one may not be able to consider options and consequently one solutions. It this that leads to the defensive statement that we are not perfect because we are humans. It’s because we are humans that we are not perfect!
Listening to this I recalled spiritualists advising that we must be like the birds. No one guarantees them food, yet in the morning they are always cheerful, singing away and flying in search of food for the day, however WITH NO WORRIES! How remarkable this will be for us if we could adopt this approach. I have always felt that this really is academic, as birds can feast on what trees offer and what the ground provides. All they need is to harvest. This cannot be said to be the case for humans, can it? We can try to harvest all we like, but if there is nothing to harvest, can there be a harvest?
Yes I accept that there is no guarantee of a harvest even after tedious efforts, but, could this be because we have lost touch with what matters?
“Most of the time I lose,
Between things that could matter and the ones I seem to choose”.
Could this mean that I must expect that I am only human and I am not perfect, and the solution, is to put in the efforts in the things that matter, and not worry about the harvest? After all, if I expect what I seem to choose and not what that could matter, have I lost true harvest? The birds expect what truly matters, food! They fly with this expectation with no worries and, behold, they harvest!
The 40-year old man was fully advised. His newly found inspiration has truly inspired me. I enjoyed the pleasurable moments, listening to street smart sensibility. The man may not have truly understood the difference between acceptance and being defensive. He may have felt that the analogy of the birds was inapplicable to providing humans with solutions on finding happiness, but he did know one thing; that we are not made perfect. Rick’s poem says, “I know I am not perfect, but I have perfected what I had to work with”.
Does this tell us, in this context, that we need to perfect our state of mental health continuously? By understanding ourselves and understanding our imperfections, we will accept that self-awareness will lighten the challenges of the future. Achieving perfection is a lifelong process, which is seldom achieved. However, the efforts towards this will provide us with tranquillity, peace of mind and happiness. All key objectives of humans that truly matter!