Thursday, October 24, 2013

Do The Work

My girlfriend and I just finished the series finale of The Sopranos, and for me it was actually the third go around with the show but she had never seen it. The series was as good as I remember it, if not better, and the best part was after the "controversial" ending it was wonderful having someone intelligent and insightful to discuss it with. Whether you think Tony was killed at the end (I do, after much discussion with Lenore and some additional reading and thought) or we were left hanging to ponder if Tony's fate was simply that he will always be looking over his shoulder or that metaphorically he's a "Dead Man Walking" because of pending legal issues and future assailants, there was a theme that I picked up throughout the show that was likely missed by the masses. Obviously a central focus to The Sopranos was the therapy Tony was receiving from Dr. Melfi, but it wasn't until the end that the notion that maybe it was doing more harm than good might be true. For me as a viewer, watching the show I came away from almost every episode thinking something along those same lines: "Does therapy have any chance if the participant isn't willing to do the work?"

Throughout The Sopranos we watch characters like Tony, Christopher, Janice and Carmella travel the road of attempted self-improvement, but except for isolated incidents or small slices of time we never really see an evolved or mentally healthy individual emerge in the end. Christopher made the most valiant attempt with "admitting he had a problem" and getting himself into AA/NA, but he consistently regressed back to his destructive ways because he was unwilling to completely change his life and abandon the enablers who made a life of sobriety possible. Tony was the biggest failure, because consistently he used therapy as a method to air his grievances and seek counsel and/or affirmation that his choices and the results that came from them were not his fault, instead of being forthright and totally honest about the details of his life in order to find and effectively treat root causes. Of course the idea that a Mob Boss with sociopathic tendencies can or ever will be totally honest about the details of their life is fairly ridiculous but Tony has a real problem in the panic attacks, and the only chance he had was to do the work...but he never does. The majority of us in our day to day lives are guilty of the very same problem.

I like to think I am a pretty decent guy. Funny, charming in a mildly creepy way, pseudo-intelligent, kind, fair and loyal. However it's not lost on me that I am also deeply flawed. Yet with each failure in my life I try to employ that tactic taught to me by my father a long time ago, straight out of AA, that says you should often take a "searching and fearless moral inventory" of yourself and that will be the conduit to change. Just like with the therapy that Tony and others seek in The Sopranos, however, that in itself can be a vehicle to lead us to change but we have to be the ones that make the hard choices and do the uncomfortable work that change requires.
Every day, all of us read and post and share inspirational quotes on Facebook. We add commentary, acknowledging that we believe in the words or share the ideology, and we espouse some of these ideas in social gatherings and family outings. Are we "liking" the message, though, and not truly employing the content it contains? I would venture a guess that most of my friends on Facebook, co-workers, family and casual acquaintances would be supporters of statements like "Be the change you want to see in the world" and "Your beliefs don't make you a better person, your behavior does", but in practice are any of us adhering to these things consistently? I know I want to but I often fail just like so many of us. I love the message but I am not doing the work. But why not? The answer is multi-faceted and involves everything from laziness to fear to hypocrisy.

Change is difficult, and it involves time, patience, strength and endurance. Someone's who a drug addict or alcoholic has to change EVERTHING in their life, and abandon friends and associates who enable and learn to adopt an entirely new way of thinking about themselves and the world, and they have to wake up every day of their lives that they seek sobriety struggling to fight back the disease and embrace the benefits of change while they attempt to suppress the fears of failure. If we're someone who tends to be aggressive and adversarial but find it's having a negative impact on our lives with friends and family and we want to attempt to change that, the path to peace can be riddled with obstacles. Traffic, annoying co-workers, long lines, phone trees, political arguments and kids that don't listen; they're all enablers to our anger. Reading an E Card that says "Cherish the little things" isn't likely to turn things around for those of us who find frustration and rage always at the ready. So what do we do?

We do the work, and stop making excuses for the enablers and pitfalls and distractions in our lives.

In Season 4 of the Sopranos, Carmella visits and older man for therapy and she essentially complains about Tony the entire time. His temper, his drinking, the philandering and the criminal activities have all caused her grief and made it difficult for her to be the happy person she wants to be, though she has always "supported" him as a wife. However, this clever therapist isn't buying any of it and explains that she's been an "accomplice" or in fact and enabler to his bad behavior all along, and of course she has, as well as used it as an excuse to allow her own mistakes to be ignored. One of the best quotes from the old man is his response to her telling him that "My Priest says I should work with him, help him become a better man," to which he replies "How's that going?". In three words he's summarized what's wrong the entire situation of their lives, that none of us can "change" another person but in fact we can fortify their bad behavior with appeasement, support and even rejection. Neither Tony, Carmela or any of us can nor will ever change if we don't do the hard work that's required as an individual to achieve the results we seek. At the very end of the Sopranos that idea is expanded on when a study is discussed that maybe therapy for certain personality types is actually harmful because it may actually serve to validate some of the patients dysfunction and serve as a sort of "cleansing" instead of force them to be honest about their lives and actually modify behavior. Therapy and self-improvement without an honest accounting of who and what we are is nothing more than going on a diet and eating the same amount of calories except in different foods; it might feel good at first but nothing will change.

Those of us that really want to improve our lives, be physically and mentally healthier and be happier more days than we are angry or depressed have all the tools at our disposal. We have friends, family, children, therapists, medication and sometimes even wine. We have opulent sunsets that paint the sky in vibrant reds and yellows and moons so vast they seem to rest on the horizon and a strangers smile so unexpected in a time we need it most. We have our lives, the gift that is the vessel that allows us to experience all things great and small and absorb the majesty of love and landscape for whatever years we're fortunate enough to travel here. Tools, however, are useless unless we take them in our hands and do the work that's required.

Tony Soprano may have died in that final scene or he may have perished later or he may have gone to Federal prison, but none of that really matters. He spent most of his life lying to himself and others about who he really was and therefore never became the man he could have been or experienced the peace that comes from the freedom of emotional honesty. As the series showed us (and why so many of us loved it so much), there was a little Tony Soprano in all of us. The dichotomy in our souls where good and evil are often juxtaposed, hand in hand even while they battle one another. The desire to be self-serving instead of self-sacrificing. To commit evil deeds while excusing it with our own moral code. Doing what is easy and not what is right. Tony, in many ways, was an everyman, in a world full of men that could serve themselves and mankind better by working harder to rise above the median and Be That Change You Want To See In The World.

It doesn't have to just be a photo with a caption on Facebook that you click "Like" on. It doesn't have to be a dream or an ideal or a hippie mantra that's left to someone else to try, it can be your life. You have all those tools. You are the architect, the builder and the inspector, and you can decide when you're ready, but the project will likely be fluid and evolving and may never end, and that's OK. Your friends and your family and even strangers will let you know with their words and gestures if they like what you've built, and of course they will. Kindness and quality of heart and soul looks and feels good, and those who share moments in your life will thank you in ways that can't always be counted...but they will be measured.

Do the work.


No comments:

Post a Comment

Writing: The Most Rewarding Form of Self Torture

One of the best books I've read in the last few years is "The Courage to Write" by Ralph Keyes. Without doing a full review, i...