Am I My Brother’s Keeper?

That’s the question, and the answer depends a lot on how you fit into the larger context of the world. Whether you believe that the world works better with collaboration or independent action—or a combination of both.


These are often words used when we’re in a view that each of us is separate, not only from all others but from all things, and even from ourselves. It’s also often the jargon of the “money-world,” where the only thing of value is money. In this world view, we exist as solitary beings who can rely on no one but ourselves.  Everything we accomplish is separate from what everyone else accomplishes. We tend to hoard our resources because we believe that it’s up to us to help ourselves. We imagine that we are on our own, that it’s all up to us alone and that everything we achieve is created by us alone. On the other hand, we appreciate being able to accomplish and earn and make things happen in the world. This view is useful for some aspects of life.


In another world view, we all are energies fluidly flowing in and around in all directions. There’s a sense that we, as a whole, have everything, nothing is lacking. All is provided. Sometimes, it’s provided by “my” effort, sometimes by “yours.”  Sometimes by synchronistic happenstance. For example, when I was a lot younger, driving 40 miles to work and 40 back every day for little pay, my car kept breaking down. It was finally on its last legs. I felt scared and alone. Suddenly, out of the blue, I got a call from my parents. They figured I’d probably need a car and they wanted to buy one for me! I hadn’t told them anything about my situation.

Or how often does it happen that you suddenly think about somebody that hasn’t crossed your mind for ages and they call that day? Or you’ve got plans with somebody and you’re so stressed with everything you have to do that you’d just like a few hours to relax and that person calls and cancels? This could make us think that we’re all connected somehow, that we’re part of a larger unity. This view is also very useful in life, and is another kind of self-sufficiency—the self sufficiency of being part of the larger whole.

 A Different Kind of Self-Sufficiency

This kind of self-sufficiency requires awareness and integrity.  It requires that, rather than thinking of myself only as an individual person, I also identify as the larger whole. This is a feeling that inner and outer is one. The “I” that I’m identifying with also includes everyone else. If one part of the larger “Me” is hurting, all of us know it and help it.  If one part is doing too much, all of us know it and make it easy for that part to rest.  This combines independence and collaboration.

For example, when you’re aware of the larger “Me,” you notice what you need and don’t need. If someone who is overly generous wants to give you something, you think of them as part of a larger “You,” wanting to give something to another part of the larger You and you help them out by letting them keep it.

In this world view, we are a huge network of umbilical cords, where everyone is connected to everyone and everything else.  You can’t cut them, because then the whole system dies.  And why would you want to?  That’s so lonely.  This doesn’t mean that we don’t “lead our own lives.”  It does mean that we are aware of what we are and what we can give and what others give and we intertwine with the giving and the receiving.  Some people are good at money and some are good at atmosphere or love or light or joy or relationship or discernment.  In the money-world, only money is “something” and everything else is just taken for granted.  In the collaborative world, everything is “something”—miraculous, precious and treasured.

For more on Relationships, more on Group Dynamics, and also my posts on Self-Acceptance (scroll down to get to the past posts after this current one).

On Surviving–Inner Work Exercise

Here’s a fun thing to do that’s also very instructive—a kind of inner work. You notice what’s bothering you and you let yourself first focus on it, on what about it is really bothering you. Then, keeping that in the background, you let yourself get kind of fuzzy and diffuse and notice what happens. Just stay with it without trying to be rational or “think” about it. Just notice what happens and let the images come. Here are a couple of examples:

 My Partner Can’t Make up his Mind

One day I was miffed that my partner was so indecisive. “Why is this bothering me so much?” I wondered.  Sensing that the source of my irritation was actually something in me trying to come to awareness, I decided to find inside me the one that wobbled so much (instead of putting it on my partner). I closed my eyes, left everyday consciousness behind, and traveled way into my center, letting the visions come.

 I moved from side to side within a picture frame and suddenly found myself dodging bullets!  They whizzed beside my ear like target-bees and sang the air near shoulder, arm, and thigh.  They missiled toward my toes and periled near my nose.  To avoid them, I found I was spending my entire life alert and jerking to and fro.  “I have to focus my whole and only attention on survival!” Suddenly, I felt free. For me, this was a powerful realization. “I’m allowed to look out solely for my own survival!”  Rather than all the time worrying about “how will this affect him; what will she think of that; will they be happy if I say this or that?”  It blew me away. 

I Am Alone

Another time I went into the pain of separation and aloneness.  Of being left, not being wanted.  When I let my imagination go where it went, I was all of a sudden the son of a ghetto mother, left by her boyfriend to work for nothing and over the years to suckle and diaper and teach to walk and walk to school and cook a meager meal and give lessons in manners to a baby-young-child-teen.

Of course, she couldn’t do this all alone, and so she didn’t.  She left me, her son, alone—sometimes for days—when she despaired and wandered the streets in search of a way out for herself.  At first, I was afraid, constantly afraid and crying.  No one heard my hunger, my fear at night. No one saw my dirty face, the shredded clothes I wore.

After a while like that I understood:  this is what is. I became tough, hard, cold.  I knew what I needed; I knew what I wanted.  I knew what to do to get it, and I did what I had to do.  I roamed the streets.  I learned everything about those streets and the people that roamed them, too.  I learned about the shopkeepers and how to get them to give me food.  If they wouldn’t, I knew what time they left for the night and how to steal in to their stores and to steal out with the food.  I knew where to find clothes and warmth and even luxuries.  And I did.  “I do what I need to do; I am a survivor!  You can’t stop me, because I know all about you.  I’m smarter than you.  I’ve watched you, and you have never watched me!”


First Responders & Health Care Personnel: Recognizing PTSD in the Public

With each trauma that our country has experienced over the last number of years, the structure of our society has developed cracks and those cracks are being infused by a poisonous fog of fear, insecurity and suspicion. A sizeable portion of the population is most likely suffering from some level of current traumatic stress, or posttraumatic stress (PTSD).The question now is, do we work toward healing or allow the structure to crumble? There are many levels on which to work toward healing, from individuals working on themselves, relationship counseling and family therapy, designing buildings, cars, furniture, etc., to create a sense of peace and calm, all the way up to society-wide or large government intervention. I’ve written about some in the past—see my blog posts and articles in and (put in links).

One important area of influence has to do with first responders—police, fire services, ambulance EMT’s—and healthcare personnel at doctor’s offices and ER’s. How these people interact with others who are suffering from stress, trauma or PTSD is crucial to move our country in a healthy direction.

Given the increasing numbers of shootings mentioned in the media, there is an increase in the perception of danger floating around in the atmosphere, both on the part of first responders and health care personnel and in the general public. People are becoming increasingly mistrustful and fearful of each other. Police officers, for example, are suspicious of the public they come into contact with, and people are fearful of police officers. It’s important to realize that this intensifying of suspicion and fear are at least partially signs of traumatic stress and PTSD and the country as a whole.

 Recognizing Traumatic Stress and PTSD (Posttraumatic Stress)

For police officers, fire fighters, EMT’s and healthcare personnel, it’s not always easy to recognize that someone is suffering from traumatic stress or PTSD. The person they’re dealing with could just seem to be causing trouble or being difficult. A lot of trouble and re-traumatizing of people can be avoided by recognizing symptoms and acting in ways that help vs. escalate.


Here are some signs that a person may be suffering from traumatic stress or posttraumatic stress (PTSD:

  1. Someone in a car running through an intersection with a stop sign or red light, or turning left when another is approaching too closely. Someone suddenly switching lanes in front of another car without seeming to notice the other car.
  2. When the person is stopped, a kind of dazed expression or quickly escalating to yelling or crying when confronted.
  3. The person not seeming to understand what the officer or EMT is saying. Asking questions that have already been answered.
  4. The person acting in a childlike or overly dependent manner.
  5. The person becoming easily angered or agitated.
  6. In a doctor’s office or the ER, someone continually going up to the counter to ask or demand to be seen quickly.
  7. In the ER, the patient not seeming to understand instructions being given.

How First Responders and Healthcare Personnel Can Help—vs. Escalate the Problem

  1. Be polite and respectful.
  2. Begin by and continue to speak slowly and quietly.
  3. Put yourself into the mindset that this is a person who may have been going through a difficult time; imagine if it were you—put yourself in their place and speak from that insight.
  4. Ask if the person is all right. Ask what happened to cause them to do what they did. Use a caring, authentically empathetic tone of voice.
  5. Avoid a tone of accusation, confrontation or sarcasm at all costs. Don’t be curt.
  6. If you need to give information or direction, give one piece of information at a time and ask the person if they understood. If not, ask them what they didn’t understand. Repeat the information incorporating the information you received about what was not understood. Don’t just repeat what you said in the same words as before.
  7. For ER personnel, if you give instructions to the patient, give them the instructions in written form as well. Ask them what they understood you to say. That way you can see if they understood you.

For more information on PTSD and traumatic stress and how to get help, see my page on Stress and Trauma. For first responder or healthcare organizations who would like training and information on how to heal from their own PTSD and traumatic stress or to be helpful to the public they come in contact with, see my page on Organizational Consulting.