On the Corner

Voices in your head

by Robert Docter, Editor-In-Chief –

So, here’s this little guy Charlie Brown, a likeable loser, looking kind of glum, sitting alone on this school bench. It must be lunchtime on the yard because he has his sack lunch next to him. No one is around. He says to himself: “It’s stupid to just sit here and admire that little red-haired girl from a distance.”

He stands, a worried look on his face and once again engages in ‘self-talk.’ “It’s stupid,” he says to himself, “not to get up and go over and talk to her. It’s really stupid…just plain stupid.”

Still standing but without moving a single step, he continues his mental rumination: “…so why don’t I go over and talk to her?” he asks himself. Then sitting back down, a disgusted look on a sad face, he says, “…because I’m stupid.”

Somewhere, Charlie Brown got that message. “I’m stupid.” It might have been his teacher, but it doesn’t sound like Miss Othmar. It might have been some of his friends, but it doesn’t sound like Linus—maybe Lucy, Miss Taunting Judgmental of 1960. Maybe even his parents somehow delivered that message. He got it somewhere, and he believes it. He’s got it planted down deep inside him. He owns it, and it clearly affects his behavior.

He fears criticism and has labeled himself as definitely a shy guy. He fears that if he personally took hold of his courage instead of delegating it to the idea-planter and went over to talk to the little red-haired girl she would validate this image he has of himself as clearly inadequate.

Certain rules, placed by external sources, seem locked in his brain. They dictate to him how he should be in every situation.

The voice that talks to him in his head enforces the rules, and he unconsciously requires himself to obey those limiting commands. Often, these ‘requirements’ have words like “can’t” or “shouldn’t,” “must” or “mustn’t” imbedded within them.

At this stage in Charlie Brown’s life he seems unable to confront them. He has labeled someone as “the great dictating rule-maker,” and he follows the rules. If someone praised him, he would probably stand with visible embarrassment wondering how anyone could say something good about him.

He has delegated the responsibility to someone else to define his personality—to determine the scope of his action, the manner in which he confronts life.

It seems to me Charlie Brown would be in his 50s today. I wonder what he would be like? Maybe he lives in the same neighborhood, unmarried. Most of his friends have probably moved away except that deep thinker, Linus.

Charlie Brown’s fears have caused him to become more reclusive—almost asocial. He fancies himself a writer, but is reluctant to send anything away for publication. Even praise bothers him because he “knows” it couldn’t be true. He is lonely and substitutes self-contempt for self-worth.

He did very well in school, graduated with a degree in engineering. He followed all the rules, completed every assignment on time and was most fearful about finally being discovered as a fake. He is employed by a local firm and recently turned down a promotion that would have required more interaction with a team because they might discover he’s running a bluff.

He’s very good at what he does, but is no risk-taker.

Linus is no loser at all. He graduated with a degree in philosophy and religious studies and has become a barber where he can philosophize to a captive audience. He has somehow found success. He now owns several shops and worries a little about those home hair care announcements on television. He credits his success to “luck” and gives 10 percent of his net income to The Salvation Army, which he attends with his family.

In my mind, Linus is happily married with five children—four boys and a girl—finally. He loves to play football with his children, even the girl, and teaches them all how to kick field goals. He never pulls the ball away immediately prior to the kick.

I envision Lucy as having been married three times and currently separated from her third husband. I see her as having run for Congress twice with defeats each time.

She is a blamer and projects her personal failures on others. Her favorite expression, it seems is: “It’s not my fault. He did it!” She wants to run again, but has alienated so many people in her own party with her hypercritical attitude that they won’t endorse her in the primary. I heard they are thinking of endorsing that pretty woman with red hair who is now an effective member of the school board.

Lucy is not happy and covers her own feelings of inadequacy and inferiority by excessive complaining about others.

These remarkable, true-to-life characters have learned their “parts” very well. It is not part of their organic make up. Genes do not require it of them. It is learned behavior.

This is how we get to be the way we are.

It happens to everyone. To some, however, the messages are positive. They use words like “can” instead of “can’t.” They “en-courage” us, and the product of that courage, we hope, is a validation of the choice to test the direction of that voice. Some of us have confronted the negative self-talk voice from the distant past and have followed a dream—have established a goal and have achieved. Others go about sowing the seeds of defeat because of a deep-seated feeling of inferiority that they allow to inhibit movement toward a measure of success.

One of my self-talk voices reminds me—“you can be better than you are.” It’s a line from a song sung by some character in a film. I think it might be called “Swinging on a Star.” I can’t remember anything else about the song or the film—but that line is enough. It keeps me moving. You see, I’m very selective about the self-talk voices I allow in my head.

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