A key ingredient of success in life lies in coming to the realization that if we expect someone else to solve our problems, we could be waiting a long time. This means that if we find ourselves in unfavorable circumstances, we must take personal responsibility for transcending those circumstances. This can be difficult because it is a common mindset to place blame for the perceived injustices wrought upon us, and the truth is far too many have been wronged and dealt with unfairly.

So, are there genuine victims in the world? Without question. As Rabbi Harold Kushner wrote, “Bad things happen to good people.” Is there a role for government, businesses and other institutions to provide assistance and opportunity? Absolutely! Is it the mark of a civilized society to help those in need? For me the answer is a resounding--Yes!

There is a clear distinction, however, between being a victim and sustaining a victim mentality. The latter keeps us in a self-defeating cycle of behavior of finger-pointing, excuse making and denial. This persistent outward orientation leads to unproductive, spirit-killing attitudes and behaviors. It is a direction that does not serve us and has few rewards.

Life can indeed appear very unfair, but the answers we seek lay not with others, but within the resources of our hearts, minds and souls. It is there that we discover the resilience and creative power that enables us to shape the lives we want.

I have come to this point of view not only from a lifelong career in the field of human development, but also from serving on the boards of non-profits that deal with the abused and disadvantaged, those whose circumstances can only be described as tragic, and for whom society has often given up hope. The journey of rehabilitation is a long one, but one organization dedicated to that rehabilitation is Perspectives, Inc. based in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

Perspectives serves women who have been devastated by drugs and/or alcohol, yet who have made a commitment to be drug and alcohol free. The women come from backgrounds of dysfunctional homes, sexual abuse, violence and prostitution. Their children have been traumatized and arrive vulnerable, angry and afraid. For these mothers and children, Perspectives provides a lifeline. This lifeline, however, is one that they must reach for and hang onto for their lives are, literally, at stake.

Through a supportive housing program that provides an apartment, counselling, community, education and the development of practical life skills, Perspectives empowers both mother and child to create new and productive lives. It is a slow, arduous process but for those who embrace and commit to the opportunity, miracles happen. Families are re-united and high school drop-outs become college graduates.

The success rate is impressive. Seventy-eight percent of the women become independent and are inspired to give back to those who are just beginning a similar journey. But, what of the other twenty-two percent? There lies the challenge and dilemma. Despite the support and the structure, we have learned that the power to transform and to change must be discovered within.

Personal responsibility is not an easy concept to accept. It is fodder for great debate, but my experience of life suggests that there is an undeniable truth to the words of Jean Houston: “If you keep telling the same, sad small story, you will keep living the same sad, small life.”