When I first became a Buddhist I found it inspiring- yet a bit painful – to take responsibility for my life. I’m a middle child and attributed most of my difficulties on being a member of this ignored placement in the family birth order. It would seem the oldest child is usually the most successful, and the youngest siblings make great comedians and performers. Middle children’s claim to fame is they are often the peace makers of the family (more about this in another blog).
However, the point is, I spent a lot of my life blaming my problems on someone – or something, outside of myself. I had a litany of excuses for why I couldn’t accomplish any given task or role. Whether or not my reasoning was sound isn’t the point. It really boils done to the fact that blaming others for my troubles did not help me overcome anything.
Over the years I have made good strides in taking personal responsibility for things. However, I was recently reminded about how deeply ingrained denial, or the “blaming others for your problems” can have on one’s life.
Here’s a case in point.
One of my clients is The Schuster Center, the first business school created exclusively for dentists. One innovative program Dr. Schuster created is the Dental Fitness program. This program includes an interactive process where the patient gets a tooth-by-tooth analysis of their teeth and gums. The amount of plaque, as well as bleeding (which denotes infection) are evaluated and given a number from 1 (minimal problem) to 10 (severe infection and bone loss). By knowing exactly where they stand, and with instruction on proper maintenance, patients learn how dental and gum disease begins, and how to stop it.
The program grew out of Dr. Schuster’s frustration in the early stages of his practice.
“I had a difficult start in Dyersville, Iowa when the farmers would send their boys to a dentist to 'get all their teeth out because they were going to lose them anyway’,” said Dr. Schuster. “I remember talking to these people and saying….what is it about teeth that you think you can go without them or just let them rot and take them out. You certainly wouldn't let that happen to your fingers or your toes. Doesn't it make sense to find out what causes t his disease and control it rather than just take the teeth out?”
To prove his point, Dr. Schuster guaranteed his patients that if they participated in his Dental Fitness program they would have no new decay or gum disease. If there was, they didn't have to pay to fix it. However, the patients had to stay in the program and keep their oral health to a certain level, which Dr. Schuster’s office measured three times a year. A mere 18 months later, folks were coming in from three different states for this unique approach to oral health.
I think this is a fantastic way to look at oral health and life. However, I was surprised that a lot of my friends weren’t interested in this program. They said they avoided the dentist at all costs. And, of course, the cost was high. Dental decay and gum disease are progressive. Ignoring it only makes it worse. They would (and will) go to the dentist – when they need a root canal or some other painful malady. But until it was an emergency, they were going to live in denial.
I may have had some experience as a “responsibility dodger” as a youngster, but when it comes to oral hygiene, I made an exception. Because my mother had suffered from dental issues as a young girl, (she grew up during the Depression and even though she asked her mother for a toothbrush, they couldn’t afford it). Subsequently, she developed issues with her teeth, something that bothered her immensely. When she married and had children of her own, she vowed we would have bright smiles and strong teeth. We were poor, but she made sure we had yearly dental exams, and hovered over us to ensure we were taking care of our chompers. Dr. Leo Wirth, our family dentist, helped explain about oral hygiene, and cleaned and polished our teeth at least once a year (now I go to his son, Duane, every six months). But if I were lax and my teeth were in need of help, I knew it wasn’t the dentist’s fault – it was mine.
It really doesn’t matter whether the issue is dental health or another component in life. If we don’t accept personal responsibility for our actions, our lives will be filled with decay (both physical and spiritual). Denial and blame are not powerful agents for self improvement. Not only will this mindset make things worse, an attitude of blaming others for our problems will rob us of the power to overcome the difficulties we face. So please take these words and chew on them a while. And when you’re done, be sure to floss and brush. The world always looks brighter from behind a smile.