Too often advice comes out in a way that looks like, and feels like, all it is doing is blaming the victim.

I started thinking about that a while back and it came to a focus as I talked to a guy, I’ll call “Mike” (not his real name) who I really respect, probably more than he knows.

We were talking and he brought up that he was able to get a real handle on his personal weaknesses by looking at his resentments.  Every resentment was a key to a personal weakness.  If he looked at his resentments he found where he had wronged others.

Now if you’ve read Leadership and Self-Deception: Getting out of the Box by Arbinger Institute or The Anatomy of Peace: Resolving the Heart of Conflict the idea of resentments being a guide to where you have gone wrong is not new to you. It turns out many, many groups use resentments as a way to guide people to finding their own faults.

But about the same time I was reflecting on how what “Mike” said tied into a greater truth, I had a real wake-up call when I asked for some feedback on a short essay I wrote on how to prevail with those above you in a religious hierarchy (I wrote it back in 1996 or before).  I was trying to suggest spiritual tools to use in religious conflicts.  I’ve always thought about reworking it.  My style of the time was very terse and the essay could use 4 or 5 times as much text.  It always seems like there are people who want to prevail in conflicts with religious hierarchies, I thought a reworked essay would be a great success.  Maybe even a good W&T post.

The response I got was “gee, so the real problem is that I just need to pray more” — or words to that effect.  The reader got the message that I was blaming them for having an issue and a conflict when what I wanted them to see was that I thought there were tools that would work.  That really caught me up short on my plans to rewrite the essay and to add more nuts and bolts advice to it.

It also made me realize that while reflecting on resentments is fine if you are brilliant and competent like “Mike” — but if you are overwhelmed and feeling mundane that sort of advice comes across as “I’ve been ground down by life, and now it is my fault too if I feel hurt because of it.”

I know, I know all about the Al Anon mantra that resentment is like drinking poison and expecting the other guy to die.  I believe it to be true.

I know, resentment binds people together in chains of co-dependency.  I believe that too.

But resentment is also what the powerless feel when they’ve been wronged and can’t do anything about it.  To tell them that they are to blame for the situation where there is resentment is to tell them to just give up, die and fade away.  It does not empower them like it has empowered many.

I’ve been reflecting on this because I know people who are powerless.  Not people who have transitory feelings, or who aren’t as privileged as they would like (the type who “oh Lord won’t you give me a Mercedes Benz, my friends all drive Porsches, I must make amends” was written about).  But people for whom getting a job as a greeter at a Wal-Mart is a real step up, who have been ground down and ground up by life.

Often these are people who are blinded by AAD or Autism or other problems that keep them from being able to see what they need to see, feel what they need to feel, understand what they need to know in order to connect with others and do more than just survive.  Like the friend of mine with serious chemical imbalance caused depression.  People kept telling him to get a grip.  That was the one thing he could not do.

Reminds me of the guy who preached “you just have to want it” about being able to run to a kid I knew with severe polio problems.  I assure you, the problems were more than just a lack of desire.

It is hard for people in those circumstances to find voice.

So, it is one thing for a professor friend of Chauncey Riddle (a BYU professor of philosophy who I admire) to spend seven years praying an hour a day to get an answer from God.  It was great advice when Dr. Riddle passed that along to freshmen in college as a guide and I still reflect on some of the things said in that discussion. It was a great example for Alma to have the Church gather together to fast and pray for his son, Alma the Younger.  But what do you think are my chances of getting a Church-wide day or days of fasting and prayer for my children?

Even more to the point, what if I’m Anne Without Gables, or starving adjunct with a problem?  A harried mother with children and without five minutes to call her own, not an hour or more a day to pray?  What advice do I give them when they have a problem?

I’m not sure what advice to give them on how to seek spiritual guidance and help with religious problems.

So I’m asking our readers:  What would you suggest?

For the privileged, I can give you lots of suggestions and advice that they probably don’t need.  But what about those who lack all privilege?  Who are not neuro normal, relatively wealthy, good looking, educated or otherwise ahead of the curve?

I’ve been struggling with variations on the issue of what advice to give those who are submerged, ever since reading of some problems a friend had who just is not socially adept and accepted, who is doing a valiant job, in spite of everything.  It was reflecting on what Mike said (which was very, very valuable to me) that made me realize I still don’t have an answer to what advice to give the dispossessed that isn’t as likely to feel like “blame the victim” or “it is really your fault” than to help them find a voice and prevail.

Which is why I’d appreciate thoughts from readers.  How do you empower the dispossessed?  How do I encourage others?