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What Condoleezza Rice's Journey Can Teach Us

Condoleezza Rice's family taught her a major life lesson, that what matters is not what happens to you but what you choose to do about it. They framed it even more directly: we will have no victims here.
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Last week, I wrote more on the subject of placing blame vis-à-vis getting involved at whatever level you can. To be sure, those whose personal competencies revolve around the ability to criticize continued their onslaught against all things positive and trashed anything and anyone, ranging from me to those who have demonstrated their willingness to do what they can despite the odds.

However, in one of those random acts of synchronicity, I happened to be driving on Wednesday, listening to Morning Addition on NPR when I heard that an interview was about to take place with Condoleezza Rice, who was flogging her new book. Having been one who has marveled at the apparent intelligence of this woman contrasted with her hawkish stance in the Bush administration, I thought to myself, "Now this is going to be good."

And it was. Very good, in an odd yet powerful way. (If you would like to listen to the interview, click here.)

Before any of the HuffPost trolls go off on this one, I encourage you to at least consider the underlying message about what a human being can do regardless of circumstance. In fact, consider the implications for our current social and political climate of blame and victimhood.

The interview began with a couple of vignettes from Condoleezza's upbringing in what she called "Bombingham," Alabama. (For those who don't know the history, Birmingham was the hot seat for civil rights change as young school children and their parents were set upon by racist police, attacked by police dogs, and endured numerous civilian terrorist acts of bombing, burnings and beatings.) In fact, one of her friends was one of the four little girls who died in a church bombing and firestorm as they attended Sunday school.

As she said, not only did they call it "Bombingham," but they also lived the terror of knowing that theirs was one of the most dangerous places in America where the police were to be feared as much as anyone in a white robe and hood.

What struck me in this interview were the values imparted to her by her parents, values and principles of integrity, responsibility and the ability to overcome circumstances, no matter how dire. As she said, racism and unspeakable acts were the norm, not something that people complained about, as much as circumstances she and her family simply recognized as "what is."

Her family taught her a major life lesson, that what matters is not what happens to you but what you choose to do about it. They framed it even more directly: we will have no victims here. Complaining, blaming and other demonstrations of being at the effect of the white racists were simply not tolerated. Her family put blaming and complaining in the category of victimizing yourself.

So Condoleezza grew up with the firm understanding that regardless of circumstance, she could do with her life as she chose, but choose she must.

Now, I must admit that while I admire the resolve and courage it must have taken to rise from "Bombingham" to a Ph.D. from Stanford to Secretary of State, I'm more than stunned by the stances she wound up taking on various political, social and economic fronts.

However, the reason I point to her story here has less to do with what she wound up choosing as her personal approach to politics and life and more with what we can learn from how she chose to respond to personal circumstances that pale in comparison to having lost a job, a retirement plan, or your life's savings.

Don't hear me saying that life is rosy out there, and certainly don't hear me apologizing for the misguided steps of the Bush era; however, do hear me continuing to say, as I have for the past couple of years on these pages, that you, too, can choose to make things better, regardless of the lousy hand life appears to have dealt you. Most of us, including me, have been hit hard by the combination of political shenanigans and corporate greed; however, each of us still has the opportunity to do something about it.

The question is: will you be one of those who continue to whine, complain, bitch and moan, or will you choose to take on some kind of personal responsibility for improving your own circumstances and those around you? It doesn't matter to me which "tea party" you belong to, right or left; those who choose the victim's approach of angry remonstrations over self-empowering positive action are doomed to remain stuck in the world of "they did it to me."

Are you angry? Understandably so! Are you harnessing your anger and redirecting that energy into useful action? That's the real question, now, isn't it? Stop victimizing yourself over the circumstances and start owning the outcome -- it's bad enough already without having to pour more victimizing thought and emotion onto the fire.

What do you think? How could you move from being at the effect of others to becoming the cause in your own life? What small step could you take to help move things forward?

I would love to hear from you about your ideas, about what you have done to work around the challenges you are facing, or about what you have seen a friend or neighbor do that has been effective.

I'd love to hear from you. Please do leave a comment here or drop me an email at Russell (at)


If you want more information on how you can apply this kind of reframing to your life and to your job, about a few simple steps that may wind up transforming your life, please download a free chapter from my book, Workarounds That Work. You'll be glad you did.

Russell Bishop is an educational psychologist, author, executive coach and management consultant based in Santa Barbara, Calif. You can learn more about my work by visiting my website at You can contact me by e-mail at Russell (at)